Great Relationships - 3 Things to Avoid, 3 Things to Do

"Almost no one is foolish enough to imagine that he automatically deserves great success in any field of activity. Yet almost everyone believes that he automatically deserves success in marriage." - Sydney J. Harris

3 Things to Avoid

Complaint - In no way am I suggesting that if you have a legitimate complaint, you should keep quiet about it. What you want to avoid is becoming a member of the whine-and-moan group that complains out of habit and for the sake and pure joy of complaining. Complain too much and you will stop being heard.

It's much harder to hear "you never do anything around here" than it is to hear "I'm wondering if you can help me with something"; and, it's important to follow a complaint with a suggested solution.

Criticism - It's so easy to be critical. Each of us is a fallible human being, so there is always plenty to criticize. Constant criticism sucks the life out of any relationship. It causes the receiver to be on the defensive and derails any constructive conversation.

Contentiousness - Contentious is defined by Webster as "exhibiting an often wearisome tendency to quarrels and disputes." It sure is wearisome. When every thing is a battle, you lose track of what is worth fighting for, like a great marriage.

If you recognize yourself in any of the above, you may have formed some bad habits. The good news is you can break bad habits by replacing them with good habits. Here are a few suggestions.

What to Do

Apologize - for something from the past. The ability to apologize demonstrates a strength of character rare in our world. If you have been married for more than a month, then you have enough history to find something for which you can apologize.

A genuine apology has at least these three components:

(1)Sorrow for what has happened
(2)acknowledgment of the harm done
(3)commitment to avoid doing it again.

CoupleTip: Apologizing for things in the past helps clean things up. Apologizing for things as they occur helps to keep the slate clean.

Appreciate - something in the present. Do you know anyone who does not like to be appreciated? We need to do two things to be able to regularly appreciate someone. First, we can never take anything for granted. Second, we have to pay attention. I'll even give you some suggested opening words:

"Thank you for . . ."
"I really appreciated you when . . ."
"I really liked it when..."

These are magic words in marriage.

CoupleTip: Make a list of all the things you appreciate about your partner. Then take the radical step of sharing the list.

Anticipate - something in the future. We all need something to look forward to in life. This applies to couples as well. At the very least it can help you connect, and at the very best, give you hope.

CoupleTip: Get out a calendar and plan a few fun couple events for the near future. Planning is not a burden, it's a privilege.

Jeff Herrring, MS, LMFT is a relationship coach, marriage and family therapist, speaker and nationally syndicated relationship columnist.

You can sign up for his free internet newsletter "Great Relationships Tip of the Week" on his website at

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