Six Ways for Couples to Grow Together
Best practices for continued growth in marriage.
We're in a double kayak going down a sparkling river surrounded by towering trees. My husband is paddling too slow. I'm paddling too fast. We can't seem to make the boat go straight and we are arguing.
“Slow down!” he shouts.
“Paddle left!” I shout back.
“No, go right!” he says.
We continue like this until we veer off into the branches of a tree and realize that we aren't going to get anywhere this way. So I stop paddling and let my husband take over. And a few minutes later, we switch.
We agree that the next time we go boating we're going to take two kayaks because we each like to paddle differently. And that's okay as long as we are heading in the same direction on the same river.
Learning from our double kayak experience is one of the six secrets of couples who grow together.
1. They evaluate experiences. "Experience is the greatest teacher" only if we evaluate them and consciously learn from our mistakes. Otherwise we are likely to repeat them. In growth-oriented marriages couples take that crucial step back and ask: What worked in this situation? What didn't work? What can we do better next time? They don't go back out in a double kayak after they crash into a tree. They stop arguing. They stop paddling. They come up with a new plan.
2. They learn to communicate in each other's language. We all grow up with different communication styles and inferences. Some of us are used to families where everyone directly expresses his feelings and others are used to more round-about, sensitive ways of speaking.
The key to growing in marriage is to learn to speak your spouse's language even if that isn't how you are used to communicating. We often have to learn and re-learn this habit, to sometimes listen when our instinct is to speak, to pause before we figure out how to say something and to think about what we're trying to accomplish with our words.
3. They share what they learn. Whether it's an interesting story in the news, an idea from a Torah class they heard or something new that they learned at work, couples who grow together share what they learn each day. They make sure to discuss ideas and goals so that their connection doesn't become lost in errands, to do lists and family responsibilities.
4. They see their relationship as multi-dimensional. There are many ways I identify who I am. Part of my identity is associated with my profession as a family therapist and as a writer. A substantial part of who I am is an amalgam of being an athlete, a mother, a wife and a religious Jew. All of these parts of me are essential to my identity and reinforce each other.
A growing marriage has several dimensions to its identity too. There is the romantic dimension that first drew the couple together, the friendship that becomes stronger each year, the team identity we need for parenting, and the shared activities dimension in which growing couples hike or bike or attend a class together. Like the parts of our individual identities, the dimensions of a growing marriage strengthen and enhance each other.
5. They know how to laugh together. Life can sometimes get very stressful. Your kids are fighting. Your teenager doesn't like school. An appliance breaks. There's an extra hour of traffic… the list can go on and on. We all have stress and challenges. One of the best tools growing couples use for stress is humor. They know how to laugh to break the tension. They know how to step back and see the big picture when things get hard. They have jokes that they share so that they can find the way forward, even when they're stuck in traffic.
6. They plan adventures together. Growth-oriented couples love to try new things and go to different places. It doesn't take a lot of money to go camping together or to hike in a state park or to watch the sunset over the ocean. But it takes enthusiasm and a desire to grow for couples to reach new realms in their lives and in their marriages.