While it’s an accomplishment to achieve a long marriage, there are more measures of success than years alone. My husband, Joe, and I have been married for 40 years, 39 of those years blissfully. Statistics show that many marriages end in the early years, and we most certainly could have been among those as I nearly self-sabotaged this relationship in our fifth year of marriage (more on that later).
Perhaps you’ve heard that 50% of all marriages end in divorce? This statistic was true in 1980 (the year we married) but, since that time, the divorce rate has been on the decline. You’ll find many updated statistics online (interestingly they are largely served up by divorce attorneys). Philip N. Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland College Park, notes that from 2008 to 2018 divorce rates among women fell by 18%. (1)
Our focus and obsession with divorce can ultimately be a large part of the problem. It was for me. I carried the trauma of my parents’ messy divorce and turmoil into my new marriage. If I knew then what I know now as an emotional healer and spiritual counselor, our wedding day and first few years of marriage would have been vastly different.
Self-sabotage, lack of self-awareness, and miscommunication may be the biggest contributors to failed marriages. Fortunately, once we see behaviors that are taking us where we don’t want to go, we suddenly see choices. Awareness = The Power of Choice = The Power to Change!
Here Are 7 Tips for Building A Strong Marriage to Get the Conversation GOING ..
1. Don’t Let Fear of Divorce be Your Focus
Many couples who come to me are fumbling in the space of self-sabotage I knew so well. Each selected the other as their “one,” and yet one or both are too afraid of being dumped to really commit to the relationship. That lack of commitment (expressed through lack of intimacy, vulnerability, confidence, trust, etc.) erodes their connection and undermines the marriage. Your fears take you away from what you want.
2. Co-Create a Fluid Partnership
Part of intimacy and building a strong bond as a couple is sharing what is in your heart, your desires, your fears, your dreams. Realizing we come from a culture that separates acceptable emotion by gender, help each other grow past the lower emotions (competition, anger, jealousy, etc.). Release as many gender-role expectations as you are able. Invite softness into your marriage. Make your relationship a safe place, and guard each other’s heart as if it was sacred. An added bonus is that emotional intimacy and that feeling of safety and trust can build and help sustain physical intimacy.
3. Throw Away the Score Card
When you exchanged vows, you became more than a couple. You became a team. It’s now all for ONE (the team) and ONE for all (both of you). There are no MVP awards. Do things for the other because you know it will make their life easier, make them happy, help them out, do it for love. Actions that jeopardize your health, financial security, fidelity, etc. are never justified by your partner’s “bad behavior” (e.g., He spent $300, so I’m going to spend $400). One-upmanship sabotages the relationship twice as quickly. Same is true with mistakes. Give your partner room to mess up and do-overs. You will find what you look for; so look for what you want, not what you don’t want.
4. See the Relationship with Long-Term Vision
Focus on the success; think about how your actions and behaviors are affecting the “future you” (as a couple). How will increasing your debt or sharing something private with a friend play out? Will your behaviors and choices take you closer to your shared dream or further away? A future-focus gives us the vision to “pick our battles.” This is YOUR partnership. If something’s not a big deal, why make one?
5. Watch Yourself, Question YOUR Motives
Focus on changing yourself and your reactions rather than the other person. What’s going on inside? Are you insecure? Feeling unlovable? Worried financially? Discuss how you’re feeling apart from a specific incident that may have triggered you. Your level of upset may be tied to a trauma from another time or place, yet it greatly affects your partner. When one is feeling vulnerable or needy, that’s something you should be able to express to the other rather than slipping into battle over something that’s not at the heart of the matter.
6. Tend to Your Partner’s Wounds As They Tend To Yours
Advocate for and support one another, especially in those wounded places, rather than poking each other there. Review each of the prior suggestions, and then react with love, within yourself and toward your partner. Communicate. Reach out for support if you cannot find the root of your wound or need help communicating your vulnerabilities to one another. I offer one-to-one sessions to anchor you and couples’ sessions that help bridge gaps.
7. Grow and Evolve Through Life Together
Life’s a dance; we shouldn’t expect to stay in the same place or always have the same interests. Yet, it’s important in a marriage to remember one another as we grow. Sometimes BOTH partners have to stretch beyond their comfort zones to stay connected, seeking equilibrium within the relationship to meet the other in the middle. Communication and commitment are the notes that harmonize this dance.
I entered our marriage, not unlike many other people, damaged from childhood trauma that had crushed belief in myself and a happily-ever-after. I craved security, love, commitment, and yet pushed those things away. I was unconsciously self-sabotaging my (and his) happiness. I am so grateful for Joe’s commitment, support, patience, and compassion.
We celebrated our 10th Anniversary by renewing our vows. I pledged my love, believing in and accepting his vows and his love more completely into my being. Here we stand, 30 years later. I cannot imagine life without him! We’ve shared adventures and the joy of just being together. We’ve created dreams-come-true, particularly our daughters, now our two dearest friends!
Nurturing a long-term, loving marriage makes life’s highs more delicious and its lows more bearable. A foundation cast in love is rock-solid. Knowing the other is always willing to reach back to lift you higher and vice versa repairs any cracks along the way!
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(1)“The Coming Divorce Decline” by Philip N. Cohen on familyinequality.wordpress.com