Is Happily Ever After a Fantasy or a Mutual Effort?


Good news for marriage -- the divorce rate in the US has gone down, according to a study from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research. Even better news for those in the Peoria area, the state of Illinois ranked 43rd out of 51 (when Washington DC is included) for divorce in 2015, the last year from which statistics are available.

The Center's study doesn't say how many marriages are saved by good counselors, but it probably can be assumed that for some troubled relationships a modicum of hard work was involved by both partners. The fantasy of "happily ever after" -- as most couples will tell you -- takes some effort to really achieve.

So what kind of work is involved? Well, like most well-oiled machines, a good marriage takes adequate relationship maintenance. Here are some of the components of a good marriage tool kit.

1. Communicate Your Thoughts and Feelings

Whether you are the husband or the wife, your spouse is not a mind reader. Even if they are good at guessing your moods, assuming they will always do so accurately and in full context is a risky proposition.

The best way to be understood is to tell your partner what you are thinking and how it makes you feel -- and do so without blame, shame, guilt, anger, or negative judgment. In that way, you help your partner respond with kindness and concern for what you are experiencing.

And a mutual giving of kindness and concern smooths the many rough patches all relationships go through.

As a bonus, communicating openly with your spouse can deepen love, and make trust and forgiveness easier to achieve after a suspicion of infidelity, or a terrible argument. Open communication will help you make wise decisions as a couple, whether it's for home buying, career sacrifices, parenting, or retirement planning.

2. Resist Defensiveness, Ask for Forgiveness, and Make Amends

When your partner takes the risk to share how they feel or what they think about something that involves you, listen as if it's information that is vital to your happiness as an individual and as a couple. If the way the information is delivered feels harsh or unfair, say so -- with kindness rather than the need to retaliate.

In other words, resist the all too human urge to get defensive and strike back. Ask for examples of any charges that seem unwarranted. We don't always see ourselves as others do, and you could be unaware of something you've done that has unintentionally hurt or angered your partner.

Hold in mind that telling you about these inevitable issues is done with the intention to bring the relationship back into balance -- a goal that you presumably both want.

So rather than being defensive, be humble and acknowledge that your partner's feelings are their feelings. Convey that you are sorry that something you did caused those feelings, and ask how you can correct the situation or make amends. When both members of a couple respond to the other in this way, the relationship itself builds resistance against the many minor infractions that can weaken your bond.

If necessary, to avoid in-the-moment over-reaction, say that you will think about what you've been told, and ask for some time to think about it and get back to your partner. Buying time this way can help your partner feel "heard" and can help you release charged emotions prior to responding.

3. Assert Preferences and Take Turns

Compromise is a key element of a happy marriage. And to be good at compromise, both parties need to assertively state a preference, discover shared druthers, and be willing to alternate in getting their way.

It helps to not make every compromise a competitive need to win, but instead to remain detached from the outcome, knowing that your turn is coming.

Compromise has a potentially enjoyable benefit, too. It can stimulate curiosity, turning concessions into adventures, and becoming a catalyst for increasing fun and trust in your partner's singular interests.

4. Prioritize Laughter and Friendship to Keep Love Alive

Almost every long term married couple asked will say that the secret to their success was based in seeing their partner as their best friend, and enjoying a lot of laughter in their relationship.

Friendship and laughter work magic in helping each other feel valued. They are the qualities that influence wanting to work things out, against all odds. These qualities make us feel good about ourselves and are the foundation for all enjoyable relationships.

It's hard to hold on to resentments and hurt feelings when laughter and a sense of deep friendship are present, when you fully listen to each other, speak up for yourself, and work on a system in which each of you get your needs met.

That kind of mutuality is what is meant by the hard work of marriage. If you and your partner need a little help in putting such practices into place in your relationship, I'm here to help.

If you need some help to develop these relationship skills, I'm here for you.

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