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Formula for a Great Marriage

by Jay Lindsay, Ph.D.

“How can I experience a really great marriage?”

As a marital therapist, I’m often asked this question or some variation of it.

My answer? It’s in a formula I’ve developed over the past 30 years. I’ve shared it with hundreds of couples. Now I’ll share it with you.

I call it The AEI Formula for a Great Marriage. Here it is:

A + E + I = A Great Marriage

1. The A stands for awareness.

Insight: Be aware! Pay attention to how satisfied your partner is with your marriage.

Never assume that your spouse is fully satisfied with the way your marriage is going. Ask!

Tip: Ask your partner: “On a scale of 1 – 10, how would you rate your Marital Satisfaction Level?”

Then put the shoe on the other foot.

Tip: Ask yourself: “On a scale of 1 – 10, how would I rate my Marital Satisfaction Level?”

If you are not fulfilled, then speak up. Let your spouse know your Marital Satisfaction Level, or your MSL. Don’t expect him or her to be a mind reader!

Remember: It’s easy to overlook marital dissatisfaction, your partner’s or your own. That’s because it usually starts small and builds slowly. Eventually, you notice it, but you minimize it: “It’s not so bad.”

You think that the marital dissatisfaction is fleeting and so you ignore it. You assume that it will go away.

But it doesn’t. Instead, it gets worse.

That’s why it’s critical that you ask your partner what his or her MSL is and that you share yours as well. Do this at least once a month. Be aware!

2. The E stands for effort.

Insight: Make an effort! Work at your marriage!

Great marriages don’t just happen. They require work. Not constant arduous hard labor, but frequent effort.

Recently, President Barack Obama was asked the secret of the close relationship that he and the first lady enjoy. His answer? “We work at it!”

One of the worst notions going around today about marriage is this. “If two people really love each other, then they won’t have to work at their relationship. It will just flow.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider this. If you’re not making an effort to show that you love your spouse, then you’re probably taking him or her for granted. Over time, your spouse’s MSL will surely drop. Is that really what you want?

Tip: Don’t just stand there. Do something. Show your love!

Be proactive. Demonstrate your love to your spouse. Make an effort!

3. The I stands for intentionality.

Insight: Be intentional! Focus your efforts on meeting your spouse’s most important needs.

Likely, his or her MSL will rise.

In marriage, we have many needs that we count on our partner to fulfill.

Insight: Unquestionably, the most important needs we have are “attachment needs.”

These are the needs which when met cause us to feel deeply connected to our partner.

Attachment needs include our needs to feel treasured, nurtured, and soothed. We all long for the fulfillment of these needs and for the bondedness that results. We need to know that our partner is really there for us.

Insight: More than anything else, a feeling of safe and secure attachment is what makes for a high level of marital satisfaction.

How can you develop this feeling of safe and secure attachment? You can start by asking your partner this question.

Tip: Ask your spouse: “To increase your Marital Satisfaction Level, what do you need more of from me?”

Listen in particular for unmet attachment needs.

Here are some examples. Your partner might say, “I need more time with you.” Or, “I need more affection.” Or, “I need more lovemaking.” Or, “I need more listening.” Or, “I need to hear you say ‘I love you’ more.”

Here’s a caveat. We tend to assume that what our partner wants most is what we want most. But this is not always the case. For example, a husband might want to give his wife more sex because that’s what he wants. But what if even more than sex she wants affection?

Once you’ve found out what your partner’s attachment needs are, then go all out at meeting them. Be intentional!

So, that’s it! My formula for a really great marriage. It’s helped a lot of couples and I hope that it helps you.

Now I wish I could say that The AEI Formula is a sure-fire, magic formula that is guaranteed to get results, but I can’t.

Unfortunately, it is very easy for all couples to fall into negative interaction patterns that can keep the formula from working. If you implement The AEI Formula and your spouse’s MSL or yours remains low, then marital therapy should be considered.

You and your partner may need help getting out of negative interaction patterns and into positive ones before The AEI Formula will be maximally effective.

Here’s to a really great marriage for you!


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