'Arguments are important' - leading marriage counselor offers expert advice on how to keep the spark alive in relationships
Published 11/02/2016 | 14:46
Many Irish couples are living in a 'zombie marriage' where the passion and connection has gone out of their relationship. A leading marriage counselor has offered expert advice on how to keep the spark alive.
Andrew G Marshall, one of the world's best-known marriage therapists has offered advice to couples on how to avoid falling into a 'zombie marriage' - so-called because the relationships keep staggering on even when the spark has gone.
A friendship between the couple remains but the intimacy and passion has gone or they just feel sad and depressed without knowing why. Partners co-habit together but have lost all passion.
According to Marshall, rows are important in maintaining a healthy relationship.
"We think that by not arguing we're protecting our partners. You can't choose which feelings you turn off. You end up turning up all of your feelings including the passionate and connected ones too," he told the Anton Savage Show.
"We often have feelings for a very good reason. You might be annoyed because something is really important," he explained.
"I've had people argue for over an hour about where they should store the bin bags in the kitchen but it was covering a bigger issue. It was about who was in charge in the relationship."
Marshall explained that arguments bring everything out into the open and allow couples to discover the underlying issue in their relationships.
"Sometimes your anger pops the truth out," he said.
"If you push them underground they turn into resentment or coldness... where for one of you, the marriage is dead, but you still sort of stumble along."
He said that the biggest challenge facing couples is that they don't know how to argue properly and constructively.
"Having an argument is a really intimate thing to do," said Marshall.
"It shows that 'I care and I will show you what I really feel inside'. If you can argue constructively... if you're not using bad language or trying to destroy the other person and keep it within these parameters, it's effective."
The marriage counselor is also author of the best-selling book I Love You but I'm Not In Love With You and said it's "dangerous to swallow feelings" as they can turn into a "cold, hard lump of bitterness".
"I think it's about time couples step into each other's shoes. Something that your partner is saying has a gram of truth to it. Try and imagine how would the world look through your partner's shoes?"
As a marriage therapist, Marshall sees a huge number of couples in his clinic and revealed that he's never once come across two people where there isn't a disparity in blame.
He advised that relationships work well when an emotional parity exists.
"We've all got our issues and we've all got our problems. You genuinely find people with the similar amount of crookedness. Generally people are at the same level. They've chosen each other for a specific reason."
When people fall in love for the first time they experience something called 'limerence' - a term coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov - where each person feels infatuated with their partner.
Tennov described it as "an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person."
Many couples feel disappointed when that feeling disappears and worry that there is something wrong with their relationship.
"The first thing to remember is limerence it doesn't last forever, which in a way is a great pity, but if we did nothing but stare into our beloved's eyes we'd still be living in mud hoots," said Marshall.
"After 18 months to three years it begins to wane away and you need to replace it with skills."
When it comes to sex, the British therapist said that while most people hate the idea, it's actually okay and even important to plan for sex.
"We think that we've got to magically come together without communicating - if you rely on both of you feeling spontaneously horny at the same time it's only going to happen about three times a year. Valentine's Day, holidays and drunkenly at a Christmas party," he joked.
Marshall urged couples to negotiate and talk about sex.
"My definition of sex includes the regular stuff... but also sensual stuff, including kissing and cuddling, having a bath together - nobody is never not in the mood to have a back rub.
"Touching each other and holding each other is the most beautiful thing in the world."
He returned to the issue of communication as an essential part of a healthy relationship and offered his manta of "I can ask, you can say no and we can negotiate" as a guideline for couples.
"The problem is that we find it difficult to ask... we also find it very difficult to say no to our partners because they might not like us again," he said.
The author said it's important that couples think about the words they use and be mindful of how they say no.
He also stressed the importance of making time for each other in a relationship and think wisely about how much time to spend together as how much time couples should spend apart.
"It's easy in the lovely warmth of family time to think you're doing things as a couple but you're not. You need couple time. You got married because you like each other.
"We think that because we know our partners know we love them that it's okay if they come last in our priorities but it's not.
"Dating and making special time for each other is important."