The hows and whys of successful marriages have been the subject of enough books to fill a library. Marriage counseling is more common than all other types of counseling put together. Are successful marriages really that hard and, if so, why do so many of us take the plunge? Are there secret formulae? Is it luck? We researched such noted experts as Mort Fertel and Gary Chapman.
Then Gildshire Magazines got together with some successful couples. To quote the X-Files, the answer is out there. We tried to unearth it.
We engaged the help of couples on all sides of the relationship spectrum. Our only criterion was that they had to be in a currently successful marriage. Some of our couples had experienced just one marriage. Others had gotten it wrong at least once, before getting it right this time around. Most of them were in marriages of at least ten years’ duration.
The Love Languages Work
Gary Chapman’s iconic work, titled “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts” has been a marriage counseling staple since it was published in 1995. In it, Chapman spells out the five languages we use when we love. To paraphrase, they are Words, Touch, Quality Conversation, Acts of Service, and Gifts. The couples with whom we visited knew abut Chapman’s languages. They talked about how important it is to know your partner’s love language and for him/her to know yours.
Our successfully married couples took it further, though, and in some fascinating ways. They talked about honoring each other’s preferred language in both directions, putting it this way:
“I know my husband’s main love language is Acts of Service. Mine is Touch. Rather than spend my day wishing for more touch I
intentionally appreciate the fact that my gutters are clean and the lawn is mowed. It made me love him that much more.”
One other couple made another good point about love languages: “It’s easy to learn your partner’s love language, teach him yours, and forget the others. A fully-rounded marriage needs all of the LLs.”
Harlequin Has Done Relationships No Favors
“She loved Charles. After all, he was her fiance’. But, there was something about Deke. It was in his hair as it blew in the breeze off the ocean. It was in the way he brooded. Man, could he ever brood? So much brood in one man! She loved that he was…dangerous.”
That didn’t actually come from a Harlequin Romance book, but it could very easily be in one. Marriage has its moments like that, but those scenes aren’t the basis of successful marriages. One man in our group talked about his ex-wife:
“She would lay on the loveseat and read romance novels. Afterward, she would put the book down with a wistful sigh and say, ‘Why can’t that ever happen to me?’ Eventually, she left me and has left four guys since.”
Love, fresh and new, is a thrilling time. We don’t need to eat, we barely sleep, and we walk around with a silly smile. People say, “Are you high?” We err, though, when we go from relationship to relationship always in search of a fresh high. Love changes as it matures. Also, “dangerous” could be the cautionary subject of a whole new article.
Shared Experiences Refresh the Relationship
Couples meet, date, and marry. During the dating period, they go and do. If they stop going out and having new experiences the relationship will inevitably grow stale. Intentionally continue to date your partner.
Take your partner on a date tonight.
Talk to Your Partner
If there was one thing that hallmarked the successful couples in our group it was curiosity. Remaining curious about your partner’s thoughts, opinions, and positions on life keeps a relationship humming.
On a related note, curiosity about the world around you is helpful, too. One woman in the group was married for 20 years before the relationship sadly came to an end. Gildshire asked about her ex’s political stances. She said, “I don’t know. We never talked about them.” In 20 years they never talked about politics or current events! How is that even possible?
A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action
You had to know we would get around to a country music reference if the subject was dogs, trucks, or love. One or all of those topics is every country song released by a male singer, but it has real meaning here. Love and relationship are acts performed on purpose. We choose to open ourselves to love. We choose to step into (“fall” is a misnomer) love. Then we choose to solemnize our love through marriage. They aren’t about words as much as they are about intentions.
Intentionality must be in it or the marriage will fail. The successful marriages in our focus group are that way because the couples choose each other in an intentional manner.
Easy, huh? Not really. Worth it, though? Without a doubt. In these fretful times, it is good to look across the breakfast table at someone who has been through fretful times with you before. You weathered them then. You will again. Good luck.