I was raised on fairy tales. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel–all kind, caring women who found their Prince Charmings and lived happily ever after. Even as a child, I knew that fairy godmothers and magic potions didn’t really exist.
Yet, I held fast to the belief in “happily ever after.” So, when I met my husband and knew I had found my soul mate, I pictured our life together as one long ride off into the sunset. Hello reality!
The Truth About Marriage
Don’t get me wrong. Marriage is great in many ways when you’ve found someone you love and care about and who feels the same about you. The problem comes in when you think that is enough to sustain a strong, enduring relationship.
You see, when you care a lot about someone, the things they say and do have a profound emotional impact on you. Sometimes these are wonderful emotions and sometimes they are painful. Also, one of the joys of marriage is that you can relax and be yourself with that person. Sometimes we relax a little too much though and don’t think about the effect our words and actions have on the other person.
The key to a happy marriage? Accept that it won’t always be happy! The reality of marriage is that it takes some effort to make it work. All too often, I believe people either are ignorant of this fact, or aren’t willing to put in the effort, which is evident in the divorce rates.
Check out this infographic from Dr. D. Ivan Young. Over 40% of first marriages end in divorce. And once you’ve gone ahead and given up on a marriage, the likelihood of doing it again increases.
Another indication from the image below that points to the fact that divorce is the result of abandoning the work required to stay together is the difference in divorce rates between couples with children and couples without children. When the decision will affect other people (i.e. the children), couples try harder to make the relationship work resulting in a divorce rate that is 40% lower than their counterparts without children.
When You Should Consider Throwing In The Towel
Please don’t mistake what I am saying as an argument that divorce is never justified. I don’t want anyone else weighing in on my marriage so I certainly won’t tell anyone else how to manage theirs.
I only mean to point out that a strong, healthy marriage doesn’t happen by accident. It requires work and time and attention. Of course, marriage is a two-way street so ideally, both partners are committed to making these commitments.
In some cases, one person’s sacrifices are not enough to save a marriage and there are certain cases when divorce is actually a smart choice. Again, I will never tell someone what they should do. I only mention these circumstances so that if they apply to you, I hope you will consider your options.
- Abuse – Physical, mental, and emotional abuse can all cause long-term damage to the victim and witnesses. Abusers are typically very controlling and thus, try to isolate their victims and convince them that they have no other options. There are several non-profit organizations set up to help victims of domestic abuse escape their tormentors. For more information on how to get help, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
- Illegal Activity – If you are staying in a marriage because your significant other has made you complicit in illegal activity, the only future you are guaranteeing for yourself is a future of continued law-breaking. If and when you are eventually caught, you will have a much longer list of crimes than if you walk away early.
- Addiction – Some marriages can survive addiction, even if the addict never seeks recovery. The problem with addiction is that it eventually puts everyone around it in danger. Whether the addict accidentally burns the house down because they pass out while smoking, or they crash into another vehicle while they are under the influence, or they go to jail for crimes related to their addiction, these are very real risks that can affect the family of an addict. If you are married to an addict, you must be aware that you are risking your financial security, personal safety, and possibly your life and the lives of your children.
Tips For A Happy Marriage
My own marriage has certainly had its ups and downs. I’m not a marriage counselor. After nearly 20 years of marriage though, I do know a few things that have worked for us and I’ve also made some mistakes that I wish I’d known to avoid. Hopefully, these tips will be of some benefit to you.
- Talk Time – For me and my husband, some our best bonding moments are during pillow talk when we’ve both snuggled up in bed for the night and the house is quiet and we can just talk about our thoughts and stories from the day. Sometimes, our sleep schedules don’t line up well so we get these little chats in during an after-dinner dog walk. Some couples I know chat over coffee in the morning before the kids get up. It doesn’t really matter when you do it, but I think you will find that if you take just 10 minutes a day to catch up with one another without distractions, it will work wonders for keeping you connected.
- Hold Hands – My husband has an annoying habit of requiring that we hold hands when we are arguing about something. It is the LAST thing I want to do when I am angry at him, mostly because it is hard to not soften a little when you are physically touching (which is of course why he does it). Just as it is easier to be mean in an e-mail than in person, it is easier to be angry from across the room.
- Be Intimate – This is a rated G site so I’ll have to talk about this carefully. Women are like conventional ovens, we take a little while to preheat before we are ready to get cooking. Men are more like microwaves–their buttons are easy to push to generate heat. It can be hard for the microwave to understand why it takes the oven so much longer to cook something. Also, sometimes the oven doesn’t want to go through all the trouble of preheating and tries to convince everyone they aren’t really hungry so that she doesn’t have to cook. Just as our bodies will starve without food, your marriage will starve if you don’t feed it some intimacy. So, every once in awhile, cook even when you don’t feel like it.
- Don’t Bad Mouth Your Spouse To Others – When you live with someone and know almost everything about them, it is hard to not get annoyed with them sometimes. As women, we typically talk to work out our emotions so your natural instinct will be to vent to your girlfriend about your husband’s flaws. Don’t do it. First of all, unless you are telling her countless stories about all the wonderful things your husband does, this will create a negative image of your husband in your friend’s eyes. Did you know we remember 1 in 10 good things about a person and 100% of the negative things? This means for every negative thing you tell your friend about your spouse, you need to tell her 10 positive things to inspire a NEUTRAL attitude towards him. Second, if your friend has a negative impression of your life partner, it is going to be very hard for your friend to be supportive of your marriage. The best thing she can do is to not say anything, but far more likely she will help aggravate your feelings by sympathizing and agreeing that your husband is a jerk. Do you see how this might interfere with your ability to have a happy marriage? And if you somehow manage to be happy in your marriage, what happens with the friendship now that your friend thinks your husband is a jerk and doesn’t understand how you can be married to him? Work out your frustrations at the gym, or in a journal, or better yet, with your husband.
- Take Care of Yourself – When you feel good about yourself, you feel better about life. Most anyone who has made an attempt to get fit or lose weight will vouch for the fact that when you are taking care of your body, everything else in your life seems to run more smoothly. You have more energy to get more done. You feel more confident. You’re less likely to lose your temper or be aggravated by others.
- Pretend Your Husband Is A Puppy – I know I am going to pay for this one when my husband reads this, but it’s honestly my best advice. If you’re not a dog lover, picture one and how they act with a puppy. They dote on them, cuddle them, and forgive them all their mistakes because they’re so darn cute. This is all your husband wants in the world. Men are not complex creatures. Like puppies, they just want to be loved. When he forgets to pick up the milk at the store, it’s not an elaborate plot to drive you insane or deprive the children of calcium. He really just forgot. Men will climb mountains, swim oceans, and thwart evildoers for the unconditional love of a woman. If you don’t believe me, try it just once. You’ll be amazed at how well it works.
For even more information on building a strong and healthy marriage, check out First Things First. It’s a non-profit organization “dedicated to strengthening families through education, collaboration and mobilization by serving as a community resource.” On their site you will find tons of information on all aspects of family life.