She was 20, he was 25, and they were walking down the aisle with a 7 month baby bump between them. Some people thought they were doomed.
Who would have thought that they would end up 5 kids and 18 years later still together? What is it about their partnership that somehow... clicks?
Another marriage counselor colleague I talked with recently may not have been married as long as others but, along the way, we discovered that there are some common concepts or keys that cut across marriages we have known to be successful -think, 30, 40, 50 years.
Allow me to share them with you by summarizing them into four:
1. Whole individuals make whole marriages.
In other words, get to know yourself first and work out becoming a whole, happy person. Sometimes, I've seen marriages fail because individual personalities come with baggage.
While we all have baggage, the problem is when one allows the baggage to rule one's behavior and way or relating. What's worse, more often than not we are not even aware that we actually HAVE baggage.
Knowing yourself, being aware of your issues and, more than that, realistically confronting and surmounting them: these help make one a better individual and a better spouse. In this case, internal self-work is important and I could never emphasize that enough.
If you had issues growing up, start by working on healing them. Cultivate your self-awareness, expose yourself to ideas and experiences that will help you evolve, develop your self-esteem, imbibe a strong sense of self, adapt true humility - even grow a sound moral compass.
There are numerous options open to you: credible self-help books, classes, counseling, and support groups.
It would help you to consult the most mature, happy individuals you know and learn from them. Engage them in conversation. You will discover that they've picked some important things along the way that make them what they are.
You will also discover that growth is continuous. Wholeness and happiness are not something you come to overnight nor are they ever complete. The best one can do is approximate them internally and be content.
2. Love is a decision and a DOING WORD.
More often than not, we see couples resort to divorce because the "love" has gone. That stands to be corrected because it's not necessarily the "love" that has gone but the excitement of early romance.
What people fail to realize is that love is more than the feeling. Couples who have been married for years have this to say: Love is a decision. Steven Covey says: Love is a doing word.
I find that to combine the two actually presents aspects of what it means to really LOVE. Writers refer to it as the difference between "being in love" and "loving".
Love as a decision. We all enjoy having our love validated by an intense feeling deep inside. And, yes, that helps specially in days when your spouse gets grumpy and annoying.
But, above and beyond all that, despite grumpy, annoying and the other seven dwarves, despite good days and bad, you know that you still love because you have decided in the very core of you and you abide by that decision.
This means Love is a commitment that you made with your full, whole consciousness as a mature, self-actualized human being.
Isn't that amazing? That you as a person have the faculties to be in control of your decisions rather than flitting along in the throes of passion?
Love is a doing word. Feeling it and showing it are two different things. I've heard spouses say: "But I LOVE him (or her)" and just leave it at that. What they don't see is that their love has to be shown - especially in the little things.
In this case, actions do speak louder than words and every time you do something for your spouse, you show that you love them and you actually continue to build on that love.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
People have a misconception of what communication is. They think that it's simply talking. Of course, that's the first part.
For a marriage to work, I would always advise a couple to talk about everything. Talking is always a good thing. Whether it be talking about things, other people or ideas, talking to one's spouse is important to keeping marriage healthy.
Some people say that it's better to have secrets -- that your spouse doesn't have to know everything. That's true too but in moderation. If it's a big, important secret you're keeping and you can't find a way to tell your spouse the truth, something's wrong.
Even if you agree to disagree, even if your politics may be different, talking is the key. It could be empty talk, just for companionship, it could also be philosophical talk, about one's insights and discovered wisdom.
Whatever it is, talk. And while you're at it, respect each other's point of view.
However, the 2nd part of the Communication cycle is more important than the first. LISTENING. When you truly LISTEN, you hear both what is being said and what is not.
You learn to pick up cues from both verbal and non-verbal communication. You learn to hear with your inner sense and begin to use comprehension and understanding.
Many marriages would have been saved if only partners LISTENED.
4. It's not ME, it's WE.
Many couples fail to realize that once they enter into a relationship, they are no longer just two individuals. Couplehood has a life and personality of its own and must be treated as such.
Unfortunately, conflict in marriage is often caused by a clash of individual personalities and agenda. If only more couples come to realize that they're in this TOGETHER and that issues affecting their MARRIAGE must be discussed, decided and acted upon together.
Yes, this includes separation - even how to handle infidelity.
"We"-ness also includes some of the most powerful guidelines for successful marriages. It calls for PRIORITIZING the relationship over each partner's hierarchy of social and familial relationships - including your relationship with your parents and your kids.
This means, within reason, not putting some other relationship first at the EXPENSE of the marriage.
This means making the effort each day to affirm your couplehood by spending quality time with each other and continuing to build the intimacy in your marriage.
There are numerous other tips and guidelines couples can learn from to improve their marriages but I find that these 4 will serve many with success.
People think that marriage is 50-50. I prefer to think that a marriage is 100-100. In effort, communication, love and commitment marriage can never be half-baked.
As long as you give it everything, your passion is going to inspire and lead your spouse to reciprocate and in turn lead you when you need it most.
Your methodology may sometimes be flawed, but as long as you do it with passion, you can maximize your chances of success.
Till next time,
Co-author of Save My Marriage Today