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Marital Survival Guide: From Q to T

March 8, 2021 | by Dr. Alan Singer

From quarreling to trust, more practical advice on improving your marriage.


Quality of the Friendship:

The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the intimacy and romance in marriage is, by seventy percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. For men, the determining factor is, by seventy percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship (Dr. John Gottman). Friendship is an infinitely more stabilizing basis for marriage than romance. Get good at friendship before you even think about falling in love. (Dr. Frank Pittman obm).


Arguing and bickering do not indicate the end is near for marriage. Bickering that escalates to arguments and fights is not good, but bickering that ends with each spouse learning something new about the other is beneficial. It may seem counterproductive, but it can improve the quality of the marriage.


The quest for the "perfect" spouse is based on the cliché "the grass is greener on the other side.” We who work in the marriage fortification business like to say: the grass is greener where you water it!



Foster a culture of reciprocity. Rather than thinking about what your partner is not doing for you or what you are not getting from them, try to notice the ways that they are doing their best and discover ways that you can show up for each other better.


One of Gottman's supreme findings after studying a thousand couples for twenty years is that two thirds of the issues in wholesome long-lasting marriages are perpetual. The five most common issues are: intimacy, household chores, finances, children, and in-laws. Regulation-not resolution-of these issues is the key. Compromise is the name of the game.


Gottman also discovered the magic ratio: for each and every hurtful or spiteful act against a spouse, it takes five positive acts to nourish the marriage back to equilibrium.

Relationship’s Rocky Road:

When you're at wit’s end and questioning the merits of remaining in your marriage, Dr. Terry Real suggests that you ask yourself: Am I getting enough in this relationship to make grieving what I am not getting worth my while?

Repair Attempts:

These are vital to preventing escalation and consist of short phrases that you should use often, and pay attention when your spouse uses them:

I might be wrong here.
Please let's stop for a while.
How can I make this better?
That came out wrong; let me get my thoughts together.
Let's agree to disagree here.
I really need to calm down.
Please just listen to me right now and try to understand.
I am feeling defensive, can you rephrase that?


Reminder notes are a legitimate and useful tool. When a spouse tells me, "I expect him to remember some important things without a reminder note," I ask whether the ‘important thing’ you desire is more important than how he remembers to do it. With smartphone calendars and reminder notes, there is no excuse for forgetting an important appointment or special day.


This is the bedrock upon which you place the concrete foundation of your marital home. It is far more enduring and vital than attraction, chemistry, or desire.


Forgiveness is a decision to give up your perceived or actual right to get revenge, or hold in debt, someone who has wronged you.



This is another bedrock principle of marriage. The brilliant and innovative Dr. Scott Stanley (University of Denver) brings us a new perspective by delineating four safeties.

Physical Safety: there should be no threat of physical harm nor should either spouse be physically intimidated by the other.

Emotional Safety: The ability to be yourself and feel connected to your spouse. When a couple has this, each spouse can raise concerns and express vulnerabilities without fear of rejection.

Commitment Safety: this type of safety means security about the future. This is crucial because most people do not invest in anything from a financial asset to a relationship without some reasonable confidence in what is yet to come. Community Safety: This safety refers to the context of a marriage. Is the environment safe? Are there sufficient resources such as jobs and healthcare? Is there stress from poverty or anxiety about crime? Is good quality transportation and healthy food accessible? Think of a couple like a garden plant. All other things being equal, the plant with better soil, nutrients, and moisture thrives.

Sacrifice: Dr. Scott Stanley uses the glowing coals of a fire as a metaphor for relationship sacrifice. It is the long burning coals and embers that sustain the promise of heat and fire to come. The word sacrifice has fallen into disfavor with rise of the “me-focus” in our culture. Long-term love is not remotely possible without sacrifice. What does passion lack that sacrifice makes up for? Passion lacks the ability to be directed by your will. Sacrifice come from the active choosing part of love based in your will. You can choose to love in this way because you can choose to do loving acts. In an important way, sacrifice balances passion in the hearth of love.

Same old, same old:

Often, a couple’s issues generally unfold in the same way, at the same time, and in the same location. In fact, arguments become highly patterned, and once these patterns are discernable, any minor change may yield different results. Surprise your spouse by handling the situation differently. Be creative and be sure to use your imagination. When it feels like "more of the same", go for it...and do something different! (M.W. Davis)


When couples tell me that they think it's bizarre to have to schedule private couple time or date night, I respond: not only is it not bizarre, it is indispensable.


At best this is unhelpful, at worst it is destructive. Marriage is not a 50/50 arrangement! The competition should be who can give more, not who's entitled to take more. Instead of a competitive atmosphere at home, how about a caring and nurturing one?


Men tend to not care all that much. Wives do the caring for themselves and their husbands. Wives find doctors, make appointments, and remind their husbands to do the same. This is one reason why evidence-based research studies have shown that married men are healthier than single men.


What does a kitchen sink have to do with a marriage? If you pile the dirty dishes high in the sink, it's hard to clean any of them. If you bring up grievances from the last five years when you have a disagreement, you'll lose focus and you may even forget what you're arguing about. Eureka! We clever therapists turned that into a verb: “kitchen-sinking”. Once a couple is at that point, the issue only escalates and gets to a point where one or both parties say or do things they later regret. What follows are some pearls of advice from author/therapist Esther Perel, extraordinaire:

  1. Stick to the topic. Express how you feel without launching into a critique of your spouse. Don't pile up dirty dishes.

  2. Focus on behavior, not on character. Pay attention to what they did, not who they are.

  3. Convey to your spouse that you like the person that he/she is, even though you don't like a specific behavior. In this way, you are giving your spouse something dignified to hold on to, so that they can take responsibility for what they have done that has been hurtful. Focus on what you feel and what you just experienced rather than the “full kitchen sink.”


“Small things often” is a much better approach to nurturing your marriage than infrequent grandiose gestures like Caribbean getaways or expensive jewelry.

Start each day by asking your spouse:

Morning: How can I make your day better?

Evening: Tell me what made you smile today, instead of the generic “How was your day?” which can be answered with one or two words.



The Gerer Rebbe posed the question, “Why does the groom break a glass at the end of the wedding chuppah ceremony?” By stepping on a glass, a receiving vessel, the groom is symbolically stating: I am breaking the attitude of being an “entitled recipient”. Up until this point in my life I was a taker; now I need to be a giver. From this point forward I know I must give my wife respect and admiration.


“It takes teamwork to make the dream work.” (Rabbi Herbert Bomzer z'l)


Since your goal in marriage is true shalom bayit, domestic harmony, when you are about to say or do something to or for your spouse, first ask yourself the following question: Is this going to bring me closer or further from that goal? If the answer is further, STOP yourself! You'll only want to take steps that bring you closer.

Three Essential A's that fortify relationships:



"By quality time I mean giving someone your undivided attention. When I sit on the couch with my wife and give her twenty minutes of my undivided attention and she does the same for me, we are giving each other twenty minutes of life. We will never have those twenty minutes again; we are giving our lives to each other. It is a powerful emotional communicator of love." (Dr. Gary Chapman)


One cannot build a house on soil or earth. You must first dig down to the bedrock and that's where you pour your perfectly level concrete footings. Trust-safety-friendship-respect-forgiveness...those construct the foundation upon which you should build your marital house.

Click here for installments 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the Marital Survival Guide.

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