The Key to Marital Success

What two attitudes are necessary to create and maintain a successful marriage? Both spouses must be open to growth and they must make their marriage the top priority.

Many couples are surprised to learn that they have the opportunity to grow and mature within a marriage. It seems to me that one’s spouse takes on the power which their parents used to have. In other words each spouse now becomes the most influential person in their partner’s life.

Growth in marriage can be very powerful in that old wounds can be healed. For instance, if a parent is neglectful or abusive, wounding occurs in the child. When this youngster grows to adulthood and marries, the old wounds can sometimes get in the way of forming a strong bond with his wife. However, by following a few ground rules related to communication and collaboration, this individual can learn to interact with their spouse in ways which are far improved over what he learned in interactions with his parents. Because of this growth, wounds from the past can be healed in the present.

Dr. Daniel Siegel, in his research on brain development, has said that the human brain can rewire itself through a process called neuroplasticity. When an individual communicates well with a special person in their life -hopefully their spouse fills this role- and this communication involves focus and emotion, the brain will rewire itself. In other words, we will then be able to cope more effectively with challenging situations as they occur. Growth occurs through the marital relationship.


Making marriage the top priority is the second attitude which will keep the relationship solid and alive. A marriage is like a living organism and it needs to be nurtured on a regular basis. If a couple becomes distracted with raising children or making money, they may “forget” that they are married. This can cause them to take their marriage for granted and to drift apart. When their children eventually leave the nest a marital crisis may ensue.

Bob and Beth were very dedicated to their two sons. They attended their hockey practice and games and supported other activities as well. These two parents split the duties, taking turns cheering on each of their active teens. Because of the schedules, it was rare for Bob and Beth to catch a game at the same time. This active parenting pattern continued over the years until their youngest left home to attend university in the east. Soon after his departure, Beth and Bob experienced a crisis: they had drifted so far apart they now felt estranged from each other. This realization came only after both sons had moved away from home. In their attempts to be good parents, they had not made their marriage a priority and this martial disconnect was the consequence.

Making marriage a priority means finding the time each day to connect and support one another. Setting aside a daily “talk time” which includes back and forth sharing about the emotional impact of the day, as well as family related decision making, will go a long way to keeping a marital relationship refreshed and healthy. Couples who make time to have a cup of tea and chat with each other, without their children present, learn to appreciate each other’s differences and see them as a sign of balance. They also learn how to work with the differences to create collaborative solutions without falling into power struggles. Their goal is to find a workable solution while honouring the points of view of the person they love.


These daily talks provide the opportunity for mutual exchanges which will, if done properly, decrease stress. Communicating effectively means focusing on each other and listening to what the day has done to each other, not what each spouse has done that day. Dr. Siegel stresses the crucial importance of empathy in facilitating growth and helping to relax and bond the couple to each other. Daily empathic conversations help to make marriage the priority it needs to be in order to survive and thrive and in order to facilitate growth in each spouse.

The Key to Marital Success
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Denis works with couples and individuals. His areas of interest include marriage, grief and stress. He also counsels people who suffer from depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as those struggling with personal growth issues.

Denis is eclectic in his use of psychological approaches, which include Adlerian, cognitive/behavioural, systems, psychodynamic, brief solution focused, existential and emotionally focused therapies.

Denis is a popular speaker who presents talks and workshops on a variety of topics including marriage, grief, retirement, emotional maturity and family relationships. He has published a book titled, “Marriage Can Be Great!…no really.”

Denis was a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. He helped to start the first hospice program in B.C. in 1975.

Denis received his Master of Arts degree from the University of British Columbia in 1977 and works as a Registered Psychologist. He is a member of the B.C. College of Psychologists and the B.C. Psychological Association.

Most importantly Denis has been married to Maureen for over thirty years and they have four children.

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