5 Secrets to a Happy Marriage
How hard is it to get married?
From a procedural standpoint, it’s actually quite easy.
All you need to do is get registered, pay a fee and find someone to officiate the wedding. These days, you don’t even have to find the bride or groom yourself! Reality television shows like Married at First Sight show that anyone can get married—even to a complete stranger. But once the couples have said “I do,” how often do they live happily ever after?
It’s not hard to make a wedding happen, but it does take effort to make a marriage last. According to Tony Ferretti and Peter J. Weiss, authors of The Love Fight, the necessary factors to create a strong bond with your spouse can be summarised in five key principles.
1. Partnership of equals
You participate as an equal partner in your marriage and take responsibility for your own feelings, thoughts and actions.
“It’s important to clarify that we are not talking about an equal delegation or distribution of work duties. Rather, we mean an equal personal responsibility as adult partners in the marriage relationship,” say Ferretti and Weiss.
Any attempt to control or change your spouse will not help your marriage. On the contrary, doing so almost guarantees the marriage will go wrong. Thinking that your spouse is the problem and trying to fix him or her won’t help your relationship. Sure, your spouse may have issues, but you probably do too. If you want a strong marriage, you must be prepared to change yourself. Change has to start in you. When one partner is truly focused on being the best person that he or she can be, quite often the spouse decides to change too.
However, not only should you not try to control your spouse, you also must not relinquish control of yourself. Being passive and avoiding responsibility by allowing your spouse to inappropriately control aspects of life also leads to an unequal relationship.
Dysfunctional people tend to attract dysfunctional partners. The good news is that the reverse is also true—emotionally healthy people can attract emotionally healthy partners. By maintaining responsibility for your feelings, thoughts and actions, you are preparing a solid foundation for a lasting marriage.
2. Marriage is a priority
You are fully engaged, committed and make the relationship with your spouse a high priority.
This second principle states that you are fully engaged and committed to your relationship and make it a priority. But how high of a priority is it, really? That’s up to you, but if you want a strong marriage, then it’s going to have to be more important than your job, the kids, the in-laws, hobbies and just about everything else in your life.
Ferretti and Weiss believe that most people fall into one of two categories—Achievers or Connectors. Achievers are often driven by success. They may be excellent at winning clients at work but struggle with relationships. On the other hand, connecters are able to develop deep relationships with likeminded friends but may struggle to keep their Achiever spouses interested. Marriage works best when Achievers and Connectors learn how to communicate in the ways that their partner understands. Both Achievers and Connectors need to see their marriage as a priority.
Achievers get satisfaction from their accomplishments and they must view their marriage as something worth investing in. Meanwhile, Connectors value relationships so highly that they can often become people pleasers and approval seekers, who put themselves last in order to make others happy. Their self-worth becomes tied up in their spouse’s happiness. They need to acknowledge when they are having these feelings and not be afraid to address difficult issues with their partner.
It should be noted that seeing marriage as a priority doesn’t mean that marriage should be more important than your own spiritual and emotional wellness. Marriage works best when both participants are spiritually and emotionally well. As flight attendants teach in the case of an in-flight aeroplane decompression, you must take your own oxygen first before trying to assist others.
3. Communication and conflict resolution
You strive to communicate effectively and to constructively manage and resolve conflicts.
Like death and taxes, conflicts in marriage are a given. But differences in opinion don’t have to be something negative. Resolving difficult issues in healthy and productive ways can actually bring couples closer together.
Achievers and Connectors may have difficulties in this area. Achievers are competitive by nature and simply want to win the argument. On the other hand, Connectors usually value relationships more than winning and may give in too quickly, only to walk away with lingering resentment.
“I” statements such as, “I get frustrated when you interrupt me,” are most helpful in this context. Being able to constructively express your thoughts and feelings without blaming the other person is one of the most important abilities in avoiding problems from unresolved conflict.
Like exercising muscles in the gym, facing conflict squarely and working through the pain will help you grow emotionally and make the relationship stronger. Meanwhile, just as avoiding exercise causes muscles to atrophy, avoiding conflict because it is painful can cause serious damage to your relationship.
4. Forgiveness and trust
You are willing to forgive and work to rebuild and maintain trust.
Even with the best communication and conflict resolution, feelings are going to get hurt. Sometimes the issues will be minor and sometimes they will be major. This is where forgiveness and building trust comes in. Forgiving your spouse is not just for his or her benefit! It is for your benefit and for the benefit of the relationship. Forgiveness allows you to let go of anger and bypass the resentment that will build if you bottle up your anger inside.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that all of your spouse’s actions are tolerable or acceptable. For example, a wife should not have to tolerate her husband’s affairs. However, if she hopes to have a happy future with her husband, she will need to forgive (not forget) his past transgressions. At the same time, he will need to stop his cheating if he wants his marriage to continue.
When you forgive, you enable yourself to achieve personal healing, even if you choose not to maintain a relationship with the person who hurt you. It is not about the other person’s response, it’s about letting go of the internal pain.
Some people have an easier time forgiving than others. Their ability to forgive might be based more on their experiences growing up or on prior relationships, rather than their personalities. However, Achievers, with their high personal standards, may find it more difficult to forgive themselves. Connectors may struggle to forgive others because they feel like they have invested so much in the relationship.
Forgiveness is an active process that takes effort. Most people can’t forgive instantly, especially for major hurts. But the decision to forgive resets a person’s ability to trust, to be vulnerable with others and to ensure they don’t take unresolved anger and hurt into future relationships.
You strive for physical and emotional intimacy with your spouse.
People experience, express and receive love in different ways. Some people would prefer a delicious home-cooked meal, others positive affirmations and others presents. Partners need to understand one another’s love languages in order to communicate love appropriately.
Connectors often desire emotional intimacy before sexual intimacy while the more disconnected Achievers may open up emotionally following physical interaction. Understand that your spouse may be different to you. When you understand what your partner prefers, you’ll be able to connect better and energise your marriage.
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For more tips on how to heal, nurture and grow your marriage, you’ll want to purchase The Love Fight by Tony Ferretti and Peter J. Weiss.