As I read this post (which is an oldie, but a goodie), I can’t believe I wrote it two whole years ago. My husband and I recently celebrated our 19 year anniversary and it’s these very secrets that help keep us going so strong. Through the dips and peaks of any relationship, it’s great to remember what makes lifelong dedication a success!
As yet another Valentine’s Day approaches, I find myself entering my 17th year of marriage.
My husband and I have friends who are happily together, friends who are unhappily together, friends who are divorced, and friends who are skeptical of the foundation of marriage altogether.
How do successful couples stay together? What are the motivations for coming together in the first place? And, what does it take to live-in-love vibrantly, passionately, and purposefully?
It’s funny that I now have friends who ask me what my secrets are for happy, committed love. I don’t believe I am qualified to answer this question yet. Ask me on my 50th wedding anniversary. In the meantime, I set out to look at my own marriage and ask real experts what their advice is on staying happily married for a lifetime.
I consulted with family, friends, and relationship therapists. I did some digging into research that’s already been done on the subject. Here are my top conclusions, which are not the end but rather the beginning of a lifelong dedicated discovery.
To stay together
When my husband and I got married, we made a vow that divorce was not an option. We committed to a lifetime together and made a choice that we’d work things out. Committing to partnership became a daily practice. Commitment has to be the starting point.
Statistically, the odds are not in our favor. While researching stats on divorce rates in Asia and the USA for this post, I was surprised to find quite a bit of controversy. Bottom line is that when you set out to get married, you commit to a lifetime together. The reality is that some marriages fail. How many couples do you know that are still happily together? How many parents of friends (or even your own parents) are still together? Focusing on strategies for marital success rather than the odds of failure creates a more positive starting point.
To build something meaningful
Commitment to building a family, having children, or participating passionately in community help to establish a unifying purpose. It makes marriage less about just the two of you and more about building something together. Selfish love transforms into selfless love when you can, as Stephen Covey says, “begin with the end in mind”.
Know where you are going together and commit to that shared vision.
Court each other continually and you won’t be lonely a day in your life.
My friend and relationship therapist, Shannon R. Smith, has taught me about creating and maintaining polarity. At the beginning when you are courting, it’s easy. As time progresses you have to continually work at being lovers and not roommates.
“The reason why relationships have chemistry or passion “in the beginning” is for two main reasons. Polarity and proximity. When two people have close proximity to each other combined with an aggressive “masculine” and an open “feminine” energy (polarity), you have a recipe for passion. If you want magnetic chemistry, make sure there are opposite energies at work to create passion. When men and women come at each other with intensity and control the magnetism is compromised. Men, stay focused and protective. Women, allow yourself to be open, receptive and relaxed.”
– Shannon R. Smith
For me, this has meant melting more. More letting go. Consider the polarity between you and your spouse.
How can you create, or recreate the spark?
The day before my wedding my father told me that my future husband and I had each become better people as a result of being together. The key is to maintain your individuality and to respect each other’s growth over the years but to come together as a team that is stronger than the individual parts.
Charles Murray writes…
“What you see is what you’re going to get. If something about your prospective spouse bothers you, but you think that you can change your beloved after you’re married, you’re wrong. Be prepared to live with whatever bothers you—or forget it. Your spouse will undoubtedly change during a long marriage, but not in ways you can predict or control.”
Grow together. Make decisions as a team. Be willing to let your partner pilot.
It’s better to be happy than right.
This one sounds obvious, but be considerate and caring. Just be nice to each other! Wish for your spouse to flourish and be successful. As the years go by, tension and anger start to build naturally.
The key to making sure anger doesn’t turn into contempt is constant care and respect.
Contempt and lack of respect, according to Dr. Gottman, relationship guru and one of the Top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the past quarter-century by the Psychotherapy Networker, is a factor that contributes strongly to divorce.
Treat your spouse every day with the same respect you’d like to be treated with.
One way to practice respect is to listen to your spouse using active listening skills, body language, and verbal cues. Here is a thoughtful article written by Elizabeth Bernstein with common sense tips on how listening creates intimacy, mutual respect and the feeling of being really seen and heard by your partner.
Kids can create stress in your relationship with your spouse, but they also offer a secret ingredient for a happy marriage: play. And, if you don’t have kids then remember to act like one sometimes!
Be spontaneous. Laugh more often. Do fun things together. Share in life’s adventures. And finally, spend time as often as possible remembering why you came together in the first place.
I had fun looking at my wedding album while writing this post. When was the last time you looked at yours?
Rekindle your love and commitment daily. Celebrate at any possible opportunity. Love every day. If you each give more than you demand you will both receive the gift of love.
Who cares if Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark invention, seize the opportunity to fall in love again, every year.
Additional recommended reading: Dr. Gottman’s 7 tips to keep the love going strong.