It's always a treat to meet a couple that has been married for many years. In some cases, you smile over how alike they seem. And sometimes you wonder how they made it that long together.
Are there secrets to staying married? For the answer, three area counselors share their top "tips":
Often the good in your marriage can get lost in the details of daily living. "Think of your marriage as having three parts--yourself, your spouse and your relationship," says Mike Radcliffe, licensed clinical social worker with Upper Rogue Counseling Center in Eagle Point, "and think of something positive about each aspect of the marriage every day."
The positive ratio is particularly important during the earlier years when divorce is generally linked to conflict. A good marriage needs a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative comments, say Marcia Overstreet, licensed professional counselor, and Barbara Massey, licensed marriage and family therapist, both of ParkPlace Counseling Center in Medford. A habit of positive comments and affirmation will build a foundation much less likely to be shaken.
Even the smoothest of relationships will have areas where spouses cannot agree. With the best of intentions, these areas will often be ignored. But Radcliffe points out that these issues accumulate over time. "This year it's money, next year it's something else — within five to 10 years there is a significant part of your life that you are not sharing."
While it may also mean learning to "fix" a fight, it's still important to learn to discuss difficult issues. An argument in itself does not necessarily hurt a marriage. But hurt needs to be repaired for the relationship to flourish, say Overstreet and Massy. It may not be easy but it's crucial. "It takes two partners who are willing to negotiate, compromise, take responsibility for and commit to the betterment of the relationship to find that balance," says Overstreet.
"In a healthy marriage, couples build rituals of connection," says Overstreet. "For example, Friday night date night or hugging before and after work or writing notes to one another. This helps build emotional intimacy, which is vital to a strong and healthy relationship." And it's important to make these times a priority. "It is so important not to wait until the children are grown to nurture your relationship with your partner," adds Massey.
Radcliffe also recommends revisiting your "marital contract." Not just the public vows, Radcliffe includes private promises to each other and your expectations. He encourages couples to identify and appreciate the growth in their marriage. "Talk about how your marriage vows have become more rich over the years — through child rearing or buying a house "»"
Radcliffe recalls a speaker once saying, "Each person in a relationship needs to take 100 percent responsibility for the relationship." With that investment, he points out, each marriage will receive a 200 percent effort instead of two people doing a half-hearted job. This is particularly important in the "teen-years" of a marriage. Research suggests marriages around the 16-year mark are sensitive to divorce due to a lack of emotional connection. "An emotional 'deadness' where people do not make an effort to reach out, lead parallel lives or are 'roommates' is how it's described," says Massey. By investing time, encouragement and mutual support in each other, your marriage will flourish instead of languishing.
"If it starts to feel like 'ships that pass in the night' or 'roommates,' do not delay. Seek help," says Massey. Statistically, few people who divorce seek help for their marriage and often they wait too long. A counselor can provide you and your spouse with the skills you need to weather the rough times. All marriages have a perpetual issue; healthy marriages keep talking about the problem and both partners still feel respect and love, remind Overstreet and Massey. There are many different skills that can help you appreciate, communicate and even disagree more effectively. "If a core friendship is in the relationship, the marriage has a good chance of being improved," concludes Massey, and with the right tools it will stand the test of time.