Do you love your partner enough to stay faithful to her (him) for life? As a family lawyer for ten years, I have done my part to end many marriages. Personally, some marriages, in the small minority, have been on “life-support” for so many years that its end is sadly long overdue. It’s like putting an old dog to sleep.
These marriages usually endure the insufferable years because of the children. But most marriages do not deserve the same treatment. Their breakup is preventable. If given the effort and nurture, these marriages can take that all important step forward towards greater growth and intimacy. Alas, due to constant neglect, the marriage ages, ails and dies a most undeserving death.
I have learned that most marriages never broke up because of adultery, violence and long separation. The reason usually goes deeper. It is usually a long process which involves emotional distancing, contemptuous contemplation and physical disgust.
And like a black hole sucking up everything, once a couple develops these three characteristics, everything gets construed in a negative way and becomes hardwired to fail. This is a vicious cycle that reinforces itself until one spouse finally pronounces the death sentence, “I can’t stand the sight of him.” or “I don’t feel anything for her, not at all.” or “He is just plain disgusting to me.” When this happens, adultery is just a convenient excuse away.
Andrew Marshall, the author of the book Can I ever trust him again?, offers this simple equation that captures the reason why a spouse commits the gravest sin of marriage: Marital Problems + Poor Communication + Temptation = Adultery. Every marriage has its hard times. This has already been captured in the marriage vows.
All couples have been adequately forewarned that a marriage has its price tag and it is a price you pay by “installment” over the years, so to speak. Marital hard times come in many forms. There is the usual give-and-take of marriage. There are the transient lover’s quarrels. And there are the heated arguments.
But contrary to popular beliefs, these unpleasant exchanges need not threaten the foundation of a marriage. The issues can be dealt with maturely and positively if the marriage is essentially strong. A strong marriage turns such confrontation into a learning experience and the apologies that follow usually strengthen the marital union rather than undermine it. After the verbal conflict, the couple start to adjust their expectations of each other and change their individual attitude accordingly. As they do this, their love grows deeper, stronger and more resilient.
But how do you build up a strong marriage? The best advice on this comes from a couple for 43 years and authors of the book, Building a love that lasts: the Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage. They are Dr Charles D. Schmitz and Dr Elizabeth A. Schmitz. These seven secrets are deemed surprising because they are extremely simple yet effective.
They are largely a secret because little attention are paid to them due to their simplicity. But however you look at it, these seven secrets are tried and tested and many couples in successful marriages of more than 30 years (some even 60 years) habitually apply them daily. They are doing them even as I penned these words. Let me briefly list them down here.
1st Secret: It takes two to tango. This is all about sharing interests, feeling, ideas and memories, compromising to form mutually agreeable decisions, and mutual helpfulness and support. This is the backbone of a marriage.
Like oxygen, a couple cannot stop the sharing process. In addition, any major decision in a marriage has to be made by giving up certain personal interests. This is called compromising. One spouse has to let go of his interest in order to advance the other spouse’s interest.
It may not always be a win-win outcome for the spouse giving up his or her interest but it is definitely a win-win for the marriage as a whole. Lastly, a good marriage is about lending a helping hand, being there for him or her, and giving the other spouse a listening ear without saying a word in return. This is what it is called “unspoken understanding.”
2nd Secret: No Sacred Cows. In other words, there are no secrets between the couples. These couples of more than 30 years share everything with each other. Some of them have even been married for 60 years and they have not stopped communicating like newly weds. They just cannot imagine keeping any secrets from each other. I think the point here is to always keep the channels of communication open and free, and always two-ways.
3rd Secret: the Golden Rule. This is about mutual respect. We are familiar with this Rule: Do to your spouse what you want done to you. Here are some lousy habits between couples: keeping your spouse waiting for you, keeping the toilet seat down while peeing, and insisting that you are right, and making sure your spouse acknowledges it, even grudgingly.
One thing worth noting is that your spouse sometimes needs his or her own privacy and we have to respect that. Privacy is defined as “the opportunity to belong only to yourself.” In every successful marital union, there are a few closet moments for quiet self-reflection and these are intensely private and personal moments that we must give deference to.
4th Secret: Your Body is your Castle. Needless to say, no good marriage should be short-lived. The couples would want to share every moments together including growing old together, and enjoying the fruits of their passion. And keeping fit, eating healthy and exercising regularly are the keys to a long and healthy life - not to mention, a vibrant and happy marriage.
5th Secret: Filing a Joint Return. I think a quote from the authors of the book is illuminating. “Since when is the money earned in two-wage-earner families your money, my money, your bills, my bills, your house, my house? In our research, the money earned by married couples is “our money”.
It is most unfortunate when couples take a two-chequebook attitude, since it is probably indicative of other divisive issues in their marriage as well. Such a notion communicates a lack of trust.”
I can personally relate to this. I only have a working account for payment of all household expenses with a little on the side for my unquenchable appetite for books. The remainder of my monthly salary is transferred to my wife and I trust her to be my able money mistress tending to all other financial needs.
6th Secret: The Loving Touch. The author calls touching a Morse Code, a substitute for language and the expression of feeling. Indeed, a touch, a hug, a kiss and a squeeze are all expressions of physical intimacy and the responses are always mutual. No partner can resist a soft touch, a warm hug or a tender kiss. Touching your spouse in those ways can be a magical experience.
Most of all, it is an expression of love and the reward is closeness and assuring comfort. Next comes the S word – Sex. It is important to engage in physical intimacy regularly. Remember that the pleasure of sex is not only in the orgasm or ejaculation. It is also in the pre-orgasmic stage of mutual teasing, naughty role-playing, tickling and tingling massages, passionate kissing and creative foreplay.
But note that the authors have found that although all couples believe that sex is important, it is not central to the success of their long marriages. At the end of the day, it is about their relationship on a deeper, more meaningful level. It is the intimate sharing, years of overcoming life’s issues, and growing together despite the marital pressures that are prized above all sensory pleasures.
7th Secret: Beyond Boring. This is the last open secret. No successful marriages are predictable, boring and routine. Couples of long marriages always strive to plant surprises along the way. Birthdays and anniversaries are never dull. You can say that the couples live for the next marital high. The adventure always takes them to unexpected places, thrilling rides and humorous twists.
They laugh often. Treasure each other’s company. And enjoy doing the routine like cleaning the car or doing housework because they make it fun. So, making your marriage exciting takes some effort, some planning and some sacrificing, but the reward is always more than worth the labor of love.
Let me leave you with this quote from Dr Leo Buscaglia. “When I take you into my life, I have four legs, four arms, four hands, two wonderful bodies, and two heads. I also double my chances for joy, love and wonderment.” Cheers out.