My husband and I recently attended his 45th High School Reunion. There were a handful of couples who had been married over forty years! I was curious about the secret to their success. Of course, I want wisdom for my marriage. And I want to help others with “how to know the state of your marriage.” Beyond my clinical knowledge and experience, this was a perfect time to ask. These were couples my husband knew since adolescence. And it was the best environment outside my counseling office to get insight.
40-year Marriage Testimonies:
“We’ve been through a lot. And we have some major differences. But when we go hiking, all those differences fade. We appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
“I don’t know why it’s worked for us. I guess we’ve been blessed. My spouse is my best friend.”
Of course, not all long-term marriages give evidence of partnership. Some couples look worn down and live like room-mates under the same roof. We all go through seasons or years of unhappiness or dysfunction. That’s why I steer away from the term, “happy marriage.” It’s more valuable to work toward a growing marriage. And that was my takeaway after listening to the couples at the reunion.
Marriage falls into one of two categories: “masters” or “disasters.” Chapter 11 of my book, Beyond Messy Marriages addresses these two categories.It's more valuable to work toward a growing marriage rather than a happy marriage. We can all choose to grow through temporary feelings and seasons. Click To Tweet
One of my mentors, Dr. John Gottman, is world-renowned for his research on marital stability. The research findings are packaged in his books for the general public. Clinical training programs for therapists like me have been invaluable. I was privileged to meet Drs. John and Julie Gottman in Atlanta in early 2018 for the Level 1 Clinical Training.
Many who write books on marriage use his findings to define what does and doesn’t work in relationships. Dr. Gottman helps us understand differences between “the masters” and “the disasters.” In other words, those who grow beyond their marital messes are the “masters.” Those who get stuck are the “disasters.” Certain behaviors and attitudes put us heading in one direction or the other.
Know the State of Your Marriage By What Direction You’re Heading
Imagine a horizontal line with arrows on either end. Remember geometry class? Anyone of us can be an “x” on a continuum line facing either right decisions on one end or wrong decisions on the other. This idea helps us see the fluidity of our choices. We have hope for changing our dance (relationship) patterns. We can apply that same horizontal line with an “x” representing our marriages. Are we heading in the direction of the “masters” or the “disasters?” In other words, we can change directions with the smallest of decisions.Our lives and relationships are never static even though we feel stuck. Click To Tweet
Know the State of Your Marriage By Adjusting to Perpetual Conflicts
Gottman’s research challenges how therapists help or hinder couples they work with. For example, we shouldn’t focus solely on conflict resolution skills. The reason is that 69% of conflict in our relationships are perpetual. They have no resolve. The couples I spoke with at the reunion validated these findings.
So you could divorce one spouse and marry another. But you will experience a different set of perpetual conflicts. They’re likely to add up to the same percentage as the old marriage. The wisdom here is for couples to learn how to solve the 31% of conflicts that are resolvable. And grow through accepting the rest.
Know The State of Your Marriage By Resolving Resolvable Conflicts
We can learn to grow through, adapt, and even appreciate the remaining perpetual 69%. Unless, of course, part of that 69% dishonors the dignity, value, and worth of either spouse.
My husband’s old friends became my new friends while at the high school reunion. Those long-term married folks validated the premise for my book. Those who are open and willing to respect differences were clearly among the “masters.”