This summer, full of hope, excitement, and a few nerves, my daughter began life with her new husband. Also this summer, a couple in my church celebrated 70 years of marriage. As the pastor noted, THAT is a miracle. I believe we need to ask God to bless and protect our marriages, but what else can we do to make our marriages work? Why do some marriages fail and others survive? I gathered input from experts-professionals and those in long-lasting marriages-and this is what I found.
1. Be Honorable and Keep Your Promises.
Your vows likely included the words, “forsaking all others…” Affairs deal a devastating blow to a marriage on so many levels, hurting spouses, children, extended family, and friends. There isn’t room in a marriage for a 3rd party that siphons energy from the relationship. Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It by Jerry Jenkins is a great book. His point is that affairs are less likely to destroy a marriage when we take certain precautions. Another book: His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley, Jr. makes the point that marriage is a contract. Couples need to become aware of the needs and sometimes unspoken expectations of their partners and make every effort to meet them.
Being honorable and keeping your promises also includes things like treating your partner with kindness and respect. This includes not spending or gambling away the family money, not withholding affection and intimacy, pitching in around the house, not disappearing into your hobbies or work, and essentially treating your spouse the way you would want to be treated. If we would do that last thing many marriages could be saved.
2. Allow Your Partner to Influence You to Become a Better Version of Yourself.
Maybe you have some rough edges that need to be smoother. Maybe you need to toughen up or loosen up or get more discipline. Intimate relationships often show us where we need to grow.
John Gottman, Ph.D., one of the founders of the Gottman Institute in Seattle, has studied more than 3000 couples in his laboratory, using scientific study to understand what makes marriage work. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman points out that the men who let their wives influence them were dramatically less likely to divorce.
What about the women? Gottman said they found most women automatically let their husband’s opinions and feelings influence their decisions. Sharing power, making decisions together, and treating each other with respect were associated with the happiest, most stable marriages.
3. Realize Not All Conflict Will Be Resolved.
Problems are an inevitable part of marriage. Ideally, couples will strive for a win-win, or at least coming to the middle. But some conflicts go in the “agree to disagree” category. They don’t have to signal the end of the relationship.
The number of arguments a couple has doesn’t affect the health of the relationship. What does damage is the way couples argue and fight. Gottman describes four things that are incredibly damaging: criticism of another’s character or personal attacks, giving the silent treatment, defensiveness, and contempt.
He also observed the way conflict begins is how it will end 96% of the time. Gentle, soft start ups are a powerful way to have a productive conversation that doesn’t damage the relationship. When you fight, ask yourself if winning the argument is more important than the relationship.
4. Don’t Lose Yourself.
Marriage is a delicate dance between being an individual and being a couple. Your partner cannot meet all your emotional and intellectual needs.
In his book, Passionate Marriage, Dr. David Schnarch talks about “mutuality…. going forward with your own self-development while being concerned with your partner’s happiness and well-being.” It’s about getting closer but staying your own distinct person.
It keeps the relationship fresh and interesting if you develop a few of your own interests and friendships. Boundaries in Marriage by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend is also a good resource.
5. Stay Aware of The State of Your Marriage and Act Quickly if You Think You Are in Trouble.
Take care of your relationship the way you would any prized possession. If you are having trouble as a couple and can’t work it out on your own, get help sooner rather than later. The reason marriage counseling has a dismal track record is because many struggling couples wait until all the goodwill has evaporated and they are ready to throw in the towel. Think of marriage counseling like a tune up. How can we make our relationship even better? Take advantage of marriage retreats, such as Marriage Encounter, or create your own, to strengthen your relationship.
This tip comes from my own parents who have been married 58 years. Over the years they have done amazing things such as serving in Haiti, hiking and canoeing in Alaska, biking in Vermont, birding in Kenya, cruising in Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands and touring the National Parks in their RV. Those adventures didn’t just happen-they took significant time, effort, and resources. My parents have a lifetime of great memories that bond them together and helped them weather the rough patches.
Life is a challenge and you want to associate your partner with good and happy memories. Plan some adventures and make some great memories! Enjoy each other. Genuine friendship is at the heart of long-lasting, stable marriages.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a registered nurse with several years experience helping people with healthy, successful living.
Suzanne Jones, BSN, LPC, NCC (225) 278-3541 firstname.lastname@example.org