GREATNESS IN RELATIONSHIPS:
Seven Ways to Make Your Marriage Last
By Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT
Most of us get married to stay married, right? However, divorce rates for first marriages are about 50%. Most people know that. Divorce rates for second marriages are 70%! Most people don’t know that. So what goes wrong? Quite simply, much of what we do in relationships simply does not work. How, then, do we make our marriages last in the face of such staggering statistics?
Guiding Principle: Learn from the Masters
As Yoda wisely taught us, "You must unlearn what you have learned." We must face a hard and sad truth: much of what we have learned about marriages just simply does not work. Thus we must find the masters who do know what works and learn from them. For example, we can learn from those who have been there: Elder couples who have been successfully and happily married 40-50+ years. We would do well to ask them how they did it. They lessons they have to teach are priceless. In fact, one city in the Midwest enlisted elder couples as mentors to newlywed couples and have seen their divorce rates plummet by 30%! We can also learn from those who study successful marriages. One such person is John Gottman, Ph.D., the author of several groundbreaking books including Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, who for the last 30 years has studied what works and what doesn’t work in marriages.
Practical Techniques: Seven Ways to Make Your Marriage Last
According to Gottman, the ways to make a marriage last include:
1. Have high standards from the start. The most successful couples refused hurtful behavior from each other from the outset of their relationship.
2. Focus on the bright side. In a happy marriage, couples made on average five times as many positive statements as negative ones about each other and the relationship.
3. Be careful how you start a discussion. Wives in particular can escalate a conflict by making angry or dramatic remarks in a confrontational way.
4. Know how to end an argument, whether by changing the subject, injecting some humor, making a caring remark, showing a sign of appreciation or backing down.
5. Edit yourself. Couples who avoided voicing every angry thought when discussing difficult subjects were the happiest.
6. Be open to influence. The husband in particular needs to be able to accept the wife's view.
7. Seek help early. The average couple waits six years before seeking help for marital problems. Also, bear in mind that half of all marriages that end do so in the first seven years. The research has some good news: two-thirds of all divorces that occur could have been prevented with education and intervention.
"Marriages which worked well had one thing in common - the willingness of the husband to give way to the wife," Gottman stated. He found that it was the newlywed men who could accept their partner's influence and find something reasonable in a partner's complaint to agree with, who ended up in happy, stable marriages. The autocrats who greeted their wives' complaints with contempt or belligerence tended to have doomed relationships.
Guiding Principle: Do What Works!
One of the most important principles, then, is to simply "do what works." This can be so obvious that we miss it. Consider things you and your spouse do over and over and over in your relationship even though they don't work. The great football coach Vince Lombardi once said, "When you're doing something wrong, doing it more intensely isn't going to help." Compare that statement to your last argument . . . . Something to think about.
If you currently do not do these seven things in your marriage, be open to trying them. Do not get caught in the “that’s just the way I am” or “that’s not my style” traps. Many things in life require certain behaviors as standard and non-optional. For example, a beautiful lawn and a well-running car requires regular maintenance. You don’t have to enjoy doing these behaviors to get the results. The only requirement is that they be done. The several tips mentioned above simply work. Marriages that last do these things. Marriages that don’t, don’t. So invest in learning to do what works. The return on this investment is sweet and long-lasting.
Watch future columns for more strategies for creating greatness in your relationships.
Jonathan Sherman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Consultant specializing in creating "greatness in relationships." He is experienced in assisting people learn to improve their marriages, parenting and themselves through skill development, overcoming depression and anxiety, stress and anger management, and addiction recovery. He teaches extensively throughout Utah County on a wide range of relationship topics. He is the founder of Bardos Relationship Consulting located in the Prairie Gate Professional Building in the Ranches, Suite 200. You may reach him at 801.369.2378, firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.bardos.net.