The 1995 film “Heat” starred Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino on opposite sides of the law, which seems quite appropriate for a piece on marital advice for at least two reasons: firstly, the two stars are at odds with each other, which is exactly how most spouses feel towards one another at one time or another in their marriages, and secondly because of DeNiro’s line in the movie when he says, “That’s the discipline.”
Of course, with that line he is explaining to his girlfriend that, at any time, and for any sufficient reason, someone like him needs to be able to cut off all ties, even to loved ones, and run from the law.
Now here I want to use that same line for the exact opposite purpose: to give some tips that will help your marriage stay together, because THAT’S the discipline!
That’s the Discipline Tip Number 1: You are each somebody else’s messed up kid.
So, don’t look at your spouse like they are supposed to be some sort of reference point for perfect behavior or mental health. This also means we need not be totally disappointed or enraged when they let us down somehow in our everyday lives. They are screwed up, and so are we, so–as they say–deal with it. Meaning, work on it together.
That’s the Discipline Tip Number 2: Commitment.
Your relationship is not optional or disposable. Unless you are beating each other, drinking or drugging, habitually and chronically cheating, or just don’t care to work on it, your marriage is “innocent” as far as marriages go. It’s supposed to be hard, sometimes VERY hard. So work on it and go deeper with it over time. It’s an emotional investment.
That’s the Discipline Tip Number 3: Each of you needs to learn to say “There’s a problem with my marriage and that problem is me.” This won’t work if only one spouse says it. BOTH must say it.
Because I do this for a living I can tell you for certain that there are no perfect individuals in marriage, so cross yourself off THAT list! Haha! We ALL have room to grow and to grow up, and I have traditionally put myself first in that line. Some humility is helpful here. Enough said.
That’s the Discipline Tip Number 4: Watch the tone and the language you use with each other.
Tone is VERY important. Not many people realize that one of the earliest signs to your spouse of your internal state is your tone. Regardless of what you are actually trying to say, your spouse’s subconscious will immediately react to your tone. Their defenses will go up and it will be over before it begins.
That’s the Discipline Tip Number 5: Like each other.
A daily goal in your marriage is to do and say things that make the other person actually like you and want to be around you. The more we like and trust the other person with our hearts, the more we want to be around them. That means less commenting and more listening; less judging and more exploring. I call this building up the Emotional Credibility (trust + likability) in the relationship. Build it.
That’s the Discipline Tip Number 6: Show each other that you matter.
We all get tired and overwhelmed and stressed out by life. But if this is the only way your spouse knows you, and you save your “game face” for work or other priorities, how do you think you will be perceived and thought of at home with time? Exactly.
That’s the Discipline Tip Number 7: Appreciate one another.
First of all, see Tip Number 1 again. Have some mercy and compassion for each other, because no one’s THAT straight on life. We’re all a bit confused and screwy. Secondly, you each started out in the relationship trying to impress one another right? You cared about what the other person thought of you. You were polite and said, “thank you” a lot as well as other niceties. (You even said “I’m sorry” once in a while when you were wrong, God forbid!) You appreciated every little thing the other person did or said that made you feel good inside or that made your life a little easier. Do that stuff again now and forever more.
Well, there’s more, but not for this list.
Good Luck and Cheerio!
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand a Few Things First)