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How to Make Your Marriage Work: 6 Must-Have Skills

Almost every marriage has its challenges. When you commit to someone, you promise to be there for them in good times and bad. But it’s hard to understand the full meaning of that until you experience it. Here’s the scoop: Marriages require a whole lot of effort.

Psychosexual therapist Geoff Lamb says, “In a relationship, both partners can change and grow, but it usually doesn’t happen at the exact same time.” So, there will be highs and lows, good and bad moments, and that’s why you need to improve your relationship skills.

Important Skills for Your Relationship

No matter if you’ve recently tied the knot or have been married for a long time, improving your relationship skills is crucial for a strong connection. So, what are the six key qualities you should focus on?

1. Compassion

Are you considering only one perspective? “In couples therapy, I often use a technique called ‘circular questioning.’ This means I ask one partner about how the other partner sees a situation,” says Lamb. “It serves various purposes, but you must understand your partner’s viewpoint to show compassion. Your capacity to do this depends on how well you communicate and how sensitive you are to others’ feelings and experiences.”

2. Patience

“One reason for impatience in relationships is when both partners expect the other to be just like them,” explains Lamb. “Patience means giving room for your partner to be themselves and understanding how they make you feel emotionally rather than insisting they be a certain way. Being curious about your partner’s perspective and how it makes you feel can help you both grow in the relationship.”

3. Teamwork

“Teamwork means working together, and that often involves giving in a bit,” says Lamb. “Interestingly, many couples I work with say ‘teamwork’ is a good thing in their relationship. Compromising is usually not too hard, except when both of you strongly disagree about something. These decisions can be tough. The key is talking it out. When both partners get to share their feelings and they’re listened to and respected, the decision becomes less of a big deal. Both feel appreciated, and the relationship becomes more important than winning the argument.”

4. Forgiveness

Nobody’s perfect, not even your partner. “In any relationship with two imperfect people, both will make mistakes regularly,” says Lamb. “How you handle these mistakes matters, and forgiveness is vital. Forgiving can be tough when we’re stubborn or hold grudges. Assuming we’re talking about common human mistakes like forgetfulness or carelessness, the problem can be how we interpret these actions and communicate them to our partner.”

Forgiveness might mean not making up stories about your partner’s actions. You might not know the whole truth. “When we create stories about why our partner does things, it can push us apart instead of helping us understand what’s really going on,” says Lamb.

5. Listening

“Listening to your partner when they’re discussing something they find difficult about you can be tough!” admits Lamb. “But it’s crucial for a successful marriage.” When your partner brings up an issue, your initial reaction might be to defend yourself, but it’s worth pausing to think.

“Sometimes, people mix up ‘not taking it personally’ with ‘not taking it seriously,’ so let me clarify the difference,” explains Lamb. “‘Not taking it personally’ means that if my partner’s perception of me doesn’t align with how I see myself, I don’t have to convince them they’re wrong or misunderstood me. However, I do need to respect my partner’s feelings—maybe they’re noticing a part of me I hadn’t seen, which can be a chance for us to grow together.”

6. Openness

Your spouse is the one person you should always feel comfortable being yourself with. Out of all the important skills for a relationship, you should focus on this. “When you can openly share your thoughts, feelings, wants, and desires and your partner can listen without necessarily agreeing or acting on them, that’s when your relationship can be truly open and real.”

How to Strengthen Your Relationship Skills 

Let’s not delve too deep into psychology, but your actions in a relationship can often be linked to your childhood. “If we grew up in an environment where our feelings were valued, expressing ourselves in adult relationships comes naturally,” says Lamb. “But many of us didn’t have that upbringing. So, as adults, we have to learn how to express ourselves and listen effectively, and also understand it’s safe to do so and can help us get what we need.”

He continues, “These skills have both practical and psychological aspects. They are equally important, and there’s a connection between them. You can start by noticing the patterns in your relationship and the words you use.”

This process won’t be quick. If you want to improve yourself and your relationship, you’ll need to invest time and effort. “Sustaining this kind of change involves deeper psychological work,” says Lamb. “Some couples begin by thinking their personalities and their partner’s are fixed. ‘I’m just this way, and my partner will have to accept it.’ Usually, this belief is defensive, and when they explore their behavior patterns with curiosity, they find that change can be safe and lead to greater intimacy.”

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