- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

A husband and wife can learn how to be successful in their marriage, many therapists and re-searchers agree.
"Couples get divorced because they dont know how to do certain behaviors," says Diane Sollee, executive director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, located in the District. "The main one is how to manage conflict. What we know — that all couples need to know — is that disagreement is a part of all marriages."
Ms. Sollee says its critical to manage conflict, keep it in its proper place and not let it contaminate the love and friendship within the marriage.
"It takes real understanding of the fears and anxieties and frustrations of the other person," she says. "When couples listen and learn, you really see dramatic changes."
Linda Waite, author of the book "The Case for Marriage," holds a doctorate and is a sociologist at the University of Chicago. She has been doing research on the institution of marriage for more than 20 years and has been married for 28 years.
"People do have unrealistic expectations about marriage," she says. "Too much of a focus on rights and not enough focus on responsibilities and too much on the short run and not on the long run. Its common for individuals to be unhappy at one point and be quite happy later."
Jeffry H. Larson, professor and director of the marriage and family therapy graduate programs at Brigham Young University, says there are several traits that lead to marital success. These include "good communication skills and conflict-resolution skills," he says.
Individual traits of emotional health, good self-esteem and maturity also are important for a successful marriage, he adds.
Mr. Larson says his book "Should We Stay Together?" is a primer for premarital discussion but also can be useful for evaluating a relationship to learn those areas where work is required.
Elaina Taylor, a marriage therapist in Falls Church, has been married for 30 years. In any long-term marriage, she says, there will be times "when things are going well and then there is a big block in your path, and you dont know how to get around it, and youre not close anymore."
This happens in any relationship, Mrs. Taylor says, and it requires learning how to reconnect.
While communication is important, learning to listen and not react and not defend yourself is very powerful in a marriage, although hard to do by yourself when you feel resentful and hurt, she says.
"Feelings are very powerful when you keep them in," Mrs. Taylor says. Talking about feelings in a safe environment can be beneficial.
Scott M. Stanley, a therapist and researcher at the University of Denver, has been conducting research for more than 20 years and, along with colleagues Howard J. Markman and Susan L. Blumberg, has created the Prevention and Relationship En-hancement Program.
This research-based skills-building programa focuses on lowering risk factors and raising protective factors to ensure successful marriages. Risk factors include neurotic behavior, premarital cohabitation, previous divorce of spouses, a conflicted relationship, short courtship, communication, dissimilar attitudes and young age. Some of these factors are not amenable to change, but others are — such as communication ability, conflict management, attitudes, expectations and beliefs. That is where PREP can play a role.
Even a marriage wounded by an affair isnt hopeless. Mrs. Taylor says it is necessary to rebuild trust and examine the underlying purpose for the person who had the affair. Normally, she says, affairs are not about sex — they are about attention and loss.
"If you have emotional intimacy, you are not going to be that interested in someone else," she explains.
If a man is having the affair, the hard part is letting go of the affair and doing the hard work to reconnect. If a woman is having the affair, she usually is out the door, Mrs. Taylor says.
Some warning signs that a marriage is in need of work include:
* One partner feels unhappy, lonely and not connected.
* One partner may be spending a lot of time away from home. If you are not spending quality time with each other, thats a red flag, Mrs. Taylor says. "You need two people committed to the relationship. If their career is first, that will spell trouble," she says.
* Avoiding conflict or talking about needs can be a signal that something is wrong. Mrs. Taylor says arguing can be very healthy in a marriage.
Questions to ask:
* Is the friendship still alive?
* Is self-esteem being affected? Emotional abuse and violence are huge warning signs.
* Overall, are you happy?
"A good marriage is interdependent, but in order to be interdependent, you have to be able to like yourself. Thats the only way one can have respect," Mrs. Taylor says.
In addition to listening and talking, Mrs. Taylor suggests that a couple do fun things together — "be playful." One way to reconnect is to have a date at least once a week. Its also important to keep the couple a priority and not always to put the children first, she says.

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