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Keys to a Successful Marriage – How We Do It
By Mindy Belcher
When we were first asked to write this article, I was reticent. Neither one of us have a ‘Dr.’ in front of our name, we haven’t had years of psychological course. Some would say we’re no experts and from most people’s perspective, I think that’s true. But then we thought about it – what we do have is 27 years of experience. And although someone with 27 years of experience doing anything might not be considered an expert, we decided that we do have advice to share about the challenges that couples face today and how we learn to meet those challenges.
One of the keys to a successful marriage is defining what success is – Webster’s tells us that success is defined as “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.” Most couples who get married start out with expectations of happiness – we certainly did! But unreasonable expectations in marriage are one of the biggest causes of dissatisfaction in marriage, according to one marriage therapist. For some, marriage turns out not to be what they expected. Their spouse is not quite what they had envisioned, they discover previously unseen faults or are challenged by failings more serious than they had anticipated. Sooner or later faults of both partners will come to the forefront.
Many times those unrealistic expectations are set by the media. We’ve all seen the romantic novels and movies that are mostly variations on a theme – the hero and heroine whose eyes lock and by just a single glance across the room determine that person is their intended. The stories all end with ‘they lived happily ever after.”
Sadly, these unrealistic expectations can leave us expecting more from marriage than we put into it. The responsibility and hard work needed to make a happy marriage is often overlooked.
Many throw in the towel. Statistically, the rate of divorce has grown and is now near 50 percent! According to enrichment journals, the divorce rate in America for first marriages is 41%, for second marriages 60% and for third marriages 73%. So you see, throwing in the towel on your first marriage only increases the odds that you will be visiting your lawyer at some point concerning the second marriage. That leads us to what we feel is one of the most important keys to a successful marriage.
Make a commitment and stick to it!
Easy words to write, much harder to follow. Have you ever bought something that was non-returnable, perhaps an item at a “Going Out Of Business” sale? It makes all the difference when you read the “All Sales Are Final” sign, doesn’t it? It forces you to slow down and really examine whether this item matches your needs and if you are like me, you will really look it over to make sure there aren’t any defects. Enter your marriage with the same attitude – this sale is final! Going into a marriage with the idea that “if I don’t like it, I’ll just get a divorce,” will affect you and your partner’s level of happiness. It takes real commitment and effort to work through challenges. Short of infidelity on the part of a marriage partner, consider your marriage permanent and be determined to work through any issues that you both face as a couple. Even infidelity on the part of a partner can be resolved, if both spouses are willing to make adjustments.
Marriages are under more pressure these days than ever before – it’s a different day and time than our grandparent’s day. Stress and anxiety, demanding jobs, long work hours, all deplete our emotional reserves. Add to that financial problems, issues with children, job changes, health problems, these are day to day changes that will occur over time which can cause problems. When kids come along, most mothers find they have two jobs, if they work outside the home. Stress and exhaustion take their toll and leave many couples little time together.
The obstacles can seem insurmountable. Even well-matched marriage mates aren’t 100 percent compatible and adding the stresses mentioned above leads many couples to wonder if they can find success in marriage.
If you were about to undertake a long journey, what would you determine is most important? You might find a map indispensable! Marriage is really just one long journey with lots of surprises, good and bad. Still when we look around, we all can point to some that were successful with only minor mishaps.
Our personal search for a marital road map led us to a source that we felt was the most dependable because this book was written by the originator of marriage. The bible isn’t a magic charm, but we found it contains practical advice that when applied, has helped us through seemingly insurmountable issues.
For instance, the advice to make a commitment to your marriage and stick to it is actually found at Matthew 19:4-6. “What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.” That probably sounds familiar if you have ever been to even a nonreligious wedding ceremony. But commitment is more than a legal obligation. It’s motivated by love and is a reflection of respect and honor.
How are love and honor felt in a marriage — through successful communication. In fact, we have long felt that good communication has been the lifeblood of our relationship. Having a court reporting business has enabled us to see the dark side of divorce in a way that few have experienced. What we observed is that many hear without listening and speak without communicating. Instead of loving words that hold warmth and affection, interaction between couples is curt and cold and is quickly followed by incessant arguments about anything, everything and nothing. Verbal attacks are countered by icy silence. Positive actions on the part of either mate go unnoticed and unappreciated. Men commonly say that although all they really want is for their wives to be happy, from their perspective most women are not appreciative of the hard work they do and never seem satisfied. Women, on the other hand, become resentful when they are left to do most of the work at home in addition to holding down a job. And many feel that their emotional needs are being ignored.
Because misunderstandings are inevitable, success in marriage we feel is less about compatibility than how couples deal with incompatibility. An essential skill to a successful marriage is the ability to resolve disagreements in a loving way.
According to researchers, most conversations end the way they start, so respectful speech is important and requires that each mate cultivate kindness and compassion, learning to speak with dignity and affection. Speak to your mate the way you want your mate to speak to you.
That resolve can be quite difficult to maintain when strong feelings are involved because it is just not easy to keep calm. We have found that anger begets anger. Saying things to upset your partner, or as we call it, ‘pushing their buttons’ will only make things worse.
In addition to not being quick to take offense, listen when your mate brings up an issue for discussion. Instead of feeling that you have to defend yourself or refute your mates viewpoint, listen. Resist the urge to think of what you will say next, but truly listen to what your mate is saying. And most of all think before responding. When there is a problem, we have found that it’s best if we don’t discuss it when we are tired or upset. What we try to do is agree on a time good for both of us. We try our best not to criticize and most of all we avoid interrupting. We try to take turns talking.
We have found that acknowledging each other’s feelings, expressing empathy when we disagree goes a long way toward solving the problem. Being reasonable and flexible helps smooth ruffled feathers.
Instead try to follow the advice found at Philippians 2:3:
Don’t be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves.
Husbands and wives both need to feel appreciated. As a wife, I know that I need verbal and nonverbal reassurances that my husband values me, whether it is a smile, a kiss or a touch. And I can’t say that a day has gone by that my husband doesn’t tell me he loves me. We have consciously tried to make it a habit to express appreciation. When was the last time you praised your wife or your husband? Proverbs 31:1, 28, 29 encourages this habit.
One of the things that have really strengthened our marriage is putting each other’s needs and preferences ahead of our own. We try to help each other so that each of us has time and energy to do the things that we each enjoy. Sharing the workload isn’t easy, but good advice is given in Philippians 2:4 — look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own.
Even after 27 years together, it still takes work. All journeys have hills and valleys, but when we are tempted to give up, we look back at the distance we have traveled together and we realize that hard work and a good road map are bringing success to our marriage.