By Dr Huang Wei-Jen
One of the most persistent human cries is, “Will you be there for me in times of danger?” Despite being surrounded by people, we can still feel lonely; quite a tragedy isn’t it? Physically we can be so close, yet our hearts can still be 10 million miles apart.
On the other hand, the number one blessing in life is to have a soul mate to turn to when we are down and weary. Someone who is willing to clear a mental space to really listen to us, can understand our pain, be on our side, help us remember our strengths, and support us to face whatever difficulties we encounter in life. Finding that someone is how we fall in love and is why we get married.
Is it an impossible dream to keep this soul mate in life? Not at all if we draw from the wisdom over 30 years of state art empirical research that teach us what makes or breaks relationships.
We get married for love. However after the honeymoon, reality sets in, and the stress of modern life spills over into our relationships. This is especially true after the arrival of children.
If we are not careful, we will very likely fall into a pattern of neglecting our soul mate, and gradually lose touch with each other’s inner emotional worlds. There is a saying, “if you don’t know my pain, how could you love me?”
Unfortunately, many couples’ relationships change from being ‘soul mates’ to ‘stalemate’ over time. We have also heard sad statements such as “marriage is the graveyard of romantic love”, and “we got marred because of misunderstanding, we got divorced because we finally understand each other”. However, things do not have to end this way.
Batteries need to be recharged. It is the same with marriage. If we can learn from the wisdom derived from the research comparing the couples in misery and couples whose love increase with time, we can rekindle our wounded relationships and build the love of a lifetime.
Based on research, here are five practical easy-to-do relationship tips that you can practice every day, and if you are diligent, it will greatly enhance their love relationships:
- Show appreciation for your spouse at least once a day.
From the Positive Psychology Research we know how important it is to ask “what’s right” rather than asking “what’s wrong” in relationships.
Develop the habit of scanning and highlighting your spouse’s positive personality traits, good intentions, positive efforts and good deeds. Some examples include, “Honey, I love how you kiss our baby on the cheek during her sleep”, “Thank you for charging my cell phone for me”, “Thank you for caring for my parents when I was away” etc. Doing this daily can greatly enhance your marriage.
- Ask your spouse, “Please tell me one thing that happened today and how you feel about it.” Then truly listen and empathise with your spouse’s feelings.
Remember, “Listening is Loving, Empathy Brings Healing”. This is one of the most important secrets to keep the two hearts close. To remain soul mates, it’s crucial to continue understanding each other’s inner emotional worlds. Therefore, ask your spouse this question.
This type of communication also helps spouses to stand together to alleviate the stresses in life and protect their marriage. Research shows that this is one major predictor that differentiates happy couples from divorced couples. Having either one person feel that they are alone in their pain is a major factor that leads to divorce or extra-marital affairs.
- Ask your spouse, “Tell me one small thing that I can do to help increase your sense of well-being”, and do it.
Asking your spouse what he or she needs is a very effective way to help your spouse feel loved. For example, while your spouse is doing a certain house chore, simply asking “Is there something I can do to help?” can go a long way.
Alternatively, instead of cooking, go out for dinner that evening, or simply spend quality time together cuddling on the sofa talking.
- Give each other a back massage
Research show that 15 =-minutes of back massage three times a day from a husband can significantly reduce a wife’s post-mortem depression. Other research has also found that for a group of parents who did the same, their pre-mature infants gained weight significantly and became healthier.
Even if you don’t do it three times a day, this type of gentle, mutual caring touch can help you both feel more loved. This is also good way to practice couple communication as you can ask your spouse to move his/her hand upwards or downwards, or press stronger or lighter.
- Give each other a prolonged, 10-second hug.
Human beings are wired to connect. Someone said, “You need three hugs a day to survive, another three to thrive.” Contact comfort can have amazing healing powers and help couples feel more love from one another.
Due to differences in needs and priority, conflict is inevitable, even in close relationships. The closer we get, the more we may step on each other’s toes and hurt each other. However, true love is made of “empathy rupture and repair”, without conflict and healing, relationships are superficial. This is the fact of life.
It’s not easy to be the first one to initiate the action of love, particularly when you still feel disappointed, angry or hurt from your relationship. I really like a very empowering quote from Viktor Frankl: “When challenged with being unable to change our context, the only true challenge is to change ourselves”.
If your spouse does not want to do the above tips (which is quite normal), do not push him or her, you can still take the initiative and do the ones your spouse may like or feel comfortable with (e.g. showing a daily appreciation, asking him/her how you can help, etc.).
Giving your spouse space is in itself an act of love. Perhaps you can try to do these tips consistently for seven days and see what happens. I truly believe that once your spouse feels more loved, your spouse would soften and become more loving towards you.
Last but not least, do remember: when you feel hurt, your spouse may not have hurt you on purpose; and when you don’t feel loved, it may not mean that your spouse does not love you – since you are different, you may have different ways of expressing and perceiving love. To love is to cherish each other, and I sincerely wish that everyone will have love that lasts a lifetime.
Dr Huang Wei-Jen is a clinical psychologist and a faculty member at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He is internationally-renowned for his work on couples’ therapy, relationship education, and multicultural issues.
Dr Huang will be speaking at the opening keynote session at the I Still Do – Marriage Convention 2017 on “How To Get Your Marriage Back On Track After Hitting A Rough Patch”. Hear him and other speakers share about how to communicate and build a strong marriage on 11 & 12 March when you sign up for the Marriage Convention 2017. Use the code FFL10 to get a 10% discount on your tickets. Click here to purchase your tickets and for more information.