Recently, my husband and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary. When I think back to those first years of marriage, it is amazing how much we have changed. We were high school sweethearts and dated five and one half years before we got married. Many changes have been witnessed over the last 31 years and we continue to work at making marriage better.
In counseling, I ask couples to rate their marriage in terms of satisfaction on a scale from one to ten. This exercise gives me a quick assessment of the marriage relationship. Sometimes, couples are surprised at each other’s answers. While one may rank the marriage a “7,” the other may rank the relationship a “3.” When this happens, usually the more satisfied mate is not working to meet the needs of the spouse because his needs are being met. The spouse, who rated the marriage as a “4” is not feeling much satisfaction and the marriage partner may not even be aware of the problems.
Relationships are complicated.
In the beginning of a marriage, a couple is consumed with total bliss and longing for each other and may be totally caught off guard when those feelings begin to change over time. The emotional high experienced in the early years is transformed into a deeper, more fulfilling relationship if needs are satisfied. If not, trouble soon arises.
Many troubled marriages can be rescued with the right tools to strengthen relationships and the commitment to make marriage work.
Consider the five principles below to strengthen marriage:
1. Know the needs of your mate.
Men and women may not come from Mars or Venus, as the title of the book implies, but they certainly have different desires. Take time to share with each other your top five needs with your mate. Keep in mind what your mate requests and focus on meeting each other’s needs. When one person is satisfied in the marriage relationship, he will be more motivated to meet his mate’s needs. Most women, for example, need affection, meaningful conversation, honest communication, family support and commitment. Men, on the other hand, share a desire for sexual intimacy, admiration, a recreational companion, attractive spouse and a partner who makes home a pleasant place to live. Know the needs of your mate and work towards fulfilling those desires.
2. Effective communication is essential in building a healthy marriage relationship.
Unless a couple participates in extensive pre-marital counseling or has the advantage of excellent role models, communication skills may not be adequately developed for a successful marriage relationship. Learn to know when to talk to your spouse about a problem. Ask when is a good time to talk (not when one is busy, stressed or exhausted). Plan a time to discuss issues. Often in counseling, I recommend couples discuss issues over dinner at a restaurant or a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop. A relaxed public venue provides an environment conducive to listening and conversing without anger. A mate is less likely to raise a voice in frustration while dining at a restaurant than in the privacy of the kitchen table at home. Knowing how to talk to a mate in an accepting manner is important in initiating change. How we talk to our mate has everything to do with the chances that grievances will be considered. Share thoughts without accusations and anger.
3. Money mismanagement is a major reason for divorce.
Agreement on spending is important for success in marriage. Success in money management means you must spend less than you earn. Live within your financial means. Debt creates problems in a relationship. Agree on how to spend money, who keeps up with bills, and make decisions together on large purchases. Each spouse should have a set to spend each month for personal use.
4. Capitalize on uniqueness.
Most people marry someone who is different from themselves. That is what attracts us to the other person. That person has special and unique qualities that are appealing. Instead of viewing differences as negative, think of them as positive attributes of a relationship. One spouse’s weakness is the other spouse’s strength. One may rise and shine in the morning and can get breakfast cooked, lunches packed and kids off to school easily. The other spouse who may be more alert at night can focus on homework, dinner and bedtime rituals. Use variation to enhance the relationship. Know strengths and weaknesses. Think of each other as complements of one another, balancing the relationship with each other’s strengths. You need each other to function as an effective married couple. Laugh at differences and quirks rather than grumble about them.
5. Honor the commitment to marriage.
Commitment sustains the relationship when feelings of love are weak. That is why marriage vows say “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, until death do us part.” Life changes over time and circumstances and so do people. Learn to grow together as you mature and situations change. Stay committed to the family unit. Children need and deserve the security and love of both parents in the home. Think of marriage as a long-term investment in which you contribute and anticipate rewards from the relationship in the future. Statistics reveal that re-marriages after divorce have a lower rate of success than first marriages. Stick with the relationship and make it work.
Marriage is a rewarding relationship.
Like anything else in life worthwhile, it takes commitment and work to be appreciated and nourished. When focused on meeting each other’s needs, one will find fulfillment in marriage. How do you rate your marriage? Try these tips for a few months and watch the ratings increase.