by Heidi Vermeer-Quist, PsyD
When conflicts arise, making a marriage work can seem incredibly difficult…even impossible. Though emotions become intense, heated, sad, fearful, or even avoidant, don’t despair. These are all clues that you and your spouse really care! If you didn’t care, there would be very little emotion. Many couples, however, don’t know how to work through those emotions effectively. I’d like to recommend returning to an old acronym to help you and your spouse out: KISS. You may recall this acronym as referring to Keep It Super Simple (or something like that). By just remembering to “Keep It Super Simple” in many cases, your blood pressure may lower, your heart rate may slow down, and you may begin to breathe easier. Then apply this new version of the KISS acronym as you live out your part in your marriage (the only part you can directly control):
K – Kind
“Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.” This is a quote that one of my fellow mental health clinicians always kept posted in the middle of his bulletin board. Remembering this quote helps me to not take another person’s negative emotions too personally. That person’s emotion indicates that they are fighting a great battle, and I want to be an ally not an enemy. When I see my spouse struggling or even lashing out me, I need to remain focused on remaining kind, because he or she “is fighting a great battle”. Take a deep breath and remain kind. This is tough, and I’m perfectly imperfect at remaining kind myself, but when I do it helps. When my spouse remains kind toward me, it helps me tremendously. Consider the wisdom of Jesus’ Golden Rule (or second greatest commandment) to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Be kind.
I – Interested
Always remain interested in your spouse. What do they enjoy? What are they doing most days and throughout the day? What do they find most stressful? What are their priorities? The more we remain connected and interested in one another’s lives, the more likely we will feel supported when conflicts or changes arise. By remaining interested in each other, we build an ally relationship and deepen a sense of trust.
S – Seek God
In your own personal life and together with your spouse, seek God continually. He alone is the glue that holds us together. Remember Jesus greatest commandment, “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” He also taught us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” As husband and wife, we need to continually pray, continually submit ourselves to the Lord, and then wait to see the miracle that He alone will produce in and through us working together.
S – Seek to Understand and build Safety
Intimacy with your husband or wife will only grow if they feel safe with you. If you are frequently critical or prone to debating your spouse, you may be destroying rather than building safety in your marriage. Safety is an essential foundation to trust and authentic intimacy. When we are judgmental, bossy, sarcastic and critical, we work against the marital goal of intimacy. If we reflect on why we do these marital defeating behaviors, often we realize that we ourselves are fighting a great battle. Admit your own battle to your spouse, and try to hear what battle they may be fighting. Rather than reacting to your spouse, take time to understand their perspective and value what they have to say. If you have a different take on the topic, do share it but always strive to talk with understanding and safety as your first priority.
Finally, do also remember to kiss one another…frequently. Using the new KISS acronym will help to make those actual kisses even more meaningful.
Heidi Vermeer-Quist, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist working at the Pine Rest Des Moines Clinic since 2002. She provides psychotherapy to people struggling with depression, anxiety, relational conflicts, unresolved grief and adjustment, and personality disorders.