How to Maintain a Healthy Marriage (in good times and bad)

Everybody wants to know the secrets to a healthy intimate relationship.  I was lucky enough to grow up watching how to operate in one my whole life.  My parents’ relationship has been a source of inspiration and motivation to work towards the same healthy, loving relationship in my own life.  That’s not to say that their relationship is perfect (nor that mine is) because no relationship is perfect.  My dad gave an amazing speech at my wedding that speaks to what he believes makes a marriage work.  (I will end this post with his entire speech.)

So, how can you tell if your marriage is going to be one of the ones that will make it?  As reported in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, Dr. John Gottman conducted years of research on this very topic.  He reported that he was able to predict who would be together and who would be divorced later in life with 80% accuracy by the way the couple fought.  Here are the 4 behaviors antagonistic to a relationship:

  1. Contempt – despising, lack of respect for the other, willful disobedience to
  2. Stonewalling – giving the cold shoulder, giving the silent treatment, walking away from
  3. Defensiveness
  4. Criticism

Dr. Gottman reported that “stable couples handle conflicts in gentle, positive ways, and are supportive of each other.”

In his book, The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, Gottman discusses behaviors that he has observed in marriages that are successful.  He discusses 7 principles that will reinforce the positive aspects of a relationship and help marriages endure during the rough moments.

  1. Enhance Your Love Maps. Gottman defines a love map as the place in your brain where you store information about your partner. This is crucial in really knowing your partner, their dreams, hopes, interests, and maintaining their interest throughout the relationship.
  2. Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration. Have a positive view about your spouse, respecting and appreciating their differences.
  3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away. Acknowledging your partner’s small moments in life and orienting yourself towards them will maintain that necessary connection that is vital for the relationship.
  4. Let Your Partner Influence You. It is important to maintain your own identity in a relationship, but it is equally important to yield to your partner and give in. If both partners allow one another this influence, then they will learn to respect one another on a deeper level.
  5. Solve Your Solvable Problems. It is important to compromise on issues that can be resolved, which Gottman believes can be achieved by these five steps: soften your startup, learn to make and receive repair attempts, soothe yourself and each other, compromise, and be tolerant of each other’s faults.
  6. Overcome Gridlock. Major issues that cannot be resolved because both partners’ views are so fundamentally different involves understanding of the other person and deep communication. The goal is to at least get to a position that allows the other person to empathize with the partner’s view, even if a compromise cannot be reached.
  7. Create Shared Meaning. Create a shared value system that continually connects the partners through rituals/traditions and shared roles.

As Dr. Gottman says, the key to a great relationship is how a couple deals with the “bad times.”  Every couple has its ups and downs, and every relationship will go through times where one or both individuals in the relationship feel stuck in a rut.  Sometimes, one or both people need to work on what’s bothering them within themselves, whether it’s unhappiness at a job or feeling bad about the way they look.  But, there are also times where the couple needs to work on the relationship.  (You know, that thing you put on the backburner to deal with “more important” things such as moving, children, job changes, and other stressors).  Or maybe the relationship has just stagnated and needs life again.  Here are 15 tips for those people who want to get their relationship back on track:

  1. Listen when your partner talksReally LISTEN to him (or her).  Turn off your computer, TV, phone, etc.
  2. Have fun together.  Do at least one new activity together each week.
  3. Enjoy your down time together.  Before going to do your own things each night, spend some time together.  For example, play a game, give each other a massage, or go for a walk.
  4. Be affectionate.  Cuddle, kiss, and touch more.
  5. Be appreciative of the little things your partner does every day.  Tell him “Thank you” when he does something thoughtful.
  6. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Take and deep breath, step back from the situation, and ask “Will this matter in a year from now?”
  7. Focus on the present moment.  Don’t let an annoyance from the past or future worries affect right now.
  8. Be positive.  Stop complaining.  Stop complaining about him and about everything!  Nothing is more of a downer than someone who complains constantly.  Try to turn each annoying situation into something positive.  For example, you could say, “What am I supposed to learn from this situation?”
  9. Call him just because.  Call him to say “I love you” sometimes instead of always calling him when you need to talk to about things (e.g., something going wrong with the house, bills, etc.).
  10. Say “I love you” often.  Even for no reason at all.
  11. Tell him why you love and appreciate him.  Everyone loves to hear specifics.  (e.g., “I love how you are so level-headed in situations.  It really helps to calm me down when I’m upset with someone.”)
  12. Give him a compliment every day.  Everyone loves compliments.
  13. Bring up things that are bothering you at a calm time with a calm tone of voice.  I know this is easier said than done, but always something to strive for.  As the saying goes, “You’ll get more bees with honey.”
  14. Do something nice for him.  Surprise him.  For example, if his chore is to do the dishes, do them for him before he gets home from work.
  15. Don’t take out your anger on him.  You may have had a bad day or someone else made you upset, but remember that your partner is there for you.  He is on your team.  Try to separate the situation that happened from your relationship.

I’ll leave you today with my father’s words of advice to Kenny and me on our wedding day:

“Jamie and Kenny – You asked that I say a few words at your ceremony and I agreed.

For a long time I agonized over what I should say; how to make it meaningful, how to make it memorable, as this is a big event.  I mean all weddings are big events and I have performed hundreds of them – But this would be my biggest as this wedding ceremony would be for my only daughter.  So that’s a lot of pressure!

Then it hit me.  I decided to talk about something that was very important and influential to both of you in the past and something that I knew quite a bit about.  So let’s talk about baseball and softball.

Why can I give you any advice on marriage in the first place?  Well, I would like to believe, that I have been the manager of a successful marriage team for over 30 years.  Now some may say Pam has been the manager and that may be true.  What certainly is true is that both of us have brought to the game our unique skills and expertise and given it our best to make it work.

Jamie and Kenny, both of you also have unique skills and expertise.

Jamie, you were a good pitcher, hitter and fielder.  In many ways a complete player with leadership ability and drive.  That is what you bring to this marriage:  You are organized, focused and decisive.

Kenny, (or Bubba as I understand you are affectionately called by your family) you were an ironman, a steady shortstop in the field and at the plate who started every game all four years you played at Wittenberg University.  That is what you bring to this marriage:  steadiness, calmness and certainty.

And the neat thing is that the both of you complement each other.  Jamie, your strengths appear to counter Kenny’s weaknesses and Kenny, your strengths counter Jamie’s weaknesses.  In other words you two make a good team.

Now it is time for your team to take the field and play this event called marriage.

In my opinion the pattern of marriage is similar to the shape of a baseball diamond.

Home plate to 1B is the courtship phase.

1B to 2B is young marriage.

2B to 3B is mature marriage.

3B to home plate is old marriage.

The both of you are at 1B now.  Of course the goal is to make it to home plate.  Many people, however, never make it to 2B let alone home plate.  How does your team become good enough to round the bases?  In the same manner that you become good in anything that you do – practice!  Marriage is the same.

While you thought planning a wedding was tough at times, where the true hard work comes is afterwards.  I don’t mean to scare you, but marriage is work.  You will get out of it what you put into it.

Give it little effort and your team will be doomed with a loveless and burdensome marriage.  Give it the attention and the effort it needs your team will be a winner and your marriage will be a success.  Who knows, you may ultimately make the Hall Of Fame with a marriage that couples may wish to emulate.

Now as my gift to you I have some items for you to place into what I will call this duffel bag that you will need in order to practice to make your marriage a success.

GLOVE

First we have a glove.  You are going to need it to field many issues over the course of your marriage.  Some issues will be like popups and be easy to handle.  Some will be like line drives and come at you with increasing difficulty and speed.  Of course, there will be many others of varying degrees of difficulty between these extremes.  On many occasions the two of you will need to call a timeout, put your heads together and communicate to handle these issues.  On some issues you may not agree.  Hence, compromise will be in order.  You need to realize that everything will not and should not go your way.  At times you will need to sacrifice and take one for the team.

BAT

A marriage isn’t only defensing issues.  You will also need a bat to generate some offense in your marriage.  In other words you can’t just sit back and expect it to work.  You need to go outside the box – be creative – enhance it with some spark.  It will need quality time together, a caressing touch, a date night and/or other innovative ideas.  Use this prop to bat around other ideas to enhance your relationship.  But don’t necessarily be satisfied with just singles.  Sometimes go for it and swing for the fences.  Surprises are always fun and a welcome gesture in any relationship.

CLEATS

These cleats will help keep your marriage rooted.  There will be many temptations that will come your way.  You will meet people and situations will arise that will challenge your marriage.  That is not unusual.  Take time to develop your own interests and healthy relationships with other people, both individually and as a couple.  Interests and relationships, however, create risk.  Your marriage is always paramount.  To the extent that your interests or relationships turn unhealthy and jeopardize your marriage then think of these cleats and where your priorities should lie.

BALL

You can’t play baseball or softball without a ball.  Balls, however, sometimes take funny bounces.  To that extent they are unpredictable.  So will be your marriage.  Despite your best efforts to plan, things will come up that will be unanticipated.  You will need to be able to roll with the punches.  Flexibility and openness to new ideas are vital to a successful marriage.  So don’t let the uncertainty of bad bounces derail your team.  In fact, treat them as a challenge and an opportunity to strengthen your team as you handle these adversities together.

UNIFORM

Finally, all teams need a uniform.  The real trick is will you be able to fit into this uniform in the years to come?  Both of you are fit and trim now, but as you age there is a tendency to get lazy and out of shape.  If so the physical attraction of marriage is challenged.  You will need to eat right, get enough rest, exercise and manage stress.  If you do you will maintain the glowing physical attraction that you have today and still fit into this uniform in years to come.

Now my advice today is just one scouting report of many you can access concerning marriage and I hope you do consult with others.  In fact, there are many scouts in the gallery today.  Some of your contemporaries are, like the two of you, on their way from 1B to 2B.  Others are rounding 2B and on their way to 3B and yet others like Jamie and Kenny, both of your sets of parents, we’re probably rounding 3B and heading toward home plate.

In fact, I encourage all here today to share some of their secrets or advice with Jamie and Kenny.  All of you are or have been influential to Jamie and Kenny in some way.  That is why you have been invited to witness this event and celebrate this event with them.  You want this marriage to succeed just as much as they do.

So what do you do with this duffel bag?  You get it out on your anniversary date each year and examine the equipment in it and what each piece of equipment stands for.  You then should score your marriage to see where your team stands.  Finally, you should prepare a lineup card for the next year listing the areas in your marriage that you need to work on and goals you need to accomplish.

Hopefully, with the effort and commitment you put into your marriage through your hard work and practice as I have outlined, you will round the bases together and reach the ultimate goal, home plate, an older, wiser and happier couple satisfied with each other and the legacy that your team will have left behind.  Hopefully, in the end it will be a marriage that others will, indeed, wish to emulate qualifying your team for the marriage Hall of Fame.”

I wish for all of you to have happy, healthy, loving relationships!

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8 thoughts on “How to Maintain a Healthy Marriage (in good times and bad)

  1. Hi Jamie, Thanks for the shout out on your website! Liked your post today. Lots of sage advice to married people whether just starting off or married for 50 years.

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  4. Jamie,
    Thank you for sharing your story and the wonderful speech your father made at your wedding. Marriage is tough; as a veteran of two failed marriages in which I didn’t do many of the things you point out here, I appreciate how important being respectful and fighting fair can be. Wish you and Kenny good luck on getting to home plate.
    Be well.

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