I’d heard that a friend of mine (we’ll call her Rachel) was having marriage difficulties and I called her yesterday to see how she was doing. Married just over a year, I vividly recall conversations we had while she was dating and engaged. She couldn’t say enough about how wonderful he was. She was so excited about getting married, and she was unquestionably in love.
“We are going to a talk to a highly recommended marriage counselor tomorrow,” she told me yesterday, ” But it looks like we are headed for a divorce.” I could hear the pain in her voice and I know this is not what she foresaw as a newlywed bride. “I guess we are just too different.”
I can’t make a judgement about whether or not they really are “too different” for each other. But it seems to me that many couples today, especially inter-racial couples like Rachel and her husband, are by default very different, and those differences are part of what attracts them to each other in the first place. Two people, two sets of habits, two histories, two life views. Inevitably, these differences lead to conflict and feelings of frustration and upheaval.
Getting married is easy. Staying married can seem impossible. This is obvious by the skyrocketing divorce rate. What’s up with people? They’re dating and living together for years and years, getting to know all they can about their future spouse, and yet once they’re married it’s just too hard to stay together. Can it be that people are just not eager to do the work it takes to keep a marriage going?
A wise woman I know once said that the first few years of marriage are all about learning to co-exist– nothing more. Ah, the infamous First Year of marriage! I know lots of happily married couples who tell me they were on the brink of divorce that first year. If people would enter a marriage knowing this, I think they could rough it through the “adjustment period” and go on to have many happy years together.
I don’t know if there’s a secret to staying in love forever, but I think that learning to deal with your spouse’s unique personality (along with his different tastes, annoying habits, strong opinions, etc.) would be a good start. Keeping the peace. Holding your tongue. Biding your time. Being kind, tolerant and respectful. I’d call it “learning to live together gracefully.” It’s a hard at first but don’t worry, it won’t always take this much effort!
Here are five simple rules to help you Stay in Love Forever, by Dov Heller, a licensed Marriage and Famil Therapist who holds two Masters degrees in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University and in Contemporary Theology from Harvard University.
A man’s core emotional need is to feel respected by his wife. When he comes home, he wants to feel that there is at least one person in the world who thinks he’s got what it takes. That means getting off the phone when he walks in the door.
The hallmark of friendship is that each person validates and respects the other person’s feelings and needs. Validation means: What’s important to you is important to me. It’s a key way to make your spouse feel loved.
Agree to keep one basic rule at the beginning of your marriage: No matter how upset you are, never launch a verbal attack. Fighting with insults only makes problems worse and erodes the relationship. Instead, implement the four golden words:
Listening: It’s essential for working together and solving problems. Allow your spouse to speak without interruption and then repeat what has just been said. This reassures your spouse that he or she was heard.
Repair: When you hurt each other emotionally, repair the breakdown and remove the lingering feelings of anger and resentment. Aim for 100% reconciliation. A little resentment multiplied 50 times can create a wall of bitterness.
Your spouse is your number one priority – not your parents, relatives, friends, children, work, or hobbies. Set strong boundaries that show you value your marriage and don’t allow anyone or anything to weaken your relationship.
Marriage is ultimately about making each other feel good and striving to give your spouse pleasure on a daily basis – on his or her terms. If she says she likes lilies, don’t bring her roses because you think they’re more romantic.
Learn how your spouse prefers to be given to – whether it’s physical affection, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service (like helping out in the house, running errands) or spending quality time – and get in the daily habit of doing it.