One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride, the story of a poor stable boy and a princess who fall in love. But the story’s plot changes as the princess is being forced to marry the new prince, Humperdinck, who is going to murder her on the eve of their wedding in order to start a war.
The priest begins the marriage ceremony by stating, “Mar-wedge. When two wuvers… gaver togevar. Twoo wuv….” While this line causes us to smile, marriage can be as crazy as a twisted plot with pirates, giants, and sword fights just as much as this movie proposes. In marriage, two lovers come together in Holy Matrimony, each stargazed with the one who stands in front of them. Ahh, sweet bliss.
Enter, stage right: two kids, a dog, cat, a mortgage, both people working, feisty in-laws, stress, financial issues, and a healthy smattering of illness and sleepless nights; and you have the workings for a marriage crisis.
And if counseling does not work, then the one who could do no wrong, the one on whom the axis of your world spins, is now standing in front of you in divorce court with both parties wondering how they ever even liked this person much less thought this union was one of “twoo wuv.”
Currently, research ranks the United States as sixth on a global divorce rate scale. In America, there is one divorce approximately every 36 seconds. That’s nearly 2,400 divorces per day, 16,800 divorces per week and 876,000 divorces a year. The average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is eight years.
While these statistics can be overwhelming, surprisingly many people have not given up on marriage. “It’s a long-standing, depressing myth that 50% of marriages in America end in divorce. At that point, why even try, right? Wrong. In fact, the divorce rate in the United States is going down. It hit a peak of about 41% for people who married 35 years ago and it’s been falling ever since.”
I hope after reading this article, you will walk away not only with some sobering information but hopefully also with a renewed passion to keep your marriage longevity and to “beat the odds.”
So, with all these negative statistics, one may be left to ask the question of, “How can I keep my marriage strong and are we doomed to be a statistic?” I have been married for almost 23 years and feel my marriage is stronger than it has ever been, but it takes continuous work.
Most couples that come into my office for marital issues complain of what I like to call, “The B and B.” The B’s stand for the bank and the bedroom. And while these are legitimate complaints, they generally are not the reason that the marital issues exist. Both problems are troubling, but they are rooted in a problem which is much more important: how to communicate.
How to Communicate: Various Styles
Typically, most of us have grown acclimated to communicating with others in a certain way and may not even know it is not a healthy way of communicating. Here are the styles of communication. Which one are you?
Different sorts of behavior and language are characteristic of each.
The Assertive Style
Assertive communication is born of high self-esteem. It is the healthiest and most effective style of communication – the spot between being too aggressive and too passive. When we are assertive, we have the confidence to communicate without resorting to games or manipulation.
We know our limits and don’t allow ourselves to be pushed beyond them just because someone else wants or needs something from us. Surprisingly, however, Assertive is the style most people use least. We show this by eye contact, relaxed posture and normal tone of voice.
The Aggressive Style
This style is about winning, often at someone else’s expense. An aggressive person behaves as if their needs are the most important, as though they have more rights, and have more to contribute than other people. It is an ineffective communication style as the content of the message may get lost because people are too busy reacting to the way it’s delivered.
The Passive-Aggressive Style
This is a style in which people appear passive on the surface but are acting out their anger in indirect or behind-the-scenes ways. People who behave in this manner usually feel powerless and resentful, and express their feelings by subtly undermining the object (real or imagined) of their resentments – even if this ends up sabotaging themselves.
The Submissive Style
This style is about pleasing other people and avoiding conflict. A submissive person behaves as if other peoples’ needs are more important, and other people have more rights and more to contribute.
The Manipulative Style
This style is scheming, calculating and shrewd. Manipulative communicators are skilled at influencing or controlling others to their own advantage. Their spoken words hide an underlying message, of which the other person may be totally unaware.
About nine-in-ten Americans (88%) cited love as a very important reason to get married, ahead of making a lifelong commitment (81%) and companionship (76%), according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. There are many ways of expressing love.
The Scriptures use several forms of the word “love” in Greek. The first, and foremost word is “agape”. This is loving others with the same love with which God loves us. It means to love unconditionally. That means no matter how tired I am, mad I am, frustrated I am, or hurt with someone, I am to be the means of God’s grace despite my feelings.
What actions/words do you withhold if you are upset with your partner? I challenge you to show “agape” love despite this. For this to be prevalent in our marriages, I challenge couples to pray with one another every day. Ask your spouse what they need in their life. If this is unfamiliar territory, there is a plethora of devotional books for couples which have a reading from Scripture, and usually, questions to ask one another and a prayer to pray. With the dawn of E-books, you can also download these to your devices.The second Greek form of love is “phileo” This is described as friendship or companionship love. Marriages need to have this form of love because it is one of the forms of love which keep relationships strong. Companionship is a need that we all have. To be married to our best friend, or to grow old with someone you enjoy is a gift.
We need to find new ways to participate in activities which we can enjoy with our mate. If you have different interests, find one which you both enjoy, or come up a new one. I am a firm believer that social media and technology are some of the largest causes of disconnect in every relationship in our life. Unplug the technology and plug into your spouse!
The next form of love is “ludus.” It is a natural affection or the movement of a soul for husband or wife. It was the Greeks idea of playful love which referred to the affection of young children or young lovers. This can include playful bantering and laughing with one another. It can be used in the form of what we call “romantic love.”
Statistics have reported that romantic love dissipates at around 3 years of marriage. If you remember the statistic I gave in the preceding paragraphs about the average length of a marriage that ends in divorce being 8 years, this will make some sense. Therefore, we must continually work on romance in our relationship.
A good thing to remember is that nagging and being aggressive are the two most common actions towards our spouses which cause romance to die. Try to build positive interactions every day. Kiss your spouse every day, look them in the eyes, tell them how beautiful and wonderful they are, or how good or sexy they look in their outfit. Give compliments every day and have at least five nonsexual touches a day.
Plan dates and do not let anything get in the way of them. Laugh, laugh, laugh! With six children and 23 years together, my spouse and I laugh often. Be willing to laugh at yourself as well. Multiple affectionate interchanges a day keep the counselor away!
The last form of love is “eros”. This is the root of what we call erotic love or sexual love. God created sex to be a beautiful interchange between husband and wife. All too often though, relationships start with “eros” love first and when life throws us challenges we have not acquired the deeper love which sustains our relationship.
Sexual love is like a garden, it needs watering, nurturing and attention. Scripture tells us that we should not abstain from one another unless it is by common consent and we are in prayer and fasting. When we are not tending to the garden of love, Satan can get a foothold in our relationship. Continue to fan the flames of love and do not neglect it.
Lastly, I tell my clients that each must learn to communicate effectively and purposefully. It has been said that true communication does not consist in someone winning or losing an argument but in people coming to a place of understanding of the other’s position and respecting it. In light of that, I try to teach couples what I call the “Rikki communication technique.”
One person is chosen to go first, calmly stating their complaint using the “feeling formula” which is to start with the words, “I feel [state the feeling] when you do this, or when this happens, because I think of [share the belief, thought, feeling]. I need you to [share a measurable action]. The other person then repeats what was said (not parroting but putting it into their own words).
The sharing person then says, “that’s it,” or they clarify to the listener. Once clarified, the other person talks, and the process continues. This is helpful especially because most of us are not truly listening but preparing our argument as the other person is sharing, or we talk over them. So, the first step is to listen and reflect.
The second step is to validate the other person’s feelings. People feel differently about situations. They are entitled to their feelings even if we think their feelings are unreasonable or we don’t understand. We validate their feelings by stating. “I am sorry when I did that it made you feel…”
The third step is to take ownership. We must take ownership of the words we said or the actions we did which caused the hurt or confusion. This does not mean that “they won” or that “you are wrong,” it just means that our actions or words caused hurt, and when we love someone we do not want them to hurt, especially at our hand. Remember, you are not enemies. Conversations are not about winning, because no one wins in an argument. If your spouse loses, you lose. If your spouse wins, you win.
Lastly, come up with a solution. Most disagreements end with someone on the couch or someone walking away angrily. If you can’t come up with a solution, plan to get back together.
So, to recap:
As believers, we have the best remedy for long-lasting love. Christ shows us this in Scripture when He states in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life.” Christ is our living example of love. His Spirit gives us the power to love others as God loves.
Having God in your marriage is the number one way for a marriage to be healed. Through the power of the cross, and the Holy Spirit’s power, we can truly say, “Now these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
If you read this article and would like to explore couples or marital counseling to improve or help heal your relationship, please contact me. I would be happy to assist you.
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