“I do” is only the beginning: Seven secrets to a lasting marriage
With wedding season and the stress of nuptials underway, it’s easy for couples to think the hard part is over after the walk down the aisle.
But relationship experts who’ve studied marriages over the decades say the work has just begun, especially for today’s bride and groom. Modern marriages require more communication skills, conflict management and negotiation, says Howard Markman, a University of Denver professor.
Challenges have grown beyond both parents working outside the home and managing busy children’s schedule. Results from a longitudinal study begun in 1996 predicting divorce showed anxieties about war and terrorism, financial pressures, job loss, depression and technology — largely Internet use and social networking — pulling marriages apart.
Markman says national data show that 20 percent of couples who wed met online. But the Internet also has made it easier to cheat. Couples point to Internet pornography and arguments over appropriate cellphone usage among marriage tension factors.
“Instead of just fighting about money or how frequently to have sex, couples are also fighting about time spent on Facebook or whether it’s OK to send a text during a romantic dinner or bring a laptop on a getaway weekend,” says Markman, who has updated “Fighting for Your Marriage” (Jossey-Bass, $19.95), along with co-authors Scott Stanley and Susan Blumberg, to reflect changes in marriage and romantic relationships from when it was first published in 1994. It also includes an instructional DVD based on the PREP strategies (Prevent and Relationship Enhancement Program) to handle conflict.
To foster more happiness, closeness and longevity in your marriage, here’s some advice from Markham and his co-authors, and Terri Orbuch, author of “5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great” (Delacorte Press, $26).
Do sweat the small stuff
Everyday issues and annoyances that accumulate over time lead to unhappiness and divorce, says Orbuch, project director of the National Institutes of Health’s Early Years of Marriage Project, which has followed nearly 400 couples since they wed in 1986. Of those couples, 46 percent have divorced (a figure that is close to the national average of 40 to 45 percent).
“The toilet seat that wasn’t put down becomes ‘He doesn’t listen to me or pay attention to me,’ ” Orbuch says. “That becomes ‘He doesn’t respect me,’ and then we have a huge issue that slowly eats away at marital happiness over time.”
Know when to hold them
When trying to discuss an issue with a partner, know when to bring it up. Avoid that moment when either walks through the door after a long work day, while watching TV, or when entrenched in your children’s activities. And even though 11 p.m. is the most common shared downtime, don’t talk about it then either. Talk when both partners are calm and not irritated.
Baby steps with texts
Orbuch suggests couples send an e-mail or text message to start an issue, not discuss or resolve one, and then set up a time to hash things out.
Orbuch says men appreciate a heads-up about difficult conversations, like the set appointment and will be even happier talking the situation through if it’s approached during a shared activity, such as going for a walk together.
Maintain passionate sex
Passion is high in the beginning. But injecting newness, mystery and arousal-producing activities will stoke it over time. Knowing exactly what your partner likes to do every Sunday morning is an example of “companion at love,” built on friendship and support, experts say. But that won’t fuel passion.
Anything new and novel shared together will surprise and increase adrenaline. For example, take a new class together or whisk him or her away to a movie in the middle of the afternoon.
The 10-minute rule
Spend at least that much time daily talking about anything besides work, family or the the state of the relationship, be it good or bad. So what do we talk about, couples asked? Politics, sports, movies or other more meaningful things. Ask your partner what he or she is most proud of doing in the last year. Who is he or she closer to, their mom or dad? If you are on life support, should I pull the plug?
“We start out asking those questions, but after many years of marriage, people stop asking,” Orbuch says. Happy couples know what each other’s top three expectations are — be it trust, respect or fidelity, for example — and keep asking over time.
Give men the affirmation they crave
Men crave “affective affirmation” or compliments and encouragement from their wives. Women still need it from their husbands. But if they aren’t getting it from them, they have access to it from their mothers, sisters, best friends and even strangers who make comments about how good their hair or clothing looks. Men don’t get it from their buddies, family or from work colleagues, Orbuch said.
Markman tells couples to send a text during the day randomly saying, “I love you,” or “I can’t wait to be in bed with you tonight,” rather than “What’s for dinner?” Say thanks for putting on that first pot of coffee, or for making a favorite dinner.
Don’t live together unless you are planning a future together
Today’s couples are getting married later in life and living together more often for longer periods of time. But couples should avoid living together out of convenience (i.e., saving money) or as a test for compatibility. Markman’s study found that people who lived together without any commitment to marry are 25 percent more likely to get divorced once they did marry.
“Couples today tend to slide into relationships and marriage without making a conscious decision,” Markman says. “What happens to many couples is they start accumulating things, including kids, and then they get married out of pressure.”
Sheba R. Wheeler: 303-954-1283 or firstname.lastname@example.org