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Marriage therapists work predominantly with people who didn’t grow up in a healthy family or home. As a result, many of our clients don’t even know what healthy relationship looks like. Here I’ll list some of the ingredients that are necessary for creating a satisfying and long-lasting marriage.
1. Love and commitment to marriage
The most satisfying relationships are based on love. Love is what binds us to each other. However, love alone is not enough for a relationship to stay strong and survive for a long time. For that purpose, commitment is even more important. Love is the foundation, but commitment is the house we build on that foundation. Commitment means that we have decided to stay together no matter what – in sickness or health, through good times or bad times, through those times when we don’t feel so loving and when we don’t even like our spouse, (yes, there will be times like that). When both partners are committed to the relationship and willing to do whatever it takes to solve their problems – then everything, especially happiness, is possible.
2. Friendship and enjoying each other, spending time together
Friendship is what helps people keep going even when love temporarily weakens. If spouses are also friends, they accept and respect each other, enjoy each other company, like to spend time together, talk to each other, share interests, values, inspirations and hopes. They support each other and are genuinely happy when their partner is successful. When spouses are also friends, they make decisions together and share responsibilities. There is less competition and power struggles. This is what brings people JOY.
Sometimes intimacy is referred to as In-to-Me-See. This is what separates marriage from all other relationship. Intimacy means relating to each other with closeness that includes emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual aspects. True intimacy also includes being vulnerable with each other without the fear of being hurt or rejected. It’s also true for sexual part of the relationship which can develop together with the deepening of trust and closeness in other areas. Intimacy also means the sharing and witnessing of each other’s lives which brings an enormous satisfaction and this satisfaction can grow deeper and deeper with the passage of time.
4. Fidelity, trust and honesty
True intimacy is impossible without fidelity. Fidelity is not just sexual faithfulness, it also includes not going outside of the marriage for an emotional connection. Some people say that it’s not their spouse’s sexual encounters that hurt them the most, but the betrayal of trust and emotional connection with a person other than spouse. Any deep emotional connection with somebody outside the marriage erodes the trust that spouses had with each other and can easily lead to a sexual attraction to another person. Of course, honesty is also a very important in building trust.
5. Effective communication
“No matter what people do, they are always communicating.” This phrase struck me because of how accurate it was. It’s not just the words that we say to each other, but also our facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and even our actions. Good communication is a skill that everybody can learn. It’s important to learn how to express your feelings, thoughts, desires and needs in non-accusing, non-judgmental ways. It also includes the skill of active listening, being able to understand each other beyond just words. Effective communication is a blend of the accurate and honest expression of yourself and an open and attentive receiving by your partner.
6. Successful conflict resolution and fair fighting
For most couples, some conflicts (and even fights) are inevitable. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Conflicts can teach us to be more understanding of our differences, expand our perspectives on things and learn more about each other. However, for a conflict to be constructive, it’s important to learn how to handle them in a way that partners don’t get too hurt in the process and there is no lingering ill effects after fights. Conflicts that are handled well are those where there is an overall tendency to resolve the conflict and solve problems in a way that is mutually respectful and satisfying for both spouses.
7. Random acts of kindness and mutual support
“It’s little things that matter.” There’s a belief that everything that we put our soul, energy and time into – grows. The same is true with love. When we demonstrate good will to each other, and show that we care in a myriad of small but thoughtful ways (picking up your partner’s favorite food in a grocery store, giving them a hand when they do something, complimenting them on something they do, expressing gratitude and appreciation, giving them little gifts, taking them out, supporting them in their aspirations and projects) our love grows and gets stronger. Then love becomes a conscious and intentional “joint venture.”
8. Responsibility for one’s own life
Some people, especially the younger ones, enter into relationships with the hope that their partner “will make me complete and happy.” It’s an impossible task. Ultimately, nobody can make us happy, only we ourselves can learn to be happy. And happiness might include our own growth and development, our own friendships and interests, and sometimes being able to take care of our needs that can’t be met by our spouses. It’s very important to pay attention to what we ourselves bring into a marriage instead of trying to change the other person. The more interesting and exciting people we are ourselves, the more interesting and exciting we will be to our partners. The best relationships are developed between two mature, responsible adults who have chosen to be together.
9. Personal space
Personal space is very important because this is where we retreat to rejuvenate, to recharge and even rekindle our love for each other. Some people spend so much time together that their love suffocates. Don’t let this happen to you because love needs room to breathe and expand.
Kahlil Gibran, a wonderful Lebanese-American poet, put it beautifully in the following words:
“Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. “
Humor means different things to different people of course, but in general I’m talking about learning to laugh together, sharing a similar sense of humor and finding something to laugh about in everyday things. It’s okay to make gentle fun of each other and ourselves, (and especially our shortcomings) as long as it’s not mean-spirited. Life is not easy, so learn to never take it too seriously.