With all of the problems and conflicting forces acting upon marriages today, a happy marriage does not come by chance. Nor can the solidity of marriages be taken for granted either. According to the 1971 Vital Statistics Report, published by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, marriages for the last 13 consecutive years have increased. But the report also shows that divorces have increased and that approximately 768,000 were recorded in the United States in 1971, or slightly more than one divorce for every three marriages.
One disturbing statistic reveals that 50 percent of all teenage marriages end in divorce within the first five years. Another figure records that divorce occurs six times more often among couples 21 years of age and under than among older married couples.
Such statistics are distressing and suggest that perhaps some of the reasons for the temporary nature of many marriages, not only for teenagers but for adults too, is that much information and propaganda about marriage is inaccurate. For example, the expression “love at first sight” may be a pleasant thought to contemplate, but most people do not fall in love at first sight at all. Such things as enjoying another’s company and being proud to be in the company of someone who is attractive to us are more accurate than love at first sight.
A person’s first romance is most often just an infatuation, whereas true love develops over a period of time. Getting to know and appreciate another person’s attitudes, feelings, and interests, and sharing mutual experiences may develop into a mature and deep love, but even then it is a fragile and sometimes tentative association.
A second false notion about marriage is a too-common belief in the fairy tale phrase, “They married and lived happily ever after.” To achieve marital happiness, it is necessary that couples work together to overcome difficulties and temptations, and they must show a willingness to meet the other challenges that will always be a part of their married life together.
Other fanciful notions often touted are: “Love conquers all” and “We can live on love.” While it is true that love is a vitally important force that can compel much good between two people, it does not provide all things. It is necessary that couples develop other interests socially in a wholesome atmosphere, with different people and divergent views to round out their lives. Such experiences often make them more grateful for what they have at home.
Marital success requires commitment, involvement, dedication, and reevaluation of the real purposes of marriage. With that in mind, here are some points to consider for strengthening your own marriage.
Give your partner an opportunity to develop his or her talents.
This development should include spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and social growth as a person and as a partner in a marital relationship. A marital partner is not a chattel or possession over which one person exercises dominant control. One young wife who was contemplating divorce said in frustration, “I can’t continue to live with Bill, because he smothers me and won’t allow me to be an individual. If I want to go with a girl friend to lunch or to take ski lessons, he treats me as though I had no personal feelings or choice in the matter.”
This husband has made the mistake that many people make of treating his spouse as a person who will provide for his needs, but who has no individual needs herself. Because no one likes to be taken for granted, severe problems may result in a relationship if one or the other marital partner is restricted or denied the opportunity of self-expression.
Work together at strengthening your love.
Marriage partners need to work at knowing each other well and becoming sensitive to each other’s needs. Before and during marriage, time should be made to discuss personal interests, family plans, places to live, children, recreation and ways of having fun together, attitudes on religion, and many other things.
Sometimes mutual enjoyment is taken for granted, with the idea that a good relationship means being mature and responsible, and that true feelings needn’t always be expressed. Certainly these are important requisites for a good marriage, but enjoying the companionship of your spouse and having fun together should not be excluded or played down in a marriage. It is essential that marriage partners have time together for mutual relaxation and recreation.
Resolve any differences within the bounds of marriage.
Differences and conflicts can best be worked out while a couple are still living together rather than by trying to resolve them while living physically apart.
A marriage counselor, in trying to effect a reconciliation between a married couple who were living apart, was impressed by the fact that the physical separation of the couple had only intensified the emotional separation between them. The anger that the husband felt for his wife because she had filed for divorce was divisive enough, but the physical separation of living apart increased the strain on their marriage so that a reconciliation was extremely difficult to achieve.
Don’t take one another for granted.
Occasionally, after the honeymoon and sometimes years later, marriage partners will let down in their courtesies and consideration for each other and begin to take the other partner for granted. “Now that we’re married, I can be my old real self” seems to be the unspoken attitude in many sagging marriages. However, it is important that couples attempt continually to please each other and to go out of their way to be courteous and thoughtful whether alone or when company is present. Being sensitive to the needs of one’s partner includes recognizing that person’s needs for understanding, affection, and consideration as a person.
Be sensitive to each other’s physical and emotional needs.
These needs may be verbalized, but often they can be felt by each partner without having to make an issue about them. If one partner has a need for affection, the other should do all in his power to fulfill this need. If a wife detects that her husband needs to be alone sometimes when he’s under stress and has certain things that must be done, she should respect his feelings and be sensitive to his comfort at such times.
Each person’s needs are different at different times, and affection can be expressed in a variety of ways. Some people are more physically affectionate than their mates, who may show their affection and appreciation by working on projects around the home, by gardening, or by some other expression of courtesy or kindness to their more demonstrative partner.
Commit yourselves to sacrifice in your marriage.
Many persons who have been married for many years may recall that, as newlyweds, money was scarce and they had to make some sacrifices to get by. During these growing times together, they had mutual goals and interests and were willing to make some individual sacrifices because of their commitment to make their marriage succeed.
But after the family is grown and the children begin to leave home, for many couples in their forties and fifties there is no longer that period of sacrifice that strengthened the early years of their marriage.
Because family finances during this mid-life period aren’t nearly the problem they once were, and because the children are no longer the major focus of their marriage, some couples encounter a period of estrangement, attributed largely to a lack of mutual purpose in life with their partner. It is during this particularly vulnerable time in a marriage that so many divorces take place.
An effective way for couples to avoid this danger is to do something that will cause them to draw closer together again—a kind of mutual sacrifice. Some people find that doing genealogy helps to bring them together. Others find that traveling or taking piano or painting lessons helps give new vigor to their marriage.
It is often said that marriage should be a fifty-fifty relationship, but for a marriage to succeed, both partners must be willing to give to the extent that they are able. Wherever possible, each person should give 100 percent of himself to marriage, because it may require that much effort today to keep the marriage exciting and viable.
Some people have difficulty in giving to their marriage partner, and it may be necessary under those circumstances to seek professional counseling so that the couple can respond in a normal way to each other’s needs.
Someone has said that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. This is sound advice for us all. If we really want to do all in our power to build and strengthen our marriage, then we have to make a commitment to work at it and to want what we already have.
Taking a marriage for granted can be one of the most destructive influences for causing two people to draw apart. Marriages have been ordained of God, and married couples have the capacity and power within themselves to develop celestial marriages here on earth.