Marriage: Where is the Fairy Tale?
“Presently, 40% of all first marriages in this country end in divorce. 60% of all second marriages and 75% of third marriages fail as well.” -Dr. Gary Chapman
Common sense leads us to believe that we should learn from our mistakes and the percentages should decrease with each new marriage. Do you think individuals get worse at being married? Do people give too easily or don’t they get it? I believe these statistics point to our communication inadequacies and our lack of understanding of love.
What happens to love after the honeymoon? Love changes and these changes go unnoticed until it is too late. Couples give up and are unwilling to spend the time necessary to resuscitate the love. It has become too easy and too common place to simply trade in your spouse and set out to find a new one. “Why invest time and energy in making it work?” I say, “Look beyond today and envision the payoff of tomorrow.”
“More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.” –Doug Larson
In coaching my clients, I have found that if we explore other “investment” scenarios, we can look at marriage in a more productive light. Most of us have purchased and owned a new car. As in our relationships and marriages, buying and owning a car takes effort and responsibility.
First, you recognize that you have a need for a new car. Next, you explore the market. You examine your likes, dislikes and what features are important to you. Then, you begin the shopping process. You test drive a few and sometimes several cars, constantly rethinking your needs. You are hoping to find that perfect car that fits the image in your mind; the comfort of the seat, the beauty of the vehicle inside and outside and the warranty. It must have a good warranty. When you have explored all the pros and cons, you make the commitment.
The day of purchase it feels like the car was built just for you. You take it home and you feel great. In the beginning, you take superb care of that car. You keep it clean and polished. You drive it just for the fun of it. Just being in the car makes you feel wonderful. The car is a priority. Then gradually you spend less time in the car, wash it less often and the new car smell disappears. It begins to lose its luster. Your interest and effort begins to diminish. What is happening?
Overtime, you take the car to the mechanic and he tells you that the vehicle is in need of repairs. Your first question is, “How much will the repairs cost?” You wonder, “Is it time to trade in the car?” Do you feel that you have had enough and that it is time to make a trade? I challenge you to hang in there and make a few repairs. One of the most commonly sited causes for divorce in this country is irreconcilable differences. That is a nice, legal term for “we give up”, “it is not worth the effort” or “I’d like to trade this model for a new one.”
What does it take to get beyond the newness and commit to working together to build a lasting relationship? It takes time, energy, understanding and a high level of responsibility and commitment from both parties. Love is cyclic with numerous peaks and valleys. There will be times in your marriage when you “feel” love towards one another and others when you do not. Love is not a feeling. Love is an action. In the times when you do not feel love towards your spouse are the exact times when you should behave “lovingly” to them. I believe in love, but I also know that it will not always be roses, chocolate strawberries and fairy tale romance. A lasting marriage can be accomplished. The “feelings” will return.
“One advantage of marriage is that when you fall out of love with him, or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until maybe you fall in love again.” -Judith Viorst
In a strong, respectful and communicative marriage, you work together to minimize the valleys. It is during the valleys that we face our toughest challenges but also our greatest opportunities for growth. How can you minimize the valleys and spend more time amongst the peaks? Sadly enough, most couples fail to act until they find themselves in the bottom of the valley. Repairs are responses to problems. It is while we are in the peak, in a position of strength, that we should be performing preventative maintenance on our relationships. This will lead to marital strength not only during the good times, but also during the difficult ones.
I would like to share with you two very necessary requirements for a successful marriage. They are to understand your love language and make respectful requests.
I. Understand Your Love Language¹
Many times the loss of love in a marriage is not based on emotion, but a misunderstanding of what makes each individual feel loved. It is extremely common for couples to have different definitions of love. How do you communicate love to your spouse? In turn, what does your spouse do that makes you feel loved?
There are a variety of different images of love and how it is displayed. I see this quite often in my own life. My wife’s nickname for me is “Usefulman”. She teases, but I know that when I do things around the house or fix something that is in need of repair, she feels loved. For her, it is not the gifts that I give her; it is the efforts I make to take care of things for her.
For years, I thought that giving gifts showed my wife how much I loved her. While my intentions were valiant, gifts were not the things that made her feel loved. What I discovered was that I must show her love in a way that makes her feel loved, in her love language¹. The gifts were nice gestures, but they were not meeting her love expectations.
When we moved and bought a new house, I started spending more time around the house fixing or improving things and I discovered how this made my wife feel. She made a variety of comments, all of which were very loving. My understanding of this has helped us grow closer.
It is very important that you discover your love language¹ and the love language¹ of your spouse. Share each of the times when you felt most loved. With an open mind, be receptive to your spouse and his or her needs. Learn when to offer gifts and when your spouse needs a compliment. Do not offer intimacy, when he or she is looking for conversation.
In my practice, I use a great exercise to help couples discover their love languages. Find a quiet space and write a love letter to your spouse. Each of you should do this. Start each letter with “I love you because….” Then write your spouse another letter, “I feel most loved when you….” Both of you should write this letter and share it with each other. These letters will help you develop an understanding of each other’s love language and when you are meeting each other’s needs. It is imperative to know what things you do that make your spouse feel loved. Once you have shared the letters, make an effort to add what you have learned into your marriage. You might be surprised at the result.
II. Make Respectful Requests
The way you share each other’s desires is critical to the success of your relationship. If they come across as demanding, you do not stand a chance. Ultimatums must be replaced with respectful requests. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for your own happiness.
When you offer respectful requests, you create opportunities for necessary growth and development. For example, instead of speaking like this:
“It has been two years since you have taken me anywhere. I sure hope that it will not take another two years for you to make time for us. You do not care about our relationship anymore.”
Make a respectful request:
“I really enjoy when we make time to sneak away for a long weekend and spend some quality time together. Do you think that we could find some time for a getaway this month?”
The second request is a respectful, loving request. The first is more of an effort to criticize the other person and is clearly demanding. It forces your spouse into a defensive position. Such demands create distance and destroy intimacy. Here is another scenario. Which one will generate a loving response?
“Honey, do you think that you will be able to paint the guest room this weekend?”
“Since you can’t seem to find the time to get it done, I am going to have to waste some money and hire someone to get the guest room painted.”
This reminds me of the old saying, “you’ll attract more flies with honey.” I guarantee that if you make respectful and loving requests of your spouse, you will see results; but, do not kid yourself. Give your spouse a little time to process the request. Making a respectful request only to follow it with a demand for action is a waste of everyone’s time and energy. Be patient; you are trying to build a foundation here.
When you make requests, you offer options or choices, just as love is a choice. Allow your partner opportunities to choose to love you. Love is an action. Focus on requests that build your love and not on communications that destroy it. Learn to realize that when your spouse cares enough for you to respond to your requests, it will draw you closer to one another. It will create a stronger bond and increase your levels of intimacy.
“I have great hopes that we shall love each other all our lives as much as if we never married at all.” – Lord Byron
Add these two powerful elements into your marriage: learn your spouse’s love language¹ and make respectful requests. Use them to create an environment that reinforces and cherishes love. First, fall in love then stay there. It takes a strong effort by both husband and wife to experience the joys of a successful marriage. Seek out ways together to create the love of your future.
¹Love Language, “Five Love Languages”–Dr. Gary Chapman
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