Monday, February 24, 2014

Blurred Lines: How To Keep Your Marriage On Track

When couples separate, it inevitably sends onlookers into a speculative frenzy.  "Why is this happening," they wonder, as they re-examine all the public photos looking for clues that something sinister was amiss.  In the case of celebrity marriages, people are particularly likely to "blur lines" and engage in looking back at the relationship to find early signs of failure, cracks in the foundation, and glimpses of doom.

Such is the case today with the announcement of Robin Thicke and Paula Patton separating after nine years of marriage.  The news has spread like wildfire, and already social media is lit up with ideas, theories, and speculations for why this is happening.  Instead of playing detective to find out if someone "cheated," you can use this example to gain insight as to how to make your own relationship structure stronger.  In two decades of working with couples I have found these five "pillars" to be fundamental in maintaining any relationship:

Integrity - Do you actions reflect your stated values?  In the case of Robin Thicke and Paula Patton, a lot has changed since they married in 2005.  "Blurred Lines" became the top selling song of 2013,  and with that level of popularity and attention often comes a shift in lifestyle and priorities.  If your values toward monogamy, money, or child rearing change, but you fail to communicate those changes with a partner, then it can lead to violation of integrity, and a destruction of trust.

Communication - Are you effectively sharing your thoughts, feelings, beliefs with your primary partner in a way that he or she can understand?  Changes in lifestyle and priorities do not have to decimate trust if those changes are communicated effectively.  But if someone thinks, "I shouldn't have to tell my spouse what I'm feeling," or, "I'm scared of telling my spouse my values are changing," then they are setting up the relationship wrecking ball.

Compassion - Can you acknowledge humanity in your spouse, and then do no intentional harm toward them?  Breaking agreements in relationships is a direct way to inflict pain on another person, and can often result in long-term couples choosing to split.  Part of compassion means that you have moments of presence - i.e., focused, non-distracted time-frames where work, phones, TVs, and computers are shut off.  When a couple stops acting with compassion and gratitude toward one another, they create more possibility for distance, alienation, and separation.

Responsibility - Are you taking responsibility for your emotional wellness?  Or do you blame others when you are angry or upset?  It is considered natural in our culture to assign blame every time someone experiences emotional pain.  However, each and every one of us is 100% responsible for our own affective experience.  You may choose to assume that responsibility by not staying with a partner who demonstrates a lack of integrity, communication, and compassion.  But even then, you are still the one in control.  When people blame their spouse for "making" them feel something, it leads to resentment, strife, tension, and ultimately into the bank accounts of couple therapists and divorce lawyers. 

Compromise - Do you and your spouse create agreements and negotiations that are balanced, creative, humane, and ultimately advantageous?  The art and skill of compromise is a rare talent in this culture, and sadly seems to becoming more scarce.  We've seen the failure of negotiations in Politics worldwide, and we the same holds true in marriages.  If two people are not able or willing to compromise with integrity, communication, compassion, and responsibility, then the relationship will ultimately crumble under stress.  My book, "Rational Relating" offers an easy-to-follow framework for creating loving and lasting compromises. 

These five "pillars," all need reinforcing over time in any stable relationship.  When couples neglect these tools it often leads to changes in the relationship, and a separation after nine years of marriage.  You can look at Robin Thicke and Paula Patton and think, "How did this happen to them"? Or, you can learn from this couple and consider, "How can I prevent this from happening to us"? 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in New York who has helped hundreds of couples and individuals create joyful, peaceful, and pleasurable relationships. He is the author of the books, “Rational Relating” and “Absolutely Should-less.” His trainings have helped thousands to learn practical skills for living an empowered and fulfilling life. To speak with Damon about counseling, speaking engagements, or media appearances - please contact him at, call 347-227-7707, or visit

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