Marriage and what it means is currently in the media spotlight, so when preparing for doing some pre-marriage counselling I saw this as an opportunity to re-consider my own position. I have now been married to my young and beautiful wife for 40 years. Obviously we have changed in that time, we have continued to grow and develop, with both ups and downs in our relationship, weathering the storms of job changes, house moves, children, adolescents, deployments and now grand children. Why are we still together when so many relationships fail? There are no easy answers!
However, I have come up with seven things to work on to make your relationship (and marriage) better:
Friendship! You and your partner need to be friends as well as lovers! This will require you to make time to have fun together, to laugh as well as cry together. That will mean doing little things for each other every day, seeking to grow closer and build up a bank of positive shared memories. That love and friendship needs to keep growing.
Flexibility! If you want your marriage to work it is very important that you accept the fact that your partner will see things differently from you. You may bring to the relationship a whole range of unconscious expectations which need to be challenged. A successful marriage is able to deal flexibly with issues, finding compromises and win/win situations.
Freedom! Are you prepared to allow (and encourage) your partner to grow and develop? Do you have the freedom and communication skills to discuss when you might decide to have children, change your job or pursue a new career? If you really love your partner you have to offer them the freedom to think and feel differently to you without being judgemental.
Fight fair and play fair! Every game has rules but some couples seem to forget that and wonder why the result is chaos! Avoid accusations that include words like “always” and “never”. Resist the urge to resort to name calling and dragging up past history. Accept the fact that we all make mistakes and bad decisions and a yellow card (warning) or even a red one (sent off) does not mean the end of the game, but it sends a message about the serious consequences of breaking the rules.
Forgiveness! If you have failed to play fair there are consequences and to effectively get back in the game, you need to show that you understand how you broke the rules and commit to behaving in the future. That is what forgiveness is all about, asking for, and getting another chance to show you are learning.
Full on commitment! Marriage is a covenant, a life long contract in which both of you “commit” to make it work. The problem is that we live in a throw-away society. If the TV or the microwave stops working, you no longer try to fix it you just throw it away and get a new one. Sadly, we live in a generation that treats marriage the same way. If it gets hard we just opt out and start again. However, that is not real commitment and it will not lead to the marriage fulfilment you desire.
Faith! To really make marriage work you need a shared faith and shared values. This is the spiritual dimension that allows you to create an inner life together, in which God himself provides the power and strength to keep going through the hard times. It is His love and His forgiveness that flows through us to our partners that helps us to stay committed when we don’t feel like it!
There is a lot more I could say but that will have to do. Your relationship can be better but it will only change if you do!
Padre Ian Whitley AM