July – not usually the month most people’s thoughts turn to romance – but it is for me. Hubby & I celebrated 37 married years together on the 10th of this month. Marriage is not necessarily easy, but it can be so totally worth it.
Here’s what we’ve learned about marriage in our years together – yes, hubby helped me write this a few years ago when we were asked to teach a workshop for our congregation at church about how to have a successful marriage. We still use this as our guidebook – because it works!
1. GOD’S MARRIAGE LAW – First and foremost, Heavenly Father has already told us how relationships are supposed to be run. “Thou shalt love thy spouse with all thy heart and shall cleave unto him/her and none else.” Sounds simple – Spencer Kimball explained it further – the word ‘all’ allows for no sharing nor dividing nor depriving. Your spouse is supposed to be preeminent in your life. ‘None else’ eliminates everyone and everything else, so no interest of any sort shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse.
If only we could all do that for our spouses … but … marriage, like life, is a journey. Maturity doesn’t happen at the start of the journey.
2. BE ONE – You and your spouse were commanded to be one. Stand up for and champion your spouse at all times and in all places, especially in front of your children. Have each other’s backs. Be able to count on your spouse and be counted on by your spouse.
Present a united front. Pay compliments to each other privately and publicly. Neither joke nor talk down about your spouse to your friends, other family members, or on social media.
Being one does not mean identical – if you and your partner always agree and always do the same things, one of you is unnecessary! You should have your own interests as well as joint interests, because both of you need to develop into strong, independent people who share common goals and values.
3. WE ARE UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS – Assumptions create problems. Your spouse is not you. Your truth or reality is not your spouse’s truth or reality. He/she perceives differently than you, processes the perceived information differently than you, and takes different actions on the perceived information than you would. There are two versions of every story that happens in your marriage. You know your version. What’s your spouse’s version? What does it feel like for him or her? You probably know how you are suffering. How are they suffering? What would happen if you really, really tried to feel things from their point of view?
4. COMMUNICATION – No man or woman is born knowing how to read minds. Don’t act out your displeasure and expect your spouse to ‘get’ it. Communicate what you feel and what you want. What you cannot communicate controls your life! Communication is NOT two people taking turns talking. Saying the same thing with more volume isn’t going to make your spouse understand it. Saying the same thing 100 more times isn’t going to make your spouse get it.
To communicate well requires you to study and learn how to do it. Even words and sentences that seem crystal clear to you may be completely incomprehensible to your spouse. Generally speaking, you have to start where the other person is, using that person’s frame of reference. You can’t start where YOU are if the other person isn’t in the same place. First, you have to enter the other person’s world and start with what’s familiar to him or her to get their attention.
How do you stop a speeding train? First, you harmonize, meaning you match speed and direction, then you can get on board and gradually influence the controls. Love languages really helps to understand this. When in doubt, give the benefit of the doubt. Express your love in a way your spouse understands at least 5 times per day.
5. THE PROBLEM IS ME – Marriage is sometimes described as two people who have agreed to try to change each other. The truth is – you cannot change other people. All marriages are based on two people. If one of those people changes, the relationship has changed; therefore, you BE the change you want to see. Whatever we resist, persists. Whatever we acknowledge can be changed. Whatever we focus on grows, even if only in our perception. Acknowledge that you are part of the problem, work on changing yourself, and focus only on what is good and awesome about your spouse.
You are completely and totally the source of your own reality. Choose to be miserable or choose to be happy. If there is a problem, it’s probably not that you don’t like your spouse. It’s more likely that you don’t like yourself. Your spouse is like a mirror reflecting your character back to you and you don’t like what you see. Change the only person you actually have the power to change – yourself.
6. IT’S OKAY TO BE ANGRY – It’s unrealistic to expect that you will never be angry. Anger means there is passion there of some sort. It’s okay to go to bed angry, as long as you have a solid commitment to resolve things in the morning. Tired or angry people do not solve problems well.
Children should see that it is okay to disagree, that the disagreement can be resolved, and that disagreements do not equate to lack of love. Sometimes the resolution is to agree to shelve the issue until both of you are wiser and can come up with a solution not presently attainable. Love should never be used as a threat or a weapon in disagreements – only the actual issue should be addressed. There will always be rough spots – keep working at it.
7. CONTROL YOURSELF – Deep breathing and mantras are better than knee jerk reactions. If your spouse does something and you get upset about it, say your mantra to yourself instead of blurting out hurtful reactions. Examples of mantras include:
– Patience and humility
– I loved her/him two minutes before this fight started. When this fight is over, I will want to love him/her again. Be careful what I say.
– I can be right, or I can be happy. Insisting that I am right will not make me happy.
Sometimes you’re too angry or upset to deal with the issue right then. Recognize it, and communicate to your spouse something like, “I’m really upset. I need some time to cool off before I can deal with this.” Remember your spouse can’t read your mind. If you just leave to cool off, what guarantees that they will correctly perceive what you are doing, if you don’t express it?
8. BOUNDARIES – Although this seems slightly contradictory to the last point, there must be boundaries in the relationship. Peace at any price is bad for the marriage. If the passive partner is always stuffing their feelings in the interest of maintaining peace in the relationship, the relationship is neither healthy nor growing. The only people who want to be in a relationship with a victim are either another victim or a bully. Healthy people don’t like the passive/aggressive behavior and the martyrdom that go with the victim role. And, it is not possible to bury negative feelings without also affecting the positive ones. So, my advice is this: don’t be afraid to rock the boat. Don’t BLAME your partner for problems in your marriage, but if you aren’t willing to put your foot down and occasionally draw a line and say “I will not go beyond this line and I will not accept you going beyond it,” then the sparks, the energy that drives your relationship will begin to die, to be replaced with things like resentment, depression, loss of passion, loss of sexual desire, loss of emotional intimacy, loneliness, apathy, emptiness, and so on. The opposite of love is not hate or anger, it’s apathy. Fighting, or disagreeing, usually means you really care about something. Refusal to fight usually means you either don’t care about the issue, or you don’t care about yourself.
There are good ways and many bad ways to fight. The key is to express your feelings in an appropriate way that allows you and your spouse to deal with them and resolve them. Feelings have to be acknowledged and dealt with, not buried.
Learn how each other fights so as not to misinterpret behaviors, express how you feel with correct words, keep the disagreement between yourselves and do not attempt to recruit other family members to ‘your side’, understand that your spouse’s feelings and opinions are important even if you don’t understand them, and remember that it’s easier and more gratifying to say “I’m sorry” than it is to defend your actions. Apologize quickly and sincerely. Accept responsibility for your part in whatever negative happens in the marriage.
Inappropriate ways to fight include expressing your feelings with negative actions like sabotage, withholding love, sulking, silent treatment, leaving, physically threatening, turning to addictions, name calling, keeping score, tearing down your spouse in public, and continuing to repeat the same patterns and behaviors that don’t work.
9. MAINTAIN CONFIDENCES – marriage is a sacred relationship. Treat it like your greatest treasure. Private stuff stays private. Intimate life, idiosyncrasies, arguments, histories – none of it is to be shared with family, friends, or social media. If you really need to talk to someone about what is going on in the relationship, seek professional help where you are assured that strict confidentiality is observed. Do not share with friends. Do not share with parents or siblings.
10. IT TAKES WORK – marriage is like fitness – you have to work at it regularly or it weakens. You don’t get to coast or it falls out of shape, just like you would. Another analogy: marriage is like a garden – without watering, weeding, and nourishing it, nothing good is going to grow. Put the marriage FIRST. As Gordon B. Hinckley said when you die all the work and stress and running around you did will not matter at all. The ONLY thing that will matter is the relationships you have built.