Last week, I shared that selfishness is one of the main reasons marriages don’t survive. But this week, I want to go into more pro-active details of what we can do to make our marriages survive and thrive.
I read an article by Tara Parker-Pope that had been published in the Oprah magazine as well as Readers Digest. Based on a now-famous study, researchers asked therapists, married couples and others to watch videotaped conversations of ten couples and try to identify the relationships that had ultimately ended in divorce. Even the therapists guessed wrong half the time. So, if the trained had a hard time detecting problems, how are we to know how to steer our own marriage?
Scientists, with huge volumes of data on married couples, have identified some simple but powerful indicators that can help couples recognize marital strife long before their relationships hits bad times. Here are their findings:
1. How do you remember past incidents? If you share your memories with laughter and joy you probably are in a good relationship. But if you share your memories with hints of criticism or negativity, there could be stress in the marriage. Here is an example: If someone asks you how you met you might reply, “We had a wonderful afternoon riding bikes and getting to visit our favorite parts of the city. Then we stopped for ice cream and realized we both loved chocolate! We finished the day watching the moon come up over the city.”
But if the relationship is stressed, you might tell the story this way: “We spent our first date riding bikes but I sure wished he had asked me if I even liked to ride bikes! Stopping for ice cream saved my life for I was able to finally check the bike to see what was wrong with it. At least we finally got to stop riding and sit on the ground. He knew we better not go bike riding again without checking with me first!!!”
The stories are similar, but instead of reflecting a sense of togetherness as when using the pronouns of “we” and “us”, the second story is filled with negativity. Research has shown that analyzing what’s known as the marital narrative – the way you talk about the good and bad times of your early years together – is about 90 percent accurate in predicting which marriages will succeed or fail.
What type of action then should we take? Begin to focus on what you say and how you say it. Stay clear of being negative, even if trying to be funny. When we tease with criticism, our spouses actually feel disrespected. Strong marriages have at least a five-to-one daily ratio of positive to negative interactions.
2. It’s OK to fight. (see Emotional Check-Up below) Researchers from the University of Washington studied newlywed couples and learned, not surprisingly, that those who rarely argued were happier in the relationship than those who fought often. But three years later, the findings had reversed. Couples with an early history of bickering had worked out their problems and were more likely to be in stable marriages. The couples who’d avoided conflict early on were more likely to be in troubled relationships or already divorced.
Of course, bickering is the good type of arguing. Fighting that includes violence or verbal or emotional abuse is never acceptable. But most marital spats represent an opportunity to resolve conflicts and make things better. A relationship that is real, with real communication and feelings shared, is going to always be stronger.
3. A show of contempt. This finding was an eye-opener for me! As strange as it might sound, one of the clearest signs of marital trouble is a simple and common facial expression: eye rolling. (My mother used to punish us severely if we did this to her!) The researchers found that even when it’s accompanied by a laugh or a smile, eye-rolling is harmful because of what it indicates; contempt, a sign that you no longer value your partner. It also shows a lack of honor which is one of the keys to a lasting and loving marriage.
4. Balance of power. Social activities and other decisions need to be made by both partners. Which means asking for his honest opinion about how he prefers to spend his time, and then making plans that accommodate both of your interests. One person shouldn’t always make all the decisions.
As Christians, we know the Word calls us women to recognize that our husbands are our lead but the Word also says we are to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” Ephesians 5:21. No one should ever be a door mat and no one should ever be a dictator. We should live our lives based on real, unselfish love.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. James 5:16.
To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit: not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For ‘Let him who means to love life and see good days refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. And let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’ I Peter 3:8-12.
Anger, which can lead to arguing, can be one of the worst emotions in a relationship. However, there are times when arguing can be good. Terri Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, says that “It’s not conflict that leads to unhappiness. It’s how you handle that conflict. Arguments are actually good. You don’t want the small stuff to fester. Over time, your thoughts of “Why doesn’t he clean the dishes?” snowballs into, “He doesn’t respect or love me.”
Here are some tips for how to fight fairly from his book:
1. Begin with “I”. Say things like, “I become anxious when you leave the stove on.” Not, “Why do you always forget things!!!”
2. Focus on what can change. Don’t attack perceived character traits as “you’re unreliable” but rather specific changeable behaviors as “Could you please remember to buy milk?”
3. Lose the absolutes. Don’t use the words “always” or “never”, which make spouses defensive.
4. Step back. If you’re about to hurl bad words or say something hurtful, take a break. Go off to calm down, but don’t storm off without an explanation.
And from Lane:
Give your problems, stresses and concerns to the Lord. Pray about them. And let the Lord work in your marriage.
May the Lord bless you this next week and may you feel loved on Valentines Day!!!