Two weeks before my wedding back in August 1982, I started getting cold feet. Suddenly the reality of the huge step that I was about to take in my life hit me. Like many young brides, the month before the wedding is so full of preparation that we can sometimes overlook what happens after the wedding—the actual marriage.
Over the course of my career as a therapist I’ve worked with many couples in crisis. One of the first questions I ask is whether they spoke about the topic of said crisis prior to marriage. The answer is usually “No.” I always find it interesting to learn that couples make this huge commitment in their lives without ever discussing the basics of how they will share a life together. I was guilty of that myself, hence the cold feet.
I began thinking about how some couples are able to and honor their commitment to love, honor, and comfort each other in sickness, health, joy, sorrow, plenty, want, and be faithful until they are parted by death. When you really consider the seriousness of the words in the commitment, it’s a wonder that any couple is able to make it together for any significant amount of time. This could be why in the United States divorce statistics indicate that the average first marriage only lasts about eight years. So how do some couples succeed in maintaining a happy marriage for more years than most?
I interviewed three couples about how they succeeded in their marriages. Actress and author of Redefining Diva: Life Lessons from the Original Dreamgirl, Sheryl Lee Ralph and her husband Senator Vincent Hughes have been married for eight years. Kathy and Steve Grant have been married for 25 years and chose to have no children. Clarence and Adrienne Hubbard, a military couple, have been married for 31 years.
All of the couples agree that first and foremost the foundation of their success is the ability to communicate honestly and openly about everything. Communicating does not only mean talking. Active listening is also key. Kathy says that communicating well and listening well are qualities that have been important in her marriage. In addition, she says, “We like each other and we are best friends. We respect each other and are loyal to each other.”
Adrienne has found that while communication is important, it’s also good to know when to stop talking. If you know your mate, you’ll know that there are times when it’s best to give him/her some space.
Knowing your mate and learning how to handle disputes without thinking that you’re going to change the other person is Steve’s advice. He suggests that you get to know each other slowly over time before you get married. As a result of following his own advice, his relationship with Kathy had very few bumps after they married.
Sheryl Lee Ralph adds that, “love, laughter and patience” have helped her marriage stand the test of time. Sheryl and the Senator have a sign above their bed that reads, “Always kiss me goodnight.”
So as you prepare to walk down that aisle and take those vows before your friends and family, remember these simple, yet crucial suggestions from the masters:
Communicate openly and listen actively. Think twice before you speak and try not to speak in anger.
Know and respect who your mate is. Don’t think you can change him/her after the wedding.
During difficult times, remember why you fell in love. Did he make you laugh when you were discouraged? Is she thoughtful? Is he loyal and supportive? Is she your best friend?
Don’t go to bed angry.
Maintain strict boundaries about what you share with others about your lives together.
Michelle Morancie, Ph.D.
Relationship Editor, World Bride Magazine