E-Learning from First Things First

Making the Most of Marriage

Part 1

Contents of Making the Most of Marriage

Page 2:  Seasons of Marriage

Page 3:  Keys to Effective Communication in Marriage

Page 4:  Dating Your Mate

Page 5:  Refreshing Your Marriage

Page 6:  Marriage in Crisis

Part 2

Seasons of Marriage

Marriage expert and creator of divorcebusting.com, Michele Weiner-Davis, and her husband Jim recently celebrated their 38th anniversary.  Since Weiner-Davis is an expert, one might assume being married for almost four decades would be easy.

“Expert or not, marriage is hard work,” said Weiner-Davis.  “At times you consider quitting.  Creating a lasting marriage is a humbling experience.   It is part skill, part luck, elbow grease and blind determination.”

Having devoted her life work to helping couples, Weiner-Davis knows that all marriages go through stages and predictable crises.

“All couples experience hills and valleys, yet predictable transitional periods are often misunderstood, causing overreactions,” Weiner-Davis said.  “Those who weather these universal stormy periods usually end up with greater love and commitment to their spouses.”

There are five predictable stages most marriages experience:

The first stage of marriage is typically filled with passion.  Starry-eyed in love with your mate, you finish each other’s sentences and annoying things are usually overlooked.  At no other time in your relationship is your feeling of well-being and physical desire for each other as intense. The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes, heighten sexuality and sensuality.

Joy ultimately gives way to an awakening; marriage isn’t what you expected.  Enter stage two.  This is when reality sets in. Little things start to bother you like stinky breath in the morning, toilet seats left up, stuff strewn on the counter and forgetting to pay bills.  You argue a lot. Reminding yourself you made a life-long commitment, you start to understand the real meaning of eternity. “While feeling at odds with your once-kindred spirit, you are faced with making life-altering decisions,” Weiner-Davis said.  “Should we have children, where to live, who will support the family, who pays the bills and who will do the cooking. Spouses often start to feel like members of opposing teams.”

In stage three, most people believe there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way. Couples battle to get their partner to admit they are wrong. Every disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Both partners dig in their heels. “Convinced they’ve tried everything, many couples give up, telling themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person. Other people resign themselves to the situation and lead separate lives together. Still others decide it’s time to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Requiring a major leap of faith, those who take it are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.”

In stage four, couples realize seeing eye-to-eye on everything is unlikely.  They work to live more peaceably. They seek wise counsel from close friends and family, and marriage seminars or counseling.   Hardheadedness is more readily forgiven, recognizing that neither party is exactly easy to live with. When disagreements occur, more of an effort is made to put themselves in each other’s shoes. They recognize they have to accept the good and the bad. Fights happen less frequently and are not as intense or emotional as before.

Finally, stage five.

“Many couples never get to this stage,” Weiner-Davis said.   “No longer struggling to define what the marriage should be, there is more peace and harmony. You start ‘liking’ your spouse again.  While both agree marriage hasn’t been easy, there is shared history and you feel proud you’ve weathered the storms. You appreciate your partner’s sense of commitment to making your marriage last. You begin to appreciate differences between you and your spouse. What you don’t appreciate, you find greater acceptance for. You realize you have come full circle.”

Learn more:

Resolutions for a Healthy Marriage

The Wholehearted Marriage

Part 3

Keys to Effective Communication in Marriage

Research on what makes marriage work indicates that happy and healthy couples demonstrate a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative behaviors in their relationship.

This means there are five times as many positive interactions between happy couples (i.e. listening, validating the other person, using soft words, expressing appreciation, affirmation, physical affection, compliments, etc.) as there are negative (i.e. raising one’s voice, stating a complaint, or expressing one’s anger).

Tips for improving the quality of communication in your relationship:

  • Be intentional about spending time together talking. The average couple spends only 20 minutes a week talking with each other. Turn off the technology and make it a point to spend 20-30 minutes a day catching up with each other.
  • Use more “I” statements and less “You” statements. This decreases the chances of your spouse feeling like they need to defend themselves.  For example, “I wish you would acknowledge more often how much work I do at home to take care of you and the children.”
  • Be specific. When issues arise, be specific. Broad generalizations like, “You do it all the time!” are not helpful.
  • Avoid mind-reading. It is very frustrating when someone else acts like they know better than you what you were really thinking.
  • Express Negative Feelings Constructively. There will be times when you feel bitterness, resentment, disappointment or disapproval. These feelings need to be communicated in order for change to occur. BUT – How you express these thoughts is critical. “I am really disappointed that you are working late again tonight,” is very different from, “You clearly do not care one whit about me or the kids. If you did, you would not work late every night.”
  • Listen without being defensive. For a marriage to succeed, both spouses must be able to hear each other’s complaints without getting defensive. This is much harder than learning how to express negative feelings effectively.
  • Freely express positive feelings. Most people are quicker to express negative feelings than positive ones. It is vital to the health of your marriage that you affirm your spouse. Positive feelings such as appreciation, affection, respect, admiration, approval, and warmth expressed to your spouse are like making deposits into your love account. You should have five positive deposits for every one negative. If your compliments exceed your complaints, your spouse will pay attention to your grievances. If your complaints exceed your compliments, your criticism will fall on deaf ears.
  • When your spouse pays you a compliment, receive it and be blessed by it. It is easier for many to give a compliment than it is to receive it.

Read more here:

Irreconcilable Differences

Communication Killers, Part 1

Communication Killers, Part 2 (The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse)

Boundaries in Marriage

Common Myths About Anger

Toxic Subjects for Couples

Part 4

Dating Your Mate

What’s Up With Dating Your Mate?

Believe it or not, research shows that couples who manage to devote time specifically to one another at least once a week are significantly more likely to enjoy high-quality relationships and lower divorce rates, compared to couples who do not devote as much couple time to one another.

Couples who spend time together at least once a week:

  • Are about three times more likely to report they are “very happy” in their marriages;
  • Report higher levels of communication and commitment; and
  • State they are highly satisfied with their sexual relationship compared to couples who spend less couple time together.

Interestingly, the couples who are the most likely to benefit from a regular date night are the ones who use it as an opportunity to do more than just the old standby of dinner and a movie.

Most marriages begin with romantic love that is linked to passion, excitement and an overwhelming sense of attraction to the one you love. Over time the passion fades. Date nights have the potential to take a ho-hum marriage and make it spicy and meaningful again.

Read more here:  

Creative Date Ideas

Couples Who Play Together

Jazz Up Your Marriage

Date Night is a Relationship Booster

Part 5

Refreshing Your Marriage

Eight Ways to Refresh Your Marriage

1.  Do something physical together every day. Physical exercise generates new brain cells and that feels good. When you do this with your partner, your brain associates these times with pleasure.

2.  Have fun together. Do something that is fun for both you and your spouse on a regular basis.

3.  Train your mind to see the goodness in your mate. When you think negatively, it is a slippery slope. The more you allow yourself to be negative, the more you will think negatively. You have to be intentional about wiring your brain to think positively.

4.  Demonstrate thoughtfulness with your actions. Random acts of kindness really work wonders in a marriage.

5.  Play Fair. Keeping score is no way to build a strong marriage relationship. If you are constantly nit-picking and keeping track of who gets what, you’ve missed the mark.

6.  Stop the side conversations. If you are looking to increase intimacy in your marriage, there are some things that should stay just between you and your spouse.

7.  Spend time with people who support your marriage. Spend time with couples who are happy in their relationship and happy themselves.

8.  Instigate a mutual laugh. You should laugh together at least once a day.

Read more here:

Invest in Your Marriage

 Stoking the Fire of Passion in Marriage

The Key to a Smokin’ Hot Marriage

Adventures in Marriage

Celebrating Your Anniversary

Part 6

Working Through the Hard Stuff

Affair-Proofing Your Marriage

Eric* was married with two children.  Life at home was good.  He considered his relationship with his wife to be healthy. They frequently spent time together and intimacy between the two of them was good. He never considered having an affair when he found himself face to face with a potentially compromising situation with a co-worker.

“Contrary to popular belief, most people do not set out to have an affair,” says Dr. Shirley Glass, infidelity expert and author of NOT “Just Friends.”  “Eric’s situation is all too common.  It is faulty thinking to believe that if you are attracted to someone else there must be something wrong at home.  It is possible to be attracted to somebody else, even if you have a good marriage.”

Appropriate Boundaries Are Important

“The single most important protector against an affair is appropriate boundaries,” Glass says.  “In a culture where men and women are working so closely you must make sure you are not creating opportunities for an affair to occur, especially at a time when you might be vulnerable – like right after a fight with your spouse.  One of the most common doorways into an affair is where a man and woman who are ‘just friends’ innocently begin to discuss problems in their primary relationship.  They are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to the marriage.”

According to research, 25 percent of women and 40 percent of men will have an extramarital affair at some point in their marriage.

Glass says that intimacy in marriage is defined by openness, honesty and self-disclosure.  Anything that interferes with that creates walls of secrecy in a marriage and should be a signal that danger is looming.  For example, if you meet the same person every morning for breakfast in a public place, but you don’t tell your spouse that you are doing it, you are creating a wall of secrecy in your marriage.  If you aren’t comfortable talking with your spouse about what you are doing, that should be a warning sign to you.

Interestingly, only 10 percent of people who leave a marriage to pursue a relationship with their affair partner actually end up with them.  Many say they wish the affair had never happened and that they had worked on their marriage. 

How can a couple guard against an affair?

  • Establish clear boundaries.
  • Stay connected to each other by keeping the lines of communication open.
  • Instead of creating walls of secrecy, talk with your spouse. Eric came home to his wife and told her about what happened with his co-worker.  They were able to talk openly about strategies for clearer boundaries.  This made their relationship stronger.
  • If you feel attracted to someone else, never let them know it.
  • Watch out for outside influences that encourage infidelity. For example, steer clear of an environment where other people are fooling around.  Be on your guard at business socials where drinking and dancing happen and spouses aren’t present.
  • If you have experienced infidelity in your marriage, the good news is it can survive and be stronger than before.  The bad news is, it will take time for the wounds of betrayal to heal, and both parties must be willing to work together to move the marriage forward.

Glass recommends the following to couples working through infidelity:

  • Stop the affair. The person who has been betrayed cannot begin to heal until the affair is finished.
  • You must replace deception with honesty. The person who had the affair must agree to be accountable and create a safe and open environment by letting their partner know where they are.   
  • Because trust has been violated, the story of the affair has to be told.  The only way to tear down the wall of deception is to have an open window – no secrets.  Usually, partners will want all of the details. They will need to put all of the missing pieces together and ask questions. The partner who had the affair must be patient and willing to share information, understanding that this is one way to rebuild intimacy.
  • Identify vulnerabilities in your relationship and begin to work on them.
  • Discuss what being faithful and committed in your marriage means to you.  Just because a relationship is not sexual does not mean you are not having an emotional affair.
  • Understand that this is a very difficult process and you may need professional help to work through your issues.

Eric was able to take a potentially harmful situation to his marriage and turn it into one that fostered more open communication and trust with his spouse. It is the window of openness and the sharing of uncomfortable situations that actually build a marriage up rather than tear it down.

*Name has been changed.

Read more here:

Marriage and Divorce in the South

Infidelity and Forgiveness

Getting Past the Affair(s)

There is Hope for Your Marriage


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