I often get asked what I think it takes to help a marriage succeed, especially in this day and age where everything is so fickle and the selfish approach of “how to take care of me, myself and I” has become the norm! This destructive attitude of self-centeredness has crept its way into many marriages these days and of course goes against the grain of what a meaningful relationship requires to flourish. Commitment means NOTHING to many as they pay lip service to the notion of the work required to keep things together in their relationship. This is why we see so many “I don’ts” shortly after the “I do’s”, much quicker than you can bat your eyelids.
What should I look for in a relationship? What can I do to ensure my relationship goes the long haul? Why did I marry this person I once loved so much and now can not stand them being in my personal space?
While the butterflies you feel when you meet THE ONE are important, they eventually settle causing reality to stare you in the face. You argue more, start getting peeved by your partner’s inadequacies, and generally see nothing but their faults illuminated. That feeling of love you had in the very beginning for your partner, I like to say is a trick. It was pure infatuation. It doesn’t last forever like a lot of you will agree! So, what has to happen to ensure that your marriage works? At the heart of every marriage should be two people who are friends.
I don’t just mean “be nice” to each other or just “get along”, I mean being a solid support structure for your spouse – understand their dreams, hopes and aspirations and help them achieve their goals. Happy marriages are built on friendship, which is the foundation of the love a couple shares. Love between two people grows when they have mutual respect for each other. They learn what makes their partner tick and have very high regard for each other. They are constantly connecting with each other in many ways to build their relationship! From the littlest actions like checking in on them at work, especially if they weren’t having the greatest of mornings, to supporting them through life’s big challenges. Nothing is seen as too small and irrelevant; as all actions towards your spouse count. These actions will either build up or tear down the love you share.
When you are friends with your spouse, you build your intimacy, thereby reducing the chances of any negative interactions ruining your marriage. Life will surely throw curve balls at you but the positive interactions you have as friends are what will keep you from sinking into the depths of misery together. Friendship is what causes any conflict that arises in your marriage not to seem overwhelming. When you are friends, the positive feelings you have for each other are what help override any negative feelings naturally produced by conflict.
Even when your spouse says something that could have hurt your feelings, you do not blow up; instead, you give them the benefit of the doubt! “Ah, he must be having a hard day, I totally understand how he feels!” OR “She must be under a lot of pressure as it is getting so close to her deadline, I get why she is a bit cranky!” As friends, it is easier to put yourself in your partner’s shoes even when they are being a tad bit unreasonable. Marriages suffer when the negative interactions supersede the positive ones. To help secure your relationship, you need to regain and build a deep friendship with your spouse. Go back to the times when the both of you were still infatuated with each other, and build on the positivity you were experiencing on the day you said “I do”!
There are a few exercises that could help you find the amazing friendship you had with that man or woman that you vowed to love till the end. I ask questions that help jumpstart a couple’s journey to learning about each other again: (A few are; What are your partner’s hobbies? What are their best and worst life experiences? What causes them extreme stress? What turns them on sexually? What are some of their major worries? Describe in detail what they did yesterday?). I also teach you a few practical ways to refresh your relationship.
Renowned psychologist Dr. John Gottman, teaches a technique called repair attempts, and this is one I find absolutely effective in helping a couple keep their negative interactions to the minimum. The premise behind this is to find ways to diffuse arguments (which are inevitable) you may be having with your spouse by throwing in words or actions in an attempt to stop the argument and get to a more balanced state of dialogue. The more you are friends with your spouse, the more these repair attempts work. Sticking your tongue out at your spouse in the middle of an argument might seem childish, but believe it or not, it is considered a repair attempt.
I do this sometimes with my husband, and in the middle of stating his case against me; temper rising, you’ve done this and you’ve done that, it throws him off course! It now occurs to him that I am calling for ‘peace’ and all this talk about how I violated his rights and upset him no longer matter as much, and he cracks a smile at me. A repair attempt can be as silly as this one, just as long as you and your spouse respond to it. The whole point is to fizzle the tension away so the both of you discuss the issue without tempers flaring.
Even if you believe that you and your spouse are already friends, there is always room to strengthen your relationship further. Ladi and I took advantage of marriage counseling even though I thought we didn’t really need it, and it did everything to propel us to where we are today.
For the couples that are thinking, there is NO WAY we can get back there, all I ask that you do is dig deep, find the commitment to make this work and seek some professional help to get you on your way. Help is but the click of a button away! I always like to remind couples that getting help isn’t a sign that you are weak and derelict; it is actually a sign that you know you deserve better. That you deserve to live a happy and wholesome existence, one which includes a happy home, fortifies you and brings you back to the business of living in your purpose.
Helping you towards a better friendship,
ZeeZee is a certified Relationship and Marriage Coach who believes her purpose in life is to equip couples with the right tools for a successful relationship. Through her website and YouTube channel she shares practical tips and principles that help couples understand the inner workings of a healthy marriage.