A relationship psychologist describes 3 ways to strengthen your relationship

Eli J. Finkel, a professor at Northwestern University and the author of “The All-or-Nothing Marriage,” explains three different ways you can strengthen your relationship.

Eli Finkel: What can we do to make our marriage a bit stronger? Well, the “All-or-Nothing Marriage” perspective that I introduce in the book suggests that we have three options.

The first option is, we can say, “I really want this highly intensive sort of marriage, this extraordinary sort of marriage that is available today and I’m willing to work as much as it takes in order to make the marriage as strong as possible.”  So that’s extra time, that’s extra attention to the relationship.

But that’s not the only option, right? It may be that we have to young kids at home, or we’re dealing with a medical emergency, or it’s a slow-burning crisis at work.

Are there other things we can do to strengthen the marriage? And the answer is yes, and I talk about two other options in the book. The first of which is, think about our partner’s behavior in a different sort of way.

For example, your partner does something neglectful,  forgets your birthday, shows up late, doesn’t call when he or she is supposed to call. There are various ways we can think about that behavior. One of which is, “My partner is a jerk.”

And it turns out, research is clear on this point, that to the degree that you tend to be somebody who makes that sort of attribution or explanation for your partner’s behavior, your marriage will struggle.

Instead, you have options to say, “Well, my partner probably had a difficult day,” or “It probably wasn’t my partner’s fault at all, there was probably a traffic accident that led to the traffic,” right? And these sorts of explanations are much more benign and much more relationship-friendly.

There is a third option that I wish people would consider more seriously, which is, we can ask less. There is no rule that says you absolutely have to ask the following things of your marriage. And so, if you find yourself chronically disappointed in one element of your marriage, or in a subset of elements of your marriage, one of the really good ways to dealing with that is to think about, “Is it really essential that I try to meet this need in particular through the marriage?”

There may be some cases where you say, “Yes, absolutely. There’s no way I would ever want to meet this need through another person or on my own.” But there are many things we look to our partner to help us meet that we could just as easily look somewhere else.

And one of the best ways you can actually improve the marriage is to find those places of imbalance, find the places where the demands you are placing on the marriage are clearly exceeding the amount that the marriage can actually meet. Well, just take off some of the demands, especially in those cases.