Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Mastering Marriage Part 2: Practicing the Process of Marriage and Recovery

Mastering Marriage - a 2 Part Series:

Part 1: Interpreting Plateaus in Marriage and Recovery
Part 2: Practicing the Process of Marriage and recovery

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What makes a good marriage?

Many marriage researchers use a term "masters of relationship." What does that really mean?

Are great marriages born out of dumb luck or just reading a book or attending six premarital sessions before you say, "I do"?

Cognitive Psychologist, K. Anders Ericsson would say absolutely not. Ericsson has spent his career researching why some individuals are better than others at certain tasks. His scholarly aim was to answer the question: "When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes them good?"

One of his studies involved violinists at the academy of Music in Berlin. He divided students into 3 groups: those who were tagged as world class performers, those who were very good and those who planned to become music teachers. He discovered that the future music teachers logged 4,000 hours of practice, very good violinists logged 8,000 hours, and world-class performers logged more than 10,000 hours. He also studied pianists with much the same results.

Malcom Gladwell oversimplified Ericsson's research but did make it popular in his book, "Outliers," and it is Ericsson's research that is the basis for the 10,000 rule that Gladwell describes in his book. This idea is often misunderstood and misquoted, but the point that both Gladwell and Ericsson are trying to make is that you must put in the time. Of course, there are other factors:

  • Genetics – lots of twin studies prove this. It doesn't matter how much I practice; I'm not going to be a great singer. I would be happy to carry a tune in the shower.
  • Emotion – emotions play a critical role in learning, trying to keep emotions out of your learning is disastrous, just as unregulated emotions are.
  • Vision – having a positive mental picture of what you are trying to accomplish is remarkably effective.
  • Motivation – motivation is the single biggest factor in learning. Practice takes on meaning and relevance when connected to clearly defined goals.

But it just so happens that those who rise to the top, or in our case, become masters of relationships, do so through something as basic as deliberate practice.

You have all heard the saying, "practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect". Ericsson's research shows that's it's not a matter of ability, but rather a motivation and grit to be intentional in learning. It's recognizing there's not only room for improvement but also a need and desire to be committed to thoughtful growth. Becoming a master in marriage is about recognizing the need to be continually practicing the art of relationship.

Practice the art of relationship – let that sink in. Relationships are not static. It takes a lot of time and dedicated practice to master relational skills. But that's not how we're taught. It's as if the whole world works against mastery. Instead of teaching the value of lifelong learning and deliberate practice, we receive messages about immediate gratification and how can I best get my needs met.

Remember from Part 1:

  • Stay focused on setting realistic expectations of ourselves and our partner.
  • Practice learning to get it right not being right.
  • Resist mediocrity.

It's not a matter of how well we're doing; rather, it's a matter of how well we're doing what we're doing.

Life isn't about a continual series of peaks; there are also valleys and plateaus on the journey. Mastery in marriage is about continuing to practice the processes even when it seems nothing is changing. If we stop practicing, the relationship will atrophy. It takes two to make a relationship and both parties need to be committed to the right thing. And that right thing isn't a great relationship!

A great relationship is an outcome not a goal. To develop a great relationship, you must practice the process. It's about getting clear about what kind of relationship you want, what kind of partner you need to be in the relationship you want, and healing the things inside of you that are getting in your way. It's practicing the behaviors of respect and generous listening, learning how to handling conflict well, and the continual process of learning how we can do it better next time.

How does one master the process of marriage? Here are a few tips:

1. Heal your childhood wounds.

I can't emphasize this strongly enough. It is the best thing you can do for yourself and all of your relationships. Healing and understanding are not the same thing, so find a therapist who is certified in IFS, EMDR, and ETT—three of the types of trauma-based therapies that I know—and clear out the trauma (big 'T' or little 't').

2. Learn from the masters themselves.

Find those who do it well, and let them mentor you in the processes of relationships. Or, find experts in the field who use research proven methods for what does and doesn't work. Let them help you identify what you're doing well and what areas of relating need improvement.

3. Make it a practice.

We typically think of practice as a verb—goal-oriented, like practicing to learn to play the guitar, practicing to learn to play tennis, or practicing to learn your multiplication tables. For those who want mastery, however, practice is a noun. It's not something you do; rather, it's something you have. Practice is the routine that becomes an ongoing part of life.

4. Be intentional.

The masters of marriage are intentional in their process. Learning becomes a way of life. They don't assume they've arrived; rather, they are curious and have a beginner's mind which is open to the scriptedness and awkwardness that comes with learning something new. Continual learning allows us to stay present to the process and aware of disconnection. The masters of marriage never assume that they are right and that their mate has really messed up. Looking for ways to improve how they love and how to improve their responses becomes a lifelong quest. Intentionality is about taking the lessons learned from good instructors, implementing them, and making them a lifelong practice. Intentionality provides a lifelong commitment to practicing the practice of marriage.

Beginning to practice the practice of marriage might be a new concept, but that doesn't make it any less critical for a great relationship. Breaking out of our same old routines requires having that beginner's mind and dedicating ourselves to deliberate practice.

Part of our hope at Affair Recovery is that we can impart lifelong rituals that will help you become a lifelong learner about yourself and your marriage. If you are a wayward spouse and not sure where to start, I would encourage you to check out the Hope for Healing Course offered by Affair Recovery. You will get a time tested and proven process with lots of support and guidance. You can check it out at affairrecovery.com under the programs tab.

Thanks so much for your time this week. Take care, and I'll see you again soon.

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