“I DO.” WITH THOSE TWO LITTLE WORDS, A MARRIED COUPLE SETS OFF ON A LIFELONG JOURNEY OF LOVE AND COMMITMENT.
Even the most blissfully happy couples will tell you, however, that marriage is hard work. These husbands and wives don’t just coast through life on a wave of romance and passion; they are constantly gauging the state of their relationship and how they can make it stronger.
After all, very few jobs require people to be as adept at so many things all at once: communication, financial planning, faith building, child-rearing and so much more. It’s quite a skill set marriage demands. So how do couples manage the details of married life without losing sight of the love that brought them together in the first place?
It requires a shift in perspective, away from the “everything is temporary” attitude of our culture toward an eternal mindset. Marriage can’t be viewed as a contract, something one partner can walk away from if times get bad. Because times will get bad, at least now and then. For any marriage to work, spouses have to step into it with one absolute in mind: no matter what, we stay together. From that place of certainty and security, couples can navigate the rough spots and know that they will come out safely on the other side.
So what’s the secret to a truly happy marriage? Therapist Gregory Popcak set out to answer that question in his book “The Exceptional Seven Percent: Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples.”
“Every couple’s marriage revolves around a theme, that thing to which a couple gives most of their time and emotional energy. For example, most conventional couples build their lives and marriages around either securing their basic needs, maintaining companionship and security, or finding each other’s place in the world, investing heavily in careers and social roles,” writes Popcak.
“Exceptional couples, on the other hand, while concerned with all of these to some degree, spend most of their energy working together to pursue the development of positive character traits, moral virtue, and spiritual growth—a theme I call a marital imperative,” he says. “In other words, exceptional couples consider their marriage to be their best hope for becoming the people they want to be at the end of their lives.”
A Lifetime Together?
Kathy looked around and realized most of her friends were divorced. She wanted to know if lifelong marriage was even possible anymore, so she posted a question on the Internet and received a barrage of positive comments reminding her that marriage is more than what the statistics would have us believe.
“Sharing your faith and actually living it out on a day-by-day basis is what binds you together,” Emily told her. “Over the years there are many times that you don’t necessarily feel ‘happy’ or ‘in love,’ and the sacramental bond is the only thing binding you together. There are practical ways of keeping the bond: quality communication, spending time together, sharing your thoughts and feelings, laughing and crying, loving and forgiving, and being willing to move forward and wake up tomorrow knowing that you’ll still be together in the morning.”
Quality communication. It’s at the heart of a strong marriage, but it doesn’t come easy for many couples because men and women communicate so differently. The most important thing to remember is to keep the lines of communication open, no matter what.
In the early days of a couple’s relationship, a lot of time is spent getting to know one another—likes and dislikes, hobbies and dreams. But, over time, we forget that we continually need to get to know each another anew. Sitting down for a real conversation on a regular basis is critical. Marriage experts tell couples to “date their mate.” In other words, the very things that helped you fall in love need to be rekindled week after week, year after year.
Marriage Encounter, the faith-focused program that has been known to reignite passion in even the most stagnant relationships, stresses the importance of communication. Couples are told they may not be able to control their feelings, but they can control how they react to those feelings. It comes down to an easy-to-remember motto: “Make a decision to love.” It means always keeping your spouse in mind before you say the thing that might set him or her off, or before you act in a way that is sure to cause resentment.
Of course, communication isn’t just about talking. It’s directly connected to intimacy. As with so many things, men and women often come at this subject from very different places. Women, especially after having children, are more likely to look for intimacy in the little affections that are shared in day-to-day routines—the kiss on the way out the door, the hug after a bad day, the flowers for no reason at all. Men, on the other hand, may consider the sexual side of the relationship the place where real affection is shown.
So maintaining intimacy is about maintaining communication. Couples have to talk honestly about what each spouse needs to feel loved and appreciated. And then, even if you have very different ideas about what that means, meet somewhere in the middle and offer a little of yourself for the good of your partner.
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