Happily married ever after

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Relationship experts Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt had to put their own methods to the test when their marriage was on the rocks 10 years ago. Now they swear by their 10 tips for a successful marriage. Kate Whiting reports

It takes a strong person to admit they’re being a hypocrite. So when relationship therapists Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt realised their own marriage was floundering, they quickly ate a chunk of humble pie and started addressing their own problems.

“We had helped thousands of other couples around the world heal their marriages, but we were not practising what we preached,” the couple write in their new book, Making Marriage Simple: 10 Truths For Changing The Relationship You Have Into The One You Want.

“Who we appeared to be in public was very different from how we were at home, we were arguing a lot.”

For 30 years, America’s leading marriage experts had spread their unique method, Imago Relationship Therapy, to 37 different countries, but now it was time to test out their own medicine.

“We decided to put ourselves through the exercises and techniques we’d created for others. And the same magic we’d seen so many other couples experience became ours. Our marriage finally became the relationship of our dreams.”

Here they share their top 10 tips for making marriage stable, simple - and successful.

PRACTICE ZERO NEGATIVITY!

All criticism, even “constructive criticism” not only fails to get us what we want but it’s a form of self-abuse since the traits we criticise in our partners are often projections of unpleasant truths about ourselves. Instead of criticising, explore why a particular trait in your partner bothers you so much. For example, perhaps complaining your partner wants “too much sex” is really about your own sexual inhibitions. Become curious (about yourself and your partner) rather than critical.

ACCEPT YOUR PARTNER’S ‘OTHERNESS’

We all understand - at least on the surface - that our partner is a separate human being. But deep down we often see and treat him/her as extensions of ourselves who should “be just like me”. Practice seeing and accepting your partner as someone with different perceptions, feelings and experiences that are equally valid as your own.

CLOSE ALL EXITS

Exits are activities that you engage in that become an escape from the day-to-day intimacy of the partnership. They can be any activity, thought, or feeling that decreases or avoids emotional or physical involvement with your partner. Exits can be functional (work, taking care of kids), motivated (watching TV, reading, sports), and/or catastrophic (emotional or physical affairs, addictions). All exits, however, deplete the emotional reserves in a partnership. They will slowly drain your relationship until you become two separate individuals without connection, living parallel lives. Begin identifying and closing your exits, although for catastrophic exits, you may need to seek professional help.

TALK WITH SENDER RESPONSIBILITY

This means using “I” language only. When talking to your partner, avoid the word “you” unless you mean something positive and affirming. Own your experience by saying how you feel rather than blaming your partner. For example, “I feel bad when ...” rather than “You make me feel bad when ...”.

GIVE AND RECEIVE UNCONDITIONALLY

That is, offer gifts with no strings attached. The unconscious receives only unconditional gifts, it does not accept a “you rub my back and I’ll rub yours” attitude. Similarly, learn to accept gifts. Often we feel unworthy of receiving compliments from our partner and reject them. Instead of saying, “You don’t really mean that I’m beautiful/handsome/smart”, say “Thank you, it means a lot to me that you feel that way”.

INCREASE YOUR PLEASURE QUOTIENT

Make a list of high-energy activities you would like to do for fun with your partner. Write down as many ideas as you can think of that you are currently doing, things you did in the early stages of your relationship and activities you would like to engage in. They should be activities that create deep laughter and/or that involve physical movement and deep breathing. Share your list with your partner and see what activities you can agree on. Make a commitment to enjoy a playful activity at least once a week.

ENGAGE IN POSITIVE FLOODING

Flood your partner with compliments, regularly saying what you love about them. Talk about his/her physical characteristics (“I love your eyes”), character traits (“You are really intelligent”), behaviours (“I love that you make coffee every morning for me”), global affirmations (“I am so happy I married you”). As you become mindful of these aspects of your relationship, your daily list of other compliments will grow.

HAVE ‘SAFE’ CONVERSATIONS

The most important and challenging step to becoming a conscious partner is learning how to talk so your conversations will be safe rather than negative. Imago Dialogue uses three basic techniques - mirroring, validating, and empathising - to fortify the connection between partners. Check to make sure you understand what your partner is saying (mirroring), indicate that what your partner says makes sense, even if you don’t agree (validating), and recognise your partner’s feelings when s/he tells a story or expresses an opinion (empathising). An example can be, “If I heard you correctly, you are upset that I came home late and didn’t call you. It makes sense that you would be angry. And I can imagine you might be feeling disrespected.” It might feel mechanical at first, but it will soon help create safety.

REPLACE MONOLOGUES WITH DIALOGUE

Dialogue - having a balanced, two-way conversation - will not only improve the way you communicate with your partner, it will improve the relations with your children, and with everyone you come in contact with. Practice dialogue until it becomes a habit and a way of life, and you become “dialogical”.

CHANGE YOUR NIGHTMARE INTO YOUR DREAM MARRIAGE

A committed partnership can become someone’s worst nightmare, but through intentionality and commitment, a marriage can also become a spiritual journey. If you married because you chose to marry, you are with the right person - especially, ironically, if you feel incompatible. Incompatibility is actually the grounds for healing and growth, because you have found someone you can learn from and who can help you correct any past - or current - failings. Think of it as ‘opposites attract’ and you will see how your partner holds the blueprint for your journey to becoming a more complete person.

:: INFORMATION: Making Marriage Simple: 10 Truths For Changing The Relationship You Have Into The One You Want by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt is published by Piatkus, priced £13.99. Available now

For more information on Imago Relationship Therapy, visit www.gettingtheloveyouwant.com

TRIED & TESTED

As the summer finally gets into swing, Laura Wurzal tests a new online low calorie diet programme, Saints and Slimmers, to help her get ready for the beach

WHAT IT IS

This online low calorie diet programme, delivered directly to your home, provides high quality meal replacements at really low prices. There are four diet plans to choose from; the Complete Plan, 1200 calories a day with three meals, plus two snacks; the Breakfast and Lunch plan, great for those who want sociable meals in the evening; the Very Low Calorie Diet plan, 600 calories a day for short-term diets, and the 5:2 Fasting Diet. There is a great combination of food to choose (porridge, milk shakes, meal replacement bars, skinny muffins, soups and ready-made meals), all in a variety of flavours. The meals are low in sugar and high in filling proteins and fibre, plus active fat-burning ingredients like Green Tea Extract and L-Carnitine.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Tailored diet plans that provide all the food mean there is no need to bother about calorie counting, weighing or cooking - hence less chance of cheating! I chose the Complete Plan, which started with a breakfast of porridge made with water, which was surprisingly one of the most creamiest and filling porridges I’ve ever had. For lunches, I had the diet meals, which don’t need to be kept in the fridge because of how they are cooked and sealed. I had a huge range of meals to choose from; Chicken Korma, Beef Lasagne, Chicken Satay, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala, Spag Bol, Chilli Con Carne and Vegetable Chilli. All were simple to microwave and tasted delicious, with just the right amount of spices. Most importantly, they were also filling, but even if I did get the munchies later on, then I could chose two snacks from cereal bars, pretzels, raisins and marinated olives.

In the evening, I had either a thick sweet milkshake or a meal replacement bar (chocolate or summer berry flavour). I was surprised at how much this felt like a ‘proper meal’, especially as you’re allowed to have a simple salad beforehand too.

I did this diet for a month and found it really easy to stick to - I also lost 3lbs the first week and 2lbs each week for the next 3 weeks. I ordered the food from the website, which was very easy to use as well as offering some of the cheapest diet deals around. I’m happy with the effects of the dirt for now, but - if needs be - I will certainly be trying this again in the future.