Four Skills That Create a Loving, Lasting Marriage

Valentine’s Day is coming.  Our attention is drawn to loving relationships, especially romantic ones.  Everyone I’ve ever asked wants a happy, loving, intimate relationship with the love of his or her life.  That dream seems to be loaded into our DNA, tattooed on our brains, instinctively coded into our emotional make-up.

But is it enough to long for a loving, lasting, happy marriage?  Even though the longing is universal?  No, it’s not enough.  Is it enough to be madly in love when you marry?  No, it’s not enough.

Then what does it take?  There are four key areas where skills can be improved or developed that create a loving, lasting marriage.  Here they are:

  1. It takes a dream powerful enough to see you through the rough spots combined with willingness to grow into that dream by making hard choices. To exchange blaming the other for choosing new behaviors for yourself.  To let go of old patterns.  To sacrifice the immature, dysfunctional and hurtful ways in service to achieving the dream.

I ask every couple I’ve coached, “Do you have family members or friends who have a marriage you’d like to emulate?”  So far, I’ve only heard, “No.”  When you don’t see a loving, lasting marriage in operation, how can you trust that the dream is doable? And worth the effort to achieve it?

When you don’t have a healthy model to follow, use books written by those who’ve achieved the dream, like my How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage.  (LINK) Or testimonials like those on my website.  These couples have done the work to have a happy, lasting marriage.  www.nancylandrum.com

  1. Good Communication Skills come next. Methods of speaking and listening that create connection, rather than driving more and more distance between you.  (Communication That Connects)

Without instruction, few of us realize how our delivery of messages may be triggering a reactive response…or escalating an argument.  It isn’t easy to change how we speak and listen.  Those patterns were begun in infancy by what we heard or what helped us get our own way.  But exchanging distancing methods of communication is necessary if you want a lasting, loving marriage.

Sue said to me, “When we were first married we fought viciously, yelling and name calling.  But it didn’t take long for us to realize that if we wanted our marriage to last, we had to stop doing that.  We changed.  We’ve now been married forty-five years and are still in love!”

  1. Respectful Conflict Management is essential. Every close relationship has conflict.  When two human beings throw in themselves and the welfare of their futures together, there is a lot at stake.  And, face it, we all love to be “right” and will sometimes fight for the winning position.

Researchers Markman and Notarius state unequivocally in their book We Can Work it Out, Making Sense Out of Marital Conflict ,  “Love is needed to get a relationship off the ground, but it doesn’t provide enough fuel to keep a marriage flying toward success over time…nor does commitment.  It’s how couples manage conflict that makes the difference.  The key to marital success is to teach couples how to talk without fighting.”

John Gottman’s research validated this when he observed couples having a disagreement in his lab.  After years of observation, he could predict within 93.7% which couples would divorce within six years based on how they fought.  He labels criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stone-walling the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…the fighting methods that eventually destroy the relationship.   The Gottman institute blog.

It’s often necessary to make a date to discuss an issue that needs resolving.  Set a time when you are free from other distractions and the kids are asleep or out of the house.  Making a date to resolve a conflict says, “I care enough about you and our relationship to set aside time to work this out.”

If it isn’t resolved in one try, then before closing that session down, set another date to pick it up again…and do this until you find a resolution that suites both of you.

Fighting badly was one of the habits that my late husband and I had to change in order to save our floundering marriage.  Our story of learning to safely vent anger away from each other is told in Chapters 12-16 in How to Stay Married & Love It!  LINK  The day we committed to always treat each other with respect…and then practiced doing that…was the day the fighting stopped and the marriage began to heal.  It took us six months of two-three Conflict Dates per week before we finally found a solution that worked for both of us.

  1. Regular FUN Dating is a must! Who says the courtship is over when you marry?  Frequent courting needs to be included in every loving, lasting marriage plan!

There are a couple of rules to continued courting dates.  1) Never discuss a “hot topic” while on a fun date!  Dating is meant to remind you of why you fell in love, and to keep the flames of love alive.  That won’t happen if every date is used as a time you’re finally away from the kids and so “let’s talk about…”

And, 2) Do something that is fun for both of you.  Jim loved going to a baseball game.  I didn’t, but I loved being with him.  I took a book to read, or a knitting project and just enjoyed hearing his pleasure about the plays or the players.

During a financially stressed time, we were on a strict, tight budget, but allowed $25/week for our date.  I saved two-for-one coupons for a burger dinner and we’d go to a matinee movie.  It wasn’t a spectacular date, but it gave us time away from the stress and a chance to just enjoy being together.

How long has it been since you’ve had a fun date?  Make it a weekly commitment, even if it’s just a quiet stroll around the block or an ice cream cone.

SUMMARY: These new skills are easy.  Children pick them up quickly when adults are modeling them.  But by the time we are in a marriage, or a second or third marriage, we’ve been using poor methods of handling stress and poor communication habits for many years.  Changing the ways we interact with another or handle our emotions when stressed is like hacking our way through the jungle, forming a new path in the brain which is highly resistant to change.

Not everyone will do that.  I think it’s because the dream isn’t vivid enough…isn’t believed possible. Stressful conflict combined with an ego that says, “I’ll change after you do,” or, “You’re the one who needs to change!” makes achieving the dream impossible.  The old patterns are replayed over and over again until the relationship dies, or you give up the dream and just make do with what is.

Many couples see divorce as the only way out of this relationship vise.  Others, many others, just settle for the status quo.  They become so accustomed to a certain level of emotional distance and stress in the relationship that it feels normal…as good as it can be.  The dream must have been a fantasy, unachievable, so it’s useless to try for more.

As a coach, it’s a heartbreak for me to see couples get amazing results from the skills I teach, and then hear that they’ve gone back to the old ways that give them the same old, painful results.

Do you want the dream badly enough?  Are you willing to do the hard work of exchanging old patterns for the four main new ones that will produce the loving relationship for which you long?  Have you known you needed to do something different, but just haven’t known what “different” looks like?

Schedule a call with me. I can help!  https//meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

Nancy Landrum, M.A. has been teaching couples these transformational skills for twenty-five years. She has written six books on the subject and recently launched an online program where these skills can be learned from your computer.  Explore the Millionaire Marriage Club on her website: www.NancyLandrum.com

P.S.  Download the Free Communication That Connects.

Death of Our Dream Became Resurrection of Our Love

Sometimes the most painful, agonizing experiences of our lives happen to us.  Not that we asked for them, or even caused them, but a new, unwanted life is dropped on us like a ton of bricks.

That happened to me when my first husband died unexpectedly.  I was twenty-three years old with two baby boys.  It was five long years before life began to feel good again.

I wanted to remarry, but remained a single mom for a total of thirteen years before a mutual friend introduced Jim and me.  He lost his wife after a prolonged illness.  He had two teenage daughters and an eight-year-old son.

We fell in love…and I dreamed big!  LOVE AGAIN!  A man to share my bed!  Daughters!  I’d always wanted five children!  He had such a wonderful sense of humor.  He was fun to be with!  He was affectionate and called me his “sweet baby!”  We were adults. We’d been through a lot. We were mature. We would work out anything that might arise in our precious new family.

Like many couples married after great loss from death or divorce, we had absolutely no understanding of the unique dynamics of a stepfamily.  We made the classic assumption that we would form a new family that would look, act and function like a first family. NOT!

A conflict over parenting differences soon arose.  For the first year or so, we’d talk it out, agree on a solution, then kiss and make up.  But solutions fell apart.  The conflict reignited…over and over again.  The more frustrated we got, the worse our methods of communication became.  I adopted sarcastic put downs. (After all, I’m good with words!)  He verbally attacked with accusations…or walked out the door hoping I’d calm down by the time he returned. (It didn’t work!)

We desperately wanted the loving, sweet relationship of our dreams, but were on the verge of separating.  We went to therapists. (They didn’t know what to do with us.) We saw pastor friends.  (They were kind, but had nothing except platitudes like “never go to bed angry.” (I wanted to scream, “How do we do that when I’m so angry I wish he would die in his sleep!”)

We finally found a coach who began to teach us functional anger management skills.  We learned how to speak without attacking, and tried to really understand each other’s point of view.

The fighting stopped.  A few months later we agreed on a solution to our conflict that saved our marriage.  Within a short time we had the loving, peaceful marriage we’d dreamed of in the beginning.

The dream wasn’t idealistic or unreal.  It wasn’t a fairytale that many today believe marriage to be.  The dream kept us going through the hard work of growing into the reality of a loving marriage that both of us wanted until death parted us.

Is this story familiar to you?  Would you like a coach who can teach you great skills and help you implement those skills until you can live the dream?  Click on this link to set up a phone appointment with me at your convenience.  You can do this!  We did!  https://meetme.com/SpeakWithNancy

P.S. Download the complete Landrum Stepfamily Story here:  Click Here.

But I Hate Conflict!

Rather than seeing conflict as part of growing the relationship, we tend to blame the person with whom we’re in conflict.  “If he wouldn’t _____, then I wouldn’t ______.  If she would just _____, then we’d be happy.”

Blame, not conflict, is relationship cancer.  Conflict is just the vehicle sent to deliver an opportunity for growth. (Sometimes I hate knowing this!)

There are relationships where conflict is so extreme and abusive, or the partner’s habits so hurtful without any hope of change, that growing means you finally say, “I’m not willing to stay in this relationship.”  There are some marriages that are so soul-killing that they must be abandoned.

It is my belief, however, that the vast majority of conflicted marriages are capable of growing into the “happily ever after” of your dreams.  The difference between the troubled marriages that end, and the troubled marriages that go the distance to fulfill the dream, is the willingness of one or, preferably, both partners to grow.

Growing means you are willing to look at what behaviors or attitudes you are contributing to the conflict.  Growing means you actively search for help to learn new skills, develop new points of view, that make space in the relationship for positive change.

James and Kim are such a couple.  Kim was on the brink of calling it quits.  She agreed to come with James to work with me for a “last ditch effort” to see if the marriage could be salvaged.

They evaluated their ways of speaking to each other, finding many fed the smoldering fire of resentment.  They began practicing more respectful ways of speaking.

They began to really listen to what the other was saying…not just the thoughts, but feelings, concerns and desires.  They incorporated a skill that made sure they were hearing each other accurately, avoiding misunderstandings.  They learned to address conflict openly but respectfully, speaking and listening until both were understood and a solution could be adopted.

Today they are moving closer and closer to the dream that falling in love promised.  Now there is no danger of this marriage failing.  Why in the world would either leave a relationship that is bringing such joy and pleasure to both partners?  NO WAY!

The debilitating conflicts you are experiencing can be transformed into the peace and loving enjoyed by James and Kim.  Call me to start the transformation!  https;//meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

P.S. Could there really be a positive purpose for Conflict?  Click Here to Find Out!

#1 in Series: It’s Not Your Fault!

Unhappy with your marriage?  Have the same fight over and over again?  Has romance become more of a dry business arrangement?  It’s not your fault!

For centuries whether or not a marriage was “good” for both partners (meaning loving) was largely a matter of luck.  If a marriage became “bad,” or either partner was unhappy, the only solutions were to stick it out or leave…and until no-fault divorce laws were passed, leaving was often impossible.  AND the long-term fall-out from most divorces means that often that solution creates more problems than it solves.

It’s only been the last hundred years or so that our expectations for every marriage have included ongoing romance, sexual fulfillment and emotional connection.

Beginning in the early 1900’s, researchers began to study the difference between marriages that were happy, vs. those that weren’t.  What elements are consistently found in happy marriages that are absent in unhappy ones?  What methods of communicating are found in happy vs. unhappy marriages?  How are problems resolved in each?

GOOD NEWS:  The combined results of multiple research studies have found the same answers.  Great marriages that last have certain consistent patterns of behavior.  Marriages that fail or are unhappy also have consistent patterns of behavior.

And better yet, those who are unhappy with their quality of their marriage can learn to duplicate the behaviors found in great marriages in order to turn an inadequate or struggling marriage into a great one!

From my colleague, Diane Sollee (www.smartmarriages.com) “Marriage is skill-based. Like football.  The way we have it set up now a couple gets married, and we send them out there to win based on love and commitment.  That’s like asking a football team to win on team spirit, but not letting them learn any plays or signals.  The basis for a smart marriage is exciting research that finds that what is different about marriages that make it—that go the distance and stay happy—are behaviors or skills.  And even more exiting, they are simple skills that any fool can learn!”

But how were you to know this?  Research studies are buried in university libraries.  The classes that teach these winning skills, although good, are still not well known.  Most therapists are not trained to teach couples these skills.  There are only a few private coaches, like me, that specialize in training couples in the behaviors that will transform their marriage from mediocre or “bad” to great. 

NO MORE SEARCHING FOR HELP!  Soon you can learn how to duplicate the practices consistently found in great marriages from the privacy of your own home computer!

Watch for my next post… good news is coming!  

Click on this link to accept my gift to you, “What Our Parents Didn’t Know,”  a chapter from my book How to Stay Married & Love It!