Living Life: What helps make a good marriage?

By Dianne Smith
Reader Columnist

“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
— Robert Quillen

The secret to a good marriage is an interesting question, and if you did a survey, you would get hundreds of opinions, ideas and suggestions. What is important to one may not be important to the other. It is essential, however, to know what is on your partner’s list of important things in a relationship. If receiving flowers is not high on someone’s list, and you send flowers every week, you might be wasting your time, money and effort, or at the least, not getting the biggest bang for your buck, so to speak. There are some variables, however, that would probably be common to most. It might be the implementation or how that differs but I think most would agree on many.

Most would agree that the marital bond of respect, trust and intimacy grows stronger and more resilient in the first two years of marriage and will need work to continue to grow. It is easy to get complacent and slip into patterns and routines.  Instead of growing we become stagnant.

It is important to develop a mutually agreed-on couple style for handling differences and conflicts. If a conflict cannot be immediately resolved and one person needs resolution, it is important to set a timeline to solve the problem.  Most would say don’t go to bed without taking care of conflict.

In a marriage, approximately 30 percent of problems are resolvable because both agree. Around 50 to 60 percent are modifiable with give and take, and people can come to an agreement despite different points of view. Finally, 10 to 20 percent need to be accepted because the other person’s needs and wants outweighs ours. Sometimes it is important to give 100 percent to the way the other person would like it, because that is how it will work best for the relationship. Being able to put someone else’s needs before your own is huge in making a relationship work, especially when you add children to the mix.

Maintaining positive and realistic personal and marital expectations is important. If you married someone who is more on the nonsocial side don’t expect that you are going to “fix that” and make them social. They might socialize more because they love you, but they are probably never going to have being social as number one on their list of liked activities. The same goes for camping and many other activities.

Use the guideline of a five-to-one positive-negative set of thoughts, feelings and behavior toward your spouse and marriage. If we are focused on the negative we see more negative.  Look for ways to show your appreciation and to say thank you. Look for ways to show you care. Find out what is important to your partner and what is on their measuring stick of what makes a relationship work. Maybe it is something as simple as making sure the car is taken care of.

Know that there will be ebbs and flows and ups and downs in a relationship. With work, however, the downs can be changed to an up. If you find yourself in a down pattern go back to showing the other person that you appreciate them. Showing appreciation shifts the pattern in a positive movement. When someone feels appreciated they are willing to do more and when they do more the other feels appreciated moving the relationship in an uphill spiral.

Don’t get stuck on being right in a discussion and learn to listen. So often when we are having a conversation we are already thinking about our response as the other person is talking, so we are not really giving them our full attention. Learn to speak in “I” statements. “I feel ______ when you ________ and what I would like is_______” is a good format to follow. It takes away the blame of you.

Bringing shared meaning to your relationship increases the joy. It is important for each person to have their outside interests and friends, but it is also important to have shared interests and activities that you enjoy together. Alone time for just the couple is important to build memories and the relationship for years to come

Good marriages take work and don’t always come easy but are so worth the effort. Any marriage that is struggling can change the course with a little bit of effort and work and time spent together. There are wonderful books and articles on how to rebuild a marriage or how to make a marriage better. Before you walk away it is important to say that you gave your all to make it work so there are no regrets. This is even truer if there are children involved, because every child wants to have two parents in the home if at all possible.

Dianne Smith, LMFT is a licensed therapist with over 30 years experience.  She has an office in Sandpoint and in Bonners Ferry and can be reached at 951-440-0982.

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