By Marion L. Usher
This post is the fourth in a series about how couples can navigate questions related to their interfaith marriages. Click here for the first post on choosing a ‘lead religion.’ Click here for the second post on where to go for help. Here is the third post on addressing how to raise children in an interfaith household.
“I think that this course allows you to have those difficult dialogues you don’t want to have, to talk with other people, and to think about those issues. My grandfather used to have a saying that if we spent half as much time planning our marriages as we did our wedding, there’d be a lot less divorce. I thought of this class and I think about that phrase, and it’s true. This class helped us prepare how we were going to lead our life as a married couple.” -Rebecca and Brad
I am a big believer in pre-marital counseling. As such, I offer couples in the workshop two complimentary models which provide frameworks on how psychological dynamics function in their relationships.
The first model is based on the concepts of attachment and autonomy. I explain these two concepts and how they operate in a relationship. Attachment exists between two people when each feels he or she can unconditionally rely on the other person. It is an emotional state where each partner understands that they are available for the other.
Autonomy, defined as all that we do to take care of ourselves, refers to how we function in our family and work lives, how we mange our internal life, and how we take charge of our independence.
Using the “MasterCard” logo, the overlapping circles represent the “attachment” part of the relationship, and the two outside parts of the logo represent each person’s capacity for “autonomous behavior.” If the circles would overlap, then the relationship would be smothered and there would be no air to breathe. If the two circles did not even touch, that would represent two people living in a relationship with great distance from one another and with little intimacy between them.
The second model is based on the work of Dr. John Gottman. His research, which he has carried out for the past 30 years, has led to the development of a template describing the factors and behaviors that make marriages functional. In addition, he also outlines which processes are malignant to a marriage, which are helpful, and what couples can do to improve their relationship. These processes are presented in his book, “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail,” which is one of the best resources in the field of couple’s therapy. He cites criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling as the four malignant processes which can erode a marriage. He offers four strategies for repairing the damage: calm down, speak non-defensively, validation and over learning, meaning try and try again. These concepts are easy to comprehend and are very helpful to couples as they learn how to live together.
I have found these two models, characterizing how healthy couples relate, to yield fruitful conversations. As couples apply these newly learned skills and concepts, they often first focus on their parents’ mode of operating. As they become more comfortable with revealing their own issues, they go on to talk about their own dynamics. They appreciate having these new tools and skills for looking at their own modes of operating. What better wedding gift for Chelsea and Mark than a foundation on which to build a strong and happy marriage?
I wish them my sincere congratulations and a big Mazel Tov!