Building Marital Strengths:
Six Core Principles & 23 Practical Strategies

by Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT

In preparation for presenting at the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Annual Conference on “Building Strong Families with ACCCTS” I wrote the following. For those readers unfamiliar with “ACCCTS” they are simply the “acts” or behaviors that the research repeatedly demonstrates that strong families engage in: Appreciation, Commitment, Creative coping and problem solving, Communication, Time together, and Spiritual wellness.

These principles apply to all aspects of family life including the marriage relationship. Within these six simple traits are innumerable ways to increase our commitment, communication, connection and compatibility in our marriages. Here are just a few ideas and strategies you can use to check your current strengths in these areas as well as to encourage growth where needed:

APPRECIATION

Affirmation
Saying, “I love you” in varied ways, and often, with daily being the best.

Couple and self
Respect both the partnership and the individual. Both the partnership and individual have needs and wants that need to be carefully (meaning “full of care”) balanced.

Accepting differences
Valuing differences builds self-esteem, increases the sharing of each partner’s talents and leaves people feeling appreciated. “Bringing out the best” does not mean trying to change your partner into how you think he or she should be.

Emotional support
Esteem, encouragement, and “emergency aid” or “repair attempts” extend family resources and couple caring.

COMMITMENT

Having shared expectations
Partners with similar, and selfless, goals create focus, trust, and teamwork.

Dedication
Loyalty, affection, and giving both show and grow love.

Constraints and limits
Our commitments to, and expectations of, friends, investments of time and resources, and moral beliefs discourage breakup and encourage stability and growth. Healthy limits do not restrict, but act like the constraining walls of a warm house in the winter keeping the warmth and safety in and the cold and harm out.

Patience and perseverance
Even happy couples have to work out differences in personality, roles, finances, sex, parenting attitudes, and much, much more. This takes time. This takes work. Thus the value of patience and perseverance.

Having a growth orientation
Staying in love through difficulty and change takes hard work and learning. Keeping a focus on the growth process vs. immediate gratification can make all the difference.

CREATIVE COPING & PROBLEM SOLVING:

Coping with conflict
By staying calm, thinking things out instead of reacting, assuming or jumping to conclusions, and using humor we are better equipped to cope more effectively with conflict as it arises.

Focus on avoiding the negatives
Drown out the relationship killers of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, withdrawal/stonewalling (a.k.a. the four relationship poisons I mentioned in a previous article) by learning more effective ways of solving problems and communicating.

Problem solving
Strong couples have learned that by taking one step at a time, seeking more information (clarifying vs. assuming), and taking a long-term view of the problem (such as, will this matter five to ten years from now? Will this matter when we are 80 years old?) they are more effective at solving their problems.

Getting, setting and keeping realistic expectations
Reasonable expectations help a couple to stay optimistic instead of disillusioned.

Individual friendships
The companionship, support, and mentoring offered by friends and family adds energy and insight to marriage. Also, a variety of friends and family with whom with we can exchange favors or “practical exchanges” lightens the marital load.

Professional help
Books or educators offer valuable information and skills for life challenges. Counselors can help couples get “unstuck” from problems, work through crises, and develop a workable plan for moving forward.

COMMUNICATION

Active listening skills
Tuning into our partner’s viewpoint and repeating ideas or feelings to check the other’s meaning are keys to effective communication.

Speaking love
“Speaking love” means learning to speak for self only instead of “You think…” and “You feel….” Think of the classic “I” statements.

Describe vs. blame
Describing what is bothering you vs. blaming the other. This is simply and respectfully taking turns sharing ideas without interruption.

Common ground
No two people are exactly alike, so emphasize agreements instead of emphasizing points of disagreement. Awareness of “red flag” issues can avert destructive conflict tendencies.

Agreeing to disagree
I know this may sound obvious, but love doesn’t mean agreeing on everything. Having respect for different views, willingness to compromise, or the getting the aid of a counselor or mediator can help balance the “me” and “us” of marriage.

TIME TOGETHER

It is about time
Prioritizing couple time avoids drifting apart. Quality time is a function of quantity time.

Date night
Make date night a regular, and as frequent as possible, event. While frequency is important, consistency is more important. If not weekly then commit to every other week or every month, but then make sure you follow through.

SPIRITUAL WELLNESS

Caring for others
Community volunteering and helping friends enhances family pride.

Higher ground
Being willing to take the higher ground, while avoiding being “holier than thou,” helps us stay focused on “how I want to be” instead of “how I tend to react.”

If you would like to learn more about the principles and strategies around these traits simply visit www.bardos.net/strongfamilies for seven more free articles on strong families.

More articles and tips for creating greatness in your relationships can be found at bardos.net/resources

Jonathan Sherman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Consultant specializing in creating "greatness in relationships." He is experienced in assisting people learn to improve their marriages, their parenting and themselves through skill development, life coaching, overcoming depression and anxiety, stress and anger management, and addiction recovery. He teaches extensively on a wide range of relationship topics. He is the founder of Bardos Relationship Consulting. He is married to a skillled husband trainer who has truly earned her keep. They live in eternal bliss (okay, fairly peaceably) with their four children in American Fork, UT. You may reach him at 801.787.8014, jonathan@bardos.net or at www.bardos.net.


© 2005 Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT
This article provided courtesy of Bardos Relationship Consulting • 801.787.8014 • bardos.net
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