Even on the brink of divorce there are ways to keep your marriage together. Victor Parachin reviews some tried-and-true methods.
When she was 15, Doris Glaspy was attending a Saturday-evening worship service when she saw a young man to whom she was immediately attracted. This was an unusual emotion for her, because she was into books, not boys. “He had on a red V-neck sweater, and I noticed him right away,” she recalls. Friends encouraged her to send him a brief note, which she did, saying, “Meet me outside after the meeting.” That was a bold act for a gentle, shy teen. He accepted the invitation, and they sat outside and talked. He asked if he could visit her, but she explained that her parents wouldn’t let her have “company” until she turned 16. They kept in touch via letters until Doris was old enough to date. Although Jay Glaspy is now retired and has been married to Doris for nearly five decades, he vividly remembers the first time he spoke to his future wife. “The love and excitement I felt getting to know her was unexplainable; it was like being on cloud nine!” And, nearly 50 year after that moment, he says. “I get giddy now thinking about it!” Jay and Doris Glaspy are wonderful models that people can be married for better, not for worse; that a marriage can be lifelong, satisfying and enriching, and can be a great source of recurring joy. Rightly done, being married will mean a life filled with hope, excitement and happiness shared with a partner. Following are some powerful ways to guard your home against divorce and ensure your relationship remains healthy and vibrant across the years.
1. Nurture the spiritual side of marriage.
“We had God in our lives, and we stayed focused on that,” says Jay Glaspy of his marriage. To nurture the spiritual side of marriage, make it a habit to attend church together, study the Bible together, and pray earnestly and frequently with and for each other. It also means applying to your relationship the many Bible passages that call us to be kind, compassionate, gentle, loving people.
Marriages benefit when couples shape their common life together by the various biblical passages that call them to authentic ways of living and relating. Here are some examples: Follow the biblical advice to treat your partner with honour: “Honour one another above yourselves.”1 Listen when the Bible exhorts us to grow in love: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.”2 Apply the biblical teaching to live peacefully and with mutual respect: “ˆLet us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peach and to mutual edification.”3 Live out in your marriage the biblical call for humility: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”4
2. Give your relationship top priority.
Even marriages that seem to be made in heaven will require attention and maintenance. Avoid taking the relationship for granted. Don’t permit a myriad of external activities to infringe on the priority of your marriage. Too many couples unwittingly place their highest energies on career demands, parenting responsibilities, extended family pressures and volunteer activities.
Although career, parenting, extended family and civic responsibility are all important involvements, couples must find the right balance between maintaining their relationship and all other activities.
If they are not carefully monitored, a wide range of activities can slip in and erode time from you and your partner.
3. Be each other’s best friend.
For their book Till Death Do Us Part , 5 authors Jeanette and Robert Lauer surveyed 351 couples who had been married 15 years or more. Their goal was to determine what makes a marriage not only lasting but happy. Of those responding, 300 couples said they were happy in their marriage. Part of the questionnaire asked the couples to select from 39 factors and list in order of importance what they thought it was that made their marriage lasting and enjoyable. Nearly 90 per cent of husbands and wives put the same statement at the top of their list: “My spouse is my best friend.” To be each other’s best friend, couples need to consistently offer each other trust, caring, confidentiality, expression of deepest feelings and thoughts, respectful listening and fun together.
4. Be quick with forgiveness.
This, of course, is a biblical principle emphasized many times in Scripture. The apostle Paul writes: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”6 Forgiveness is essential for healing the hurts within a relationship. “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers,” notes author Robert Quillen. Without the balm of forgiveness, both partners are left hurt and struggling. “When you choose to bear anger at your partner, you build a wall around yourself,” says Phillip MeGraw, PhD, in his book Relationship Rescue .7
“You become trapped in an emotional complex of such pain and agony that negative energy begins to dominate your entire life. Your resentment can literally become so pervasive as to crowd every other feeling out of your heart. What’s more, your emotions do not remain specific to your partner. Bitterness and anger are such powerful forces that once they enter your heart, they change everything about you…..The only escape route is through forgiveness to take the high moral ground and forgive the person who has hurt you.”
5. Overlook slights and irritations.
Avoid going into battle mode over every slight and every irritation that comes via your partner. Be selective about what’s really worth discussing and working on. Mull over what really matters. That was advice given to US Supreme Court justice Ruth Ginsburg by her then future mother-in-law. As a result, she has enjoyed not only a highly satisfying career as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court but also an immensely fulfilling marriage that spanned a half-century.
In June 1954, she was about to marry Marty Ginsburg. “The morning of the wedding, Marty’s mother said, ‘In every good marriage, it pays sometimes to be a little deaf.’ She placed in my hand a set of wax earplugs,” the justice recalls. She applied that lesson to her marriage saying: “My mother-in-law meant simply this: Sometimes people say unkind or thoughtless things. When they do, it is best to be a little hard of hearing to tune out and not snap back in anger or impatience.… It pays, sometimes, to be a little deaf.”
So choose your response and your words carefully in order for your marriage to grow and thrive. Factor in this wisdom from the Bible: “Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips.” 8
6. Learn to fight fair.
Every couple will have differences of opinion, experience personality clashes, and enter into arguments. The key lies in learning to manage those differences and to fight fairly. Mari Clements, an assistant professor in the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, studied successful marriages. Based on her research, she offers these three tips for engaging in a fair fight: First, really listen. “Usually when our partner is talking we’re busy thinking about our rebuttal, but when you do that, you can’t hear what he’s saying,” Dr Clements says.
Second, don’t attack. Focus instead on your feelings about the situation.
“When you left your clothes on the floor I was upset because I felt like I had to pick them up,” is more productive than “You’re such a slob!”
Finally, never threaten to end the relationship.
“True, you’re going to get attention, but it weakens the fabric of the relationship and is truly insidious in the long term,” she adds.
7. Avoid perfectionism.
“Take care not to seek perfection in yourself or your partner,” advises psychiatrist Mark Goulston, author of The Six Secrets of a Lasting Relationship.9 “It’s terrific to have high standards, but not so high as to be unreachable. It’s also good to have principles and policies, but not so rigid as to be inflexible and unbending. If you expect perfection, you’re setting yourself up for a life of discontent.”
8. Never go to bed angry.
Justin and Jane have been married eight years. “Like all couples, we have disagreements. Sometimes they have been rather intense, yet, early in our relationship we made the commitment never to go to bed angry,” he explains. “We try to turn off hurt feelings before turning off the lights by saying: I know we’ll work this out, but let’s look at it with rested eyes and rested feelings tomorrow. Then we give each other a hug and a kiss. That way the fight doesn’t just hang there and we are able to get some sleep. Often by the next morning, the issue, which seemed so important the night before, has lost much of its drama.”
9. Accentuate the positive.
Always work to nurture your hopes, not your hurts. Whenever you become frustrated with your relationship or angry at your partner, take a breath and pause to place the focus on your hope, not your hurt. Even though there may be present pain, work toward and anticipate a good outcome. Faith, hope and love form a powerful trinity for sustaining and transforming relationships.
Haworth Press, 1087
Perigee Trade, 2002