A primary relationship is one of the most sought after commodities in the world. We all seem to want to have a special relationship that takes precedence over other relationships. When life becomes difficult and painful, having another person to share the difficulties of life can minimize our pain. At the same time, having another person to share the joys and pleasures of life can enhance those joys. Some joys can seem empty without some one to share them. Primary relationships often evolve into marriage. Marriage can be a structure that shelters us. Once established, we live within the confines of the unique marriage we create. No two marriages are alike. Like any other structure, there are rules and guidelines that can help us build a healthy nurturing marital structure in an unpredictable and unstable world. Although marriage can be a source of comfort and solace and joy, it is not a problem-solving tool. In fact, once the honeymoon phase wears off, marriage actually can create more problems than it solves. We may think of marriage as a garden that produces the fruits of companionship and comfort. However, like any garden, it is essential that we nurture our marriage. We must be willing to pull the weeds that would otherwise choke the delicate plants of honest communication and trust which lead to true intimacy.

Communicating honestly and respectfully is a vital consideration in a healthy marriage. Trust is a prerequisite for healthy intimacy. ANY behavior that diminishes the other person’s trust is destructive to the marital structure. Destructive behaviors include the use of a disrespectful tone of voice, name calling, intentional infliction of distress (i.e. silent treatment, intentionally hurtful words), lying and criticizing (as opposed to sharing insights or observations with loving intent) etc. Being human, any of us are apt to slip into these behaviors at times. They are always a mistake, however, and all mistakes need to be addressed if we wish to avoid long-term damage to the marital structure.

To help illustrate this, I compare the structure of your marriage to the structure of your home, specifically the kitchen. Imagine that you are pouring a glass of orange juice and you spill some on the kitchen counter. That spill leaves a mess and needs to be cleaned up. If you don’t clean it up, it stays and becomes increasingly sticky, gathering more dirt as time goes on. Messes add up and the kitchen eventually becomes less and less habitable. When we damage our partner’s trust without cleaning up the mess, eventually, the marital structure becomes less habitable. As the marital structure deteriorates the inhabitants become increasingly unhappy and may resort to backbiting and generally graceless behavior. The following guidelines can help avoid such unpleasantness.