The Action Corps

One Simple Step to Improve Your Marriage

What’s the difference between a marriage and relationship? The way I’m using the two words may be different than the way you look at it. As a therapist, I often have couples come in to fix something that’s not working. They complain about what the other does or doesn’t do or one doesn’t like how the other acts or talks.

I wonder, and sometimes directly ask, what attracted them to their partner in the first place. Those qualities they were attracted to are usually not what’s keeping them in the relationship right now. Their reason for coming to couples therapy is to preserve the marriage. And by marriage, I mean the arrangement. “The marriage” includes the appearance to others, maintaining the house, the living arrangement with the children, and the security that goes along with the arrangement of marriage.

I am less interested in preserving a marriage than I am in building up a relationship. When the relationship is repaired, the marriage is usually fixed automatically. If the marriage is the arrangement, then what’s a relationship? In a relationship we are interested in spending time with somebody we enjoy. We want to be with someone we are attracted to. Most importantly, we want to sacrifice parts of ourselves for the well-being of our partner. Without the desire to sacrifice for our partner out of care and concern, I don’t believe you have a relationship–you just have an arrangement.

When we love someone, we want good things for them. When we are “in love” with someone, we make good things happen for them. We want to open the door for them, we want to warm up their side of the bed, we want to take on some of their chores, we want to express our appreciation to them.

Many couples come to therapy because they want to preserve their marriage (the arrangement). They want to make sure their kids don’t get messed up. They want to avoid the label of divorcee. They want to stay in the home. For most couples, it’s very difficult to preserve a marriage without first restoring the relationship.

One of the interns I supervise recently asked me about a couple she’s working with. She said he gets so annoyed with his wife for complaining all the time. The wife is upset with the husband because of whatever thing annoys her that day. My intern asked how she should approach this couple, and I simply suggested that they look at why they were attracted to each other in the first place and work on those bonds and how they can serve each other. They need to pay closer attention to their relationship than they do to their marriage.

It’s a choice to care for someone because caring is action. And then the marriage falls into place when the relationship becomes healthy.

Take a look at yourself. Maybe you could give more attention to your relationship–that would directly address how you feel about your marriage.

Tell us how to contact you and we'll let you know more about improving your marriage!

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About the Author

Kevin is the director of The Center for Counseling, Recovery, & Growth in Torrance, California where he serves as therapist, receptionist, interior decorator, graphic designer, HR manager, light bulb changer, poet laureate, company spokesman, and CFO.


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  2. Reem Says :
    Posted on July 5, 2015 at 7:13 am

    having recently walekd down this path there are 3 books that we read that were very helpful in forming a Biblical view of marriage and each other:Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas (one to read and re-read)When Sinners Say I Do by Dave HarveyEach for the Other by Bryan and Kathy Chapellwhile Jon and I decided in the end to not get married, all three of these books helped us to view our relationship and God in a much more Biblical light and challenged us to truly love each other with the love of Christ.

  3. Pat Mothner Says :
    Posted on August 8, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    I agree: iIt is all about the relationship. It is also about growing in the relationship. It is about growing yourself, so that your partner has something new about you to fall in love with every year. And it is about finding that in your partner. I am about to be married. What marriage is doing for us is giving us a way to declare to our circle of friends and family, and to the world, our clear intention to live in a loyal and loving way with one another. It is declared on a day of wedding. And, this clear intention must be declared every day. Or else it will just turn, as you say, into an “arrangement.”

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    Posted on August 19, 2015 at 6:25 am

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