Creating a healthy, happy marriage takes hard work. It doesn’t just happen on its own. Numerous spouses are surprised by the amount of work it takes to keep a marriage on course. Some believe that if you really love someone, the relationship shouldn’t be work, it should just flow easily. That sounds good, but in reality all meaningful relationships require an on-going investment of time, effort, energy, and commitment.
You don’t get to coast for very long. It seems that when things are going well, you should get to “take a break” from the relationship stuff for awhile. But if you’re not growing and evolving as individuals and as a couple, then your relationship is soon going to suffer. There’s no such thing as standing still and having everything stay the same. You’re either going forwards or you’re going backwards.
Saying “I do” is not the end—it’s the beginning. Some spouses feel that once they are married, they don’t have to extend as much effort into being romantic or nurturing the relationship. But a marital relationship isn’t the end of the road. It’s only the beginning of your opportunity to “grow your marriage” and create a rewarding relationship with your partner.
You’re not going to change your partner after you marry. No matter how many times this statement is written or verbalized, there are many individuals who still believe that their case will be different. Motivation to change is normally the highest before marriage when both partners want to please each other. After marriage, it’s easier to become comfortable and lose motivation to work on self-growth. Females are especially susceptible to this dynamic. Because they often are hooked by the potential that they see in their partner, they’re convinced that they can change him. This usually leads to a rude awakening after marriage.
You can’t give what you don’t already have. You have to be happy and at peace with yourself before you can create a happy, peaceful, harmonious marriage. Marriage won’t make you happy. Only you can do that. If you’re not happy with yourself and your life when you get married, nothing will change significantly afterwards.
Frequent emotional housekeeping is required for intimacy to thrive. It doesn’t take long for a marriage to develop serious problems when emotional debris from unresolved conflicts and issues piles up. This is why good communication is important. Couples who can’t talk about their differences and resolve conflict are at high risk for divorce. Feelings of passion, emotional intimacy, and heartfelt connection are all dependent on good communication.
The words you say are important, so pick them carefully. You can’t expect the spouse you called a “witch” or “fool” at 8:00 p.m. to be thrilled at the thought of sex with you at 9:00 p.m. By the words you use in your interactions with your partner, you impact how your spouse feels about you. Harsh, unkind words fuel anger, resentment, and bitterness. Kind words build rapport, respect, and caring. The words you use to yourself and others when talking about your spouse and your marriage are also important. When you devalue someone or something verbally, it affects your feelings and perceptions. Negativity spreads like a virus.
Just because you dislike your partner intensely at the moment doesn’t mean that you don’t love him or her. It’s normal to have mixed feelings toward your spouse at times. Sometimes your inner two-year-old will appear in your reactions—you know, the one who could stomp his feet and scream, “I hate you, Mommy!” when he didn’t get his own way. There are times when spouses can’t stand each other and the feelings of closeness and connection lessen. But that doesn’t mean that the marriage is over or that the love is permanently gone.
Success in marriage, as in life, is an inside job. The breakthroughs happen when you take responsibility for your actions and attitudes and focus on what changes you can make to improve the relationship. It’s important to learn how to stay centered and balanced emotionally as much as possible, and that requires inner work on yourself. Learning to be more self-aware will help you better understand your part in creating the present situation.
There’s no end to growth. There’s always something else to experience and learn. You can always improve your relationship skills and grow more as a person. Unlike school where you eventually get a diploma if you meet the requirements, you never “graduate” from relationship school. Just when you think you’ve learned to keep your equilibrium in your relationship, something is sure to throw you off balance as if to test you. And in the areas where you resist growth, you’ll find yourself endlessly repeating unproductive patterns. Then you have a choice—to stay stuck or keep on growing.
by Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D. Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D, is co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says “I don’t love you anymore!”