My wife, Tara, and I just celebrated 12 years of marriage this July—a real milestone that we challenge ourselves to be mindful of. We stay mindful and deliberately celebrate our milestones because the success of our relationship in particular was a longshot. The National Center for Health Statistics states that a staggering 60% of marriages for couples between the ages of 20 and 25 end in divorce—and we were even younger than the curve (my wife and I were 19)!
Experts cite emotional experience, insufficient financial support and hasty unions as culprits in these early separations. My wife and I experienced all of these elements in varying degrees. We were emotionally immature when we got married—focused on ourselves, our wants and our needs. We were financially unstable. I worked in fast food as a shift supervisor, my wife stayed at home with our new baby and the only way that we stayed above water was living in our parents’ basement and utilizing government assistance.
We moved into marriage because we’d brought a child into this world and wanted to formalize our commitment to each other and our new family through marriage. In some ways, we believed that the marriage would bolster and make easier our relationship. What we found was that the union itself wasn’t enough. We fought. We quibbled. We threatened. We hurt. We suppressed. We struggled.
During our more enlightened moments, we also listened. Not always to each other but to the smarter, more experienced people in our lives. Our parents were examples and sources of insight, older siblings that had been married, and the other varied role models put in our lives played significant roles in this new chapter of life. Eventually, through much trial and error, we began to listen to each other.
Dr. John Gottman, whose work I was introduced to in graduate training and whose theories I use in my own clinical practice, states “the better able (a couple is) to understand, honor, and respect each other and their marriage—the more likely that they will indeed live happily ever after”. While this may seem easier said than done, Gottman states (and our own relationship echoes) that “emotional intelligence (of this kind) is a skill couples can learn…and developing this ability can keep husband and wife on the positive side of the divorce odds”. Learning is hard. Painful even at times. Mistakes are made through the learning process but being willing to continue through this process with an open heart and an open mind can turn a struggle into a success over time.
I hope it’s clear by now that I write this blog post as a non-expert in marriage—both yours and my own. While this can create some insecurity, Gottman—a true relationship expert—states, “perfection is not the price of love. Practice is” and “Love is an action even more than a feeling. It requires intention and attention”. The hope in this statement is that perfection in our own relationships need not be the goal.
My wife and I treat each other as friends and partners--deliberate in putting each other in the center of our communication, time spent and decisions made and this is one factor that has helped us tremendously.
In his book, Dr. Gottman explains 7 principles found to make marriage work and the 7 principles are:
Enhancing Love Maps
Nurturing Fondness and Admiration
Turning Towards Each Other Instead of Away
Letting Your Partner Influence You
Solving Your Solvable Problems
Creating Shared Meaning
While these principles are too lengthy and involved to cover in this blog, the book speaks to practical factors that make marriages healthy and collaborative instead of competitive. My wife and I have overcome issues related to our families or origin, addiction, selfishness, different values, graduate school, underemployment, overworking, acceptance, shame, inadequacy, trauma and a host of other issues that threatened to derail us many times over.
Throughout this process, when we were successful, we’ve stood together as allies in the fight rather than fighting each other while life rained down on top of us. Never perfectly; but always learning something about ourselves and each other in the process and giving each other grace, empathy and support throughout the process.
We started this relationship at a disadvantage and our success to-date is a statistical anomaly, of which we’re very grateful and proud. Today we have 4 kind, healthy children; a happy home and a healthy marriage that betters with age.
Marriage is work but work can truly be fun. Throughout our work, we’ve learned so much about each other and about ourselves. We’ve tested values, changed beliefs and created shared meaning throughout our success and challenges. Our marriage is wonderful but it’s not unique. Those that want success can learn these skills through psychoeducation and practice and can transform their experience with their significant other dramatically.
Relationship counseling is just one of the things that we’re passionate about at QC Counselor and we hope that you’ll consider us if you need support improving your relationships.
Divorce Rates Increase if You’re Under 25. Retrieved from http://maselliwarren.com/2014/03/20/divorce-rates-increase-youre-25/
Gottman, J. and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert.
Gottman, J and Julie Schwartz Gottman. Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.