What does it take to have a healthy long-term marriage? In the United States, the divorce rate was last reported as 40 to 50 percent.
People divorce and yet when you talk to most single people they are looking for a partner. With all of the dating sites out there people are searching constantly. But what are they searching for? There is that old saying that the grass is not always greener. So what is the problem?
When couples come to me for therapy they are, of course, unhappy. Their partner is not doing what they want them to. Their partner is not acting the way they want them to. But why did they get married in the first place? I always ask them why did they fall in love with this person in the first place? What was it like in the beginning?
Our bodies are not meant to be in this heightened state forever
When a relationship begins and people start falling in love, the happy chemicals, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin are released. Over time these chemicals start to subside. Our bodies are not meant to be in this heightened state forever.
When this stage ends it may feel like a let down because it’s not as exciting. Sometimes, sex and passion die down in a relationship. This is when the relationship becomes a true partnership.
By now you should feel attachment, trust, and commitment. This is when the real work begins. If you can make it through this phase you may have the ingredients to a long lasting happy marriage.
Communication is key
Some people have a hard time telling their partner what they need. For many reasons, perhaps fear of being rejected, not wanting to upset the apple cart or thinking it is really not that big of a deal.
If you don’t communicate your needs to your partner you hold on to them and anger and resentment build up.
Wants and needs change over time during the life cycle
Think about it, you could be holding in anger and resentment and your partner does not even have a clue.
That is not fair to either of you.
Wants and needs change over time during the life cycle. When we are beginning a new relationship sometimes we don’t know what our needs and wants are. We are caught up in the happy chemicals and the rose-colored glasses are on.
When that starts to settle down this is when you begin to gain clarity. You observe and analyze the day-to-day of the relationship and then you begin to realize what you need and want from it.
It is all right to have this conversation. Ask your partner in return what their wants and needs are. This begins to build more trust and deepen the relationship. Along with communication comes transparency. Being transparent with your partner is critical.
Let your partner know what is going on in your life
Let your partner know what is going on in your life, even the mundane day-to-day things. If something comes up in the relationship that bothers you let them know. If you don’t this will only fester and come out in other ways such as being passive aggressive or blowing up over something that really does not matter but at the root is the thing that bothered you a week or so ago.
People think that vulnerability is a sign of weakness
Sometimes, in our society, people think that vulnerability is a sign of weakness but it is actually the strongest thing we can do as human beings.
Compromise is king
Chances are you are not going to like all of the things that your partner likes and vice versa. Make sure you go and do things that they like and they go and do things that you like.
For example, I had a couple in my therapy room who had a hard time with compromise. She loved Hollywood gossip shows and he loved the NFL. He learned to enjoy and learn the Hollywood gossip scene, and she learned the names of his favorite players and started enjoying watching the games with him.
You never know if you may actually start to enjoy something new if you don’t compromise. Even if you end up not loving what it is, just knowing it makes your partner happy should give you joy in itself.
Make sure that you have shared interests that you enjoy together as a couple
Know that your partner cannot be all things to you and that is all right. Make sure you still have a social network of friends that you see alone. A couple of social networks is important as well. Couple dinners are a great idea.
Communication, transparency, vulnerability, and compromise are the key ingredients to a happy, healthy, long-term marriage.
Most of these things can be worked out
Practice them daily along with telling your partner how much you love and appreciate them. If you are practicing these things and things are still going south contact a couple therapist as soon as you can. Most of these things can be worked out with a few simple tools, even though at the time it does not feel like. Here’s to a long, happy, healthy, loving marriage and remember the grass is not always greener on the other side.