Marriages that Succeed
by William Kuntz, M.S., LCSW, Licensed Psychologist
Why do some marriages fail and others succeed? Many couples and researchers have asked this question. While there are no magic formulas that guarantee success in marriage, a number of principles and guidelines have been identified which do increase the odds that a marriage will be mutually rewarding and persevere through the years.
The most important component in successful marriages is an attitude of unconditional, committed love and respect. While many other factors contribute to happiness within marriage, a decision to remain committed to your spouse - no matter what, is crucial in holding the marriage together during difficult times. No couple can build a strong marriage on romantic love and good feelings alone. These feelings will wax and wane over time; but a solid commitment that is built on mutual respect and unconditional love will help your marriage weather the storms of life (even those times when you don't like each other very much).
Another essential aspect of a successful marriage is communication. Every couple is unique in their needs for emotional intimacy, but a marriage becomes stagnant and distant without regular times of open sharing. Several factors can greatly impair communication efforts if they are allowed to exist. One author has described criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and withdrawal as the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" which can bring about the virtual destruction of a relationship. It is easy to fall into patterns of criticizing which lead eventually to animosity and contempt. A helpful prescription is for each partner to make at least five positive statements (affirmations, compliments, and words of appreciation) for each negative or critical comment.
In our contemporary American society, many couples get caught up in an attempt to do too much. This is particularly true of parents with school age children. Marriages often become strained, and sometimes are neglected, due to too many commitments and not enough time spent together rejuvenating the friendship and romance. I recommend a minimum of one "date" every two weeks with a general rule of focusing on having fun with each other - not discussing problems. If you're not currently reserving this important time for fun without the kids, I think you'll be surprised how much of a difference it can make. Schedule your evenings out and don't let anything else take precedence; and don't let the kids make you feel guilty!
In my twenty years of counseling experience, one problematic attitude stands out as the most significant cause of unresolved turmoil. In these troubled marriages at least one spouse believes that the other partner is wrong. Often one partner will expect me to "fix" his or her spouse and will not own any personal responsibility for the difficulties in their relationship. I have found this paradox to be true: "People are often unable or unwilling to change until they feel accepted just the way they are." Instead of trying to force your spouse to change in order to make your marriage better, try loving and accepting him or her completely - just as he or she is. Work on improving yourself and being the best spouse you can be, lead by example, and affirm your mate for the many wonderful traits you admire. Focus on your partner's strengths and show gratitude. Before long, most of the things you were critical of will seem insignificant or will no longer exist.
Marriages that succeed are marriages filled with hope. They are built on trust and are often rebuilt on forgiveness and caring confrontation. If your marriage is in crisis or if you just want greater intimacy and harmony in your relationship, decide to give your marriage the time and attention it deserves. Yes, marriage can be a lot of hard work, but there is no other relationship on earth that holds as much potential for love, togetherness, growth, belonging, procreation, family, and lasting friendship. May your marriage be the gift from God it was truly meant to be.