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:
- 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
- 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!”
- 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.
- 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