Many would think I am the last person to be writing an article on what keeps a marriage strong, seeing as how my divorce will be final in a few days and all. But a divorce decree doesn’t mean I’m clueless. Hey, I spent 20 years as a firsthand witness to what not to do, so the following should still be valid. If you’re out there and still determined that your marriage can work and be something great and beautiful, here’s how you do it. (For the record, I’m going on a combination of what should be common sense, as well as the exact opposite of what I saw for the last two decades!)
Keep it positive. Now I know every marriage is going to have its share of bumps in the road, and not every day will be hunky dory fine, but you need to make it a priority to point out the positives in your spouse, say something encouraging to build them up, make them feel of value, of importance. There is a place for negative criticism, but your positives should always outweigh the negatives by a good country mile. About 5:1 in favor of the positive feels right to me. Laying a positive foundation will prove much sturdier than one based on constant criticism and bashing.
Keep the negative in perspective. Negativity in marriage is like a lion in a cage with a very weak lock. It is easy for it to get out, and unless you are properly prepared, very difficult to get it back in again, at least not without considerable injury for everyone involved. You cannot avoid the occasional negative feelings or experiences, the trick is learning how to constructively deal with them. Letting them accumulate unaddressed is a bad idea; every pot will eventually spill over, and the result is usually a mess.
Learn how to express negative feelings constructively. Resist the urge to get personal or nasty, and just sit down with your spouse and air your feelings. Done so in a civil and polite manner, I can guarantee that you will be much better received, and what you say will actually be taken to heart. Both partners in this relationship have to be able to take responsibility for their actions, admit when they are wrong, and take appropriate steps to correct things. Get your pride out of the way and do it.
Make that connection, every day, preferably more than once. We need to be tied into our spouses. Whether it’s a wink, or a hug, a kiss, whatever. Let them know that you are there and engaged in their lives. Make time for each other, whether it is a standing Tuesday night date, or just snuggling on the couch while watching your favorite show, take the time to build and nurture that emotional intimacy. Even a call from your spouse on their way to work, telling them that you are thinking of them, that you love them, and cannot wait to see them that evening will do wonders. Try it and tell me I’m wrong. I dare ya!
Commit yourself…fully. A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that marriage is a 50/50 proposition. It isn’t. Both parties need to be committed to putting 100% (or more) into their marriage to make it work. Anything less spells trouble. This is especially important around the seven year marks, when studies have shown couples to be more at risk for divorce due to a severe lack of emotional connection. This deadness can result in two people basically leading separate lives while living under the same roof. Trust me on this one.
Get help. If you do find things beginning to unravel, seek out professional marriage counseling. And don’t go in with the attitude that you are going to get the counselor on your side and beat up on your spouse. It doesn’t work that way. You pay that counselor a lot of money for him to remain completely neutral, pointing out what he or she sees as the overriding issues in your marriage, no matter where they may lie. Accept the fact that the finger may occasionally be pointed at you.
The best thing that both of you can do is learn how to complete each other. Let your weaknesses be her strengths, and vice versa. Learn how to indeed “become one” and let what you become be truly greater than the sum of its parts. You should be your spouse’s biggest fan, encourager, cheerleader, and you should celebrate everything that makes them who they are.
I recently saw a Facebook status from a wife to her husband. She meant to write, “I love you”, but for one wrong keystroke she wrote “I live you”. He picked right up on it and responded, “I live you, too”. An error that turned out to be wholly appropriate: let this be your heart’s desire for your spouse today.
Now go therefore and live well….