Healthy Romantic Partnerships

Resources that have helped my marriage

Delaney Ruston, MD
February 8, 2022
Marriage Takes Work Collage

There are times in our decades-long marriage that either I or my husband have said the following after a night out with other people.

“Last night, it seemed like you talked A LOT.”

“Really? Actually, I thought it was the reverse — you were talking so much.”

Sound familiar to any of you?

Recently I thought of an app I could create that would address this difference of opinion. The app would learn my husband, Peter, and my voice. Then when we were with another couple for dinner,  I could put the phone on some counter and have the app going, and it would measure how much we both actually spoke. 

Who can argue with hard data? My husband and I had a good laugh thinking about such an app. 

In truth, it does not come up that often that we think the other person monopolized a conversation. Why? Because we have worked on it. And believe me, we have worked on many things in our relationship. 

One area that has required a lot of work is parenting together. We love our kids so much, and when we approach a parenting issue differently, we often move into opposite corners of a ring and then come back to the center to take cheap shots at each other.

Meanwhile, other life issues have been really hard too. At one point, my husband needed us to move for his work, which meant moving our kids far from their friends. They were in their teen years. It was a tough time in our lives indeed.

I have always sought resources to give us new skills, perspectives, and support when needed.  

Today I am sharing some tools that have helped my marriage over the years. I’ve purposely timed this post to coincide with Valentine’s Day.  Taking the time to work on one’s long-term relationship — to get help, to be vulnerable, and to compromise — is an act of love. 

Letting our kids know that long-term love takes work is a gift to them.  For example, we have not hidden the books we read on marriage. On the contrary, we discuss them at times. I love when I find our kids reading through one such book.

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Resources I recommend

First, let me start with a  TEDx Talk by psychologist and researcher Joanne Davila, “Skills for Healthy Romantic Relationships.”

When we lived in New York, Davila was our therapist for a while. When we first started working with her, we did not know she had done a TEDx Talk. She helped us get through a really rocky period.

My husband and I have long been proponents of couple counseling. We even did it before we got married because we liked how an outside person helps us see things more deeply from the other person’s side and ultimately helps us feel closer.  

Davila’s talk focuses on romantic competence, which she describes as comprising of three components: insight, mutuality, and emotional regulation.

Emotional regulation, one of the key ideas in her talk, is often referred to apropos to kids and teens, but, of course, it relates to us adults as well. 

Emotion regulation means developing the ability to manage times when you might want to snap. Davila gives the example of waiting for a text back from your partner: “That text isn’t coming. You’re getting really anxious. You’re checking your phone every two seconds. With emotion regulation, you’ll be able to tell yourself, ‘You know what? Calm down — the text is going to come. I don’t need to check my phone every second. I’m just going to put it away and focus on the task at hand.”

Now let me suggest two books. 

“The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” by John Gottman, PH.D. and Nan Silver

John Gottman has been studying relationships for decades and is well known for his Love Lab in Seattle. The Love Lab is a research center in which there are rooms with cameras, and married couples get asked to discuss things like a disagreement, and while doing so, different data points such as mannerisms, heart rate, and what they say get collected. He does this work with his wife, psychologist Julie Gottman. (Both of them are in Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER). 

Here is one of the quotes from the book that I found particularly helpful,

“One of the most surprising truths about marriage: most marital arguments cannot be resolved.  Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind — but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. ...they need to understand the bottom-line difference that is causing the conflict — and to learn how to live with it by honoring and respecting each other. “

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Long-term marital arguments are always present, even when couples want to pretend that they are not. The Gottmans give voice to this truth and then instruct couples to practice radical acceptance. This has really helped me let go of a desire to get Peter to see things my way regarding our past, and for him as well.  We have come to a more comfortable place of knowing that we fundamentally differ on how certain things transpired in our past, and that is OK. 

The second book I suggest is Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner's Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship, by Stan Tatkin. This book particularly resonated with Peter.

This book focuses on neurobiology, attachment theory, and emotion regulation research. The book cover description states, “The no-fault view of conflict in this book encourages you to move past a ‘warring brain’ mentality and toward a more cooperative ‘loving brain’ understanding of your relationship.“

I know this might sound woo-woo, but a lot of the framework Tatkin uses is surprisingly helpful. Tatkin says there are three main ways people tend to relate to their partner: Anchor,  Island, or  Wave.  

Anchors don’t have big fears of abandonment and are generally pretty at ease with emotional intimacy. Feeling close comes more easily to them.

Islands, in contrast, are very independent by nature and can easily get into their own headspace and projects. They can have challenges in having a deep connection with a partner. 

Waves desire connection but can go back and forth in their ability and ease with which they do so.

Finally, I will end by saying that rather than trying to create some app to help our marriage, I hope to power off all apps and have a lovely little dinner together this Valentine's Day. 

Ideas to get the conversation started:

  1. Do you think you are more of an anchor, an island, or a wave? Do any of these describe either of you more than others?
  2. What if, as a couple, or even as a  family, we watch this Tedx Talk?
  3. What things do we still disagree about in our relationship? For instance,  how did a big life event go down? Can we accept that we might always disagree on that and try to find peace in that acceptance? 
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Healthy Romantic Partnerships

Resources that have helped my marriage

Delaney Ruston, MD
February 8, 2022
Marriage Takes Work Collage

There are times in our decades-long marriage that either I or my husband have said the following after a night out with other people.

“Last night, it seemed like you talked A LOT.”

“Really? Actually, I thought it was the reverse — you were talking so much.”

Sound familiar to any of you?

Recently I thought of an app I could create that would address this difference of opinion. The app would learn my husband, Peter, and my voice. Then when we were with another couple for dinner,  I could put the phone on some counter and have the app going, and it would measure how much we both actually spoke. 

Who can argue with hard data? My husband and I had a good laugh thinking about such an app. 

In truth, it does not come up that often that we think the other person monopolized a conversation. Why? Because we have worked on it. And believe me, we have worked on many things in our relationship. 

One area that has required a lot of work is parenting together. We love our kids so much, and when we approach a parenting issue differently, we often move into opposite corners of a ring and then come back to the center to take cheap shots at each other.

Meanwhile, other life issues have been really hard too. At one point, my husband needed us to move for his work, which meant moving our kids far from their friends. They were in their teen years. It was a tough time in our lives indeed.

I have always sought resources to give us new skills, perspectives, and support when needed.  

Today I am sharing some tools that have helped my marriage over the years. I’ve purposely timed this post to coincide with Valentine’s Day.  Taking the time to work on one’s long-term relationship — to get help, to be vulnerable, and to compromise — is an act of love. 

Letting our kids know that long-term love takes work is a gift to them.  For example, we have not hidden the books we read on marriage. On the contrary, we discuss them at times. I love when I find our kids reading through one such book.

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