At a recent wedding, the best man stood up and made a speech with a blend of sage and humorous advice on how to have a good marriage. A few of the guests exchanged whispers about his qualifications for dispensing tips to the newlyweds. After all, his own marriage had recently ended in divorce.
The truth is, divorced people often have the best marriage advice. Why? Because they have endured the loss of what once was the most important relationship in their lives. They've probably spent lots of time thinking about what went wrong. And they may be very clear about the mistakes they made as well as the mistakes made by their partner.
Here are 10 marriage tips gleaned from conversations with divorced clients and friends.
1. Give love and support.
People in satisfying relationships give each other expressions of love and support every single day. The home shared together provides a safe haven from life, a place where each partner can find warmth and love, no matter what is going on elsewhere. Love and support is expressed in words and actions. Abundant emotional support and physical expressions of love and affection are the linchpin of a good marriage.
2. Make an effort to have sex.
Individuals vary in terms of sexual appetite. It's a cliché to say men want sex more than women because sometimes the reverse is true. The point is, be generous. Even if you're not in the mood and your partner is, make an effort. Married people who are aware of their partner's desires and actively meet their needs are more likely to enjoy a long and happy union.
3. Accept imperfections.
In most marriages, the couple knows each other inside and out. They know what is good and positive in the other, just as they know the aspects of the other that can create difficulties both for themselves and those around them. In a good marriage, like in a strong friendship, all aspects of the other are accepted. Problems are taken in stride and not blown out of proportion. Each person sees the other as an imperfect, growing human being.
4. Keep the spark alive.
Routine and boredom can dull a marriage. It's important to be proactive and keep the marriage alive. Plan activities that bring fresh life to the relationship. Be spontaneous. For example, give a surprise gift or go away for a weekend.
5. Avoid the wild places.
Sometimes married people end up in full attack mode, doing and saying terrible things to each other. The attacks can be outright vicious insults. They can also be much more insidious, such as when one person attacks and decimates the most vulnerable parts of the other. The rule of thumb is to never ever go to these wild places. Because once the line has been crossed and terrible things have been said, it is very hard to bring the relationship back to a place of respect and equilibrium.
6. Express and respond to deep emotional needs.
In a healthy relationship, each individual's deepest emotional needs are expressed and heard. And the other person makes a conscious effort to fulfill those needs. It takes courage and commitment to speak and hear those needs. But it's the road to true intimacy in a relationship that's fully equal.
7. Communicate well.
Many divorces are the culmination of anger and conflict that spins out of control and gets stuck in a negative place. A healthy couple learns to communicate and resolve conflicts in a more productive way. This is a skill that can be learned, though it's not easy as it involves harnessing emotions and exercising self-control. Couples can learn how to listen to each other. They can also learn how to express concerns using the "I" technique rather then the accusatory "you" approach. Another tip is adopting the daily habit of spending 10 minutes with each other everyday checking in about what is going on with the other. That way couples stay connected despite the noise and clutter of everyday life. It's also important for both parties to let go of conflicts once they are resolved. This can be particularly toxic if every time tempers flare, something from the past is thrown up yet again.
8. Give each other room.
People have very different ideas about how much time couples should spend together. And if two people marry with very different expectations in this area, problems will likely develop. There are no right or wrong answers. Some people need alone time to decompress or engage in solo activities. Other people need to be with loved ones in order to feel secure. It's important to balance differences and stay on the same page.
9. Talk openly about money.
Money can be a major factor in stressing marriages. People vary in their relationship to money. For some, money is a source of anxiety. Others are very free with money and roll with financial ups and downs. It's important couples have clear communication about how to handle money in a marriage and not have secrets or surprises. It's also important to work out issues of power and control if there's a big difference in earnings.
10. Parent together.
Kids are the glorious fruits of a marriage. But they can also bring a lot of stress to people who are used to being just a couple. In too many cases, conflict arises when parents have very different ideas about how to be parents. As kids get older, the situation can worsen and one parent often becomes the disciplinarian and the other becomes the "good guy." This can lead to resentment and the parents become alienated or worse, polarized. It's important to nip this in the bud before it becomes a negative pattern. Parents should spend time talking about how they are relating to their children, let each other air any problems or concerns, and come up active solutions.
Please share any advice you would give to a marrying couple below.
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