by Margie Weigler
Divorce rates are high, and even a lasting marriage is no guarantee that the relationship is a happy or successful one. Yet some couples seem to go on year after year and decade after decade and grow stronger through all of the trials of life. What are the secrets of those couples?
A Change in Attitude
Nobody feels in love all the time. People can’t force themselves to feel things, of course, but the ebb and flow of emotions during a long marriage are normal. The essence of commitment is continuing to behave in a loving manner even during times when one feels less than loving. The feelings of love will eventually return.
Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman have done extensive research on marriages that last, and one of their most important findings is that couples need to build intimacy with one another by responding to what the Gottmans refer to as “intimacy bids.” If couples are not responsive to one another in this way, the marriages tend to fail.
Be Your Own Person
While building intimacy is crucial, it’s also important to maintain independence. Couples who have their own friends and interests retain a strong sense of self and stay together because they choose to rather than out of an inability to be alone. These types of couples also continually bring a fresh and interesting perspective back to the marriage.
The ability to communicate about everything from wants and needs to dreams and even just what happened during the day is crucial to a strong marriage. Different people may have different communication needs; some may not want to go over what happened at work that day while others may feel that several texts or phone calls throughout the day are necessary. The important thing is for partners to make an effort to meet one another’s communication needs.
Avoid Gottman’s “Four Horseman”
John Gottman has also identified four tendencies that he considers the death knell for relationships. Contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling are the four behaviors during conflict that will lead nearly every marriage to failure. Couples need to work hard on avoiding these in order to keep their marriages strong.
Support One Another
Among other things, marriage is about mutual support. Whether a partner loses a job, returns to school or faces other challenges in life, a marriage should provide a safe haven for both partners. Support also means being there for one another in the good times. No one should be happier than one’s spouse when a promotion or another important goal is reached.
Make Quality Time
It can be easy to fall into a pattern of going to work, taking care of chores and looking after children. Couples must make time to simply be together. They shouldn’t use that time to solve problems or deal with the mundane details of life. It’s not necessary to plan expensive weekends away. Date nights can be arranged even if babysitters are hard to come by. Half an hour talking on the sofa after the children are in bed a few times a week can go a long way toward keeping a marriage strong.
Image Credit: Katsu Nojiri