DURING NEARLY 24 years of marriage, my husband, Eric, and I have picked up a few relationship-saving practices. Though we learned them to help navigate our marriage, they are useful in any relationship.
The Art of Apology. An effective apology begins with a sincere 'I'm sorry.' Don't bother with excuses or explanations until you know your apology has registered.
The Re-Do. If you blunder into a delicate communication, request a re-do lest you dig yourself in any deeper. When you're granting a re-do, let your hackles down and listen as if for the first time. (It's also a good idea to offer the option of a re-do if someone is flailing too much to request one.)
Freeze-Frame. You may have heard the saying 'Be still and know.' When you practice Freeze-Frame, a stress-prevention technique devised by the Institute of HeartMath (www.heartmath.org), you simply stop so you can evaluate a situation more clearly, become still inside, and frame the moment. Then, focusing on the area around your heart, generate a positive feeling. Using your intuition, ask your heart for an answer to the stressful situation. Most importantly, listen to what your heart says.
The Faithfulness Verse. During a particularly low moment in our marriage, I issued a desperate silent plea for something, anything, that might lift us out of the mire. At that moment, a piece of paper that had been tacked to a bulletin board wafted to the floor. On it was Rudolf Steiner's Faithfulness verse. It isn't about sexual faithfulness, but about the dogged commitment to see what is best and highest in those around us. Eric and I said it out loud together every night for a year (sometimes even over the phone when one of us was out of town), and we still say it sometimes. I swear it works a potent alchemy. Here it is:
Create for yourself a new indomitable perception of faithfulness. What is usually called faithfulness passes so quickly. Let this be your faithfulness: You will experience moments, fleeting moments, with the other person. The human being will appear to you then as if filled, irradiated, with the archetype of his/her spirit. And then there may be, indeed will be, other moments, long periods of time when human beings are darkened. At such times, you will learn to say to yourself, 'The spirit makes me strong. I remember the archetype. I saw it once. No illusion, no deception shall rob me of it.' Always struggle for the image that you saw. This struggle is faithfulness. Striving thus for faithfulness you shall be close to one another as if endowed with the protective powers of angels. -- Rudolf Steiner
Be Nice. Don't underestimate the power of simply being kind. John Gottman, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, has developed an uncanny ability to predict which marriages will dissolve based solely on the number of kind and unkind interactions. His formula? When the ratio falls below five to one, sound the death knell.
Nina Utne is chair and CEO of Utne.