the pillars of a healthy marriage
By Sinay Butler, Counselor, Dragonfly Wellness
Divorce in the United States was declining prior to COVID, but the number of divorces filed during 2020-2022 spiked. The number of people getting married for the first time has declined as well, as people choose to marry later or to live together without being married. According to polls, Americans still value marriage and usually admire marriages that have lasted many years, but the many struggles in life take a toll on relationships, and people choose divorce due most commonly to a lack of commitment, infidelity, conflict and arguing.
Relationship expert John Gottman says that the two pillars of a successful relationship are commitment and trust. When couples commit to each other that divorce is not an option, they are committing to working through any challenges that arise in their marriage. This kind of commitment prevents looking outside the marriage, which can be a protective factor against infidelity. When this kind of commitment takes place, conflicts that are a normal part of relationships, need to be addressed in a way that supports the relationship because there is no escape clause.
People who talk about divorce often say they just aren’t in love with their spouse any more, but marriage isn’t about being “in love.” Hollywood and popular culture has perverted love into an emotion that is self gratifying. Real love is an act of will. It is the “in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer” kind of commitment. Successful marriages take divorce off the table. They are based on shared values and trust and unwavering commitment to the marriage.
Couples who treat each other with love and respect are happier. This expression becomes a practice of appreciation and gratitude for each other, not only in the things they do but in regard to who they are as a person. Love is not a feeling, it is an act of will. It is each partner deciding to choose the other, every day.
Having conversations is how we learn about each other’s inner world. Even people who have been together for a long time can find more to learn about their partner if they remain curious and engaged. Conflict and arguing can undermine a relationship, when it is done with disrespect. People often say that they don’t communicate well, when what is usually happening is they aren’t listening well. Most people listen to respond, rather than listening to understand, and conversations often turn into a battle of wills as to who will get their way. People often lapse into personal attacks using criticism and contempt, becoming defensive or stonewalling the conversation. John Gottman calls these the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – and they should be remedied whenever they show up in a relationship.
Faith can be a preventative factor for marriage. Research shows that Christians who engage in religious practices together such as praying and reading the Bible have a less than 1% divorce rate. This is significantly lower than the national average. It is interesting, however, that simply having faith doesn’t prevent divorce. The divorce rate of Christians is about the same as the national rate. What is it about practicing faith together that becomes a preventative measure against divorce? Prayer can be an intimate practice of faith. Many Christians believe in having a personal relationship with God, and so prayer becomes communication with the Divine. When couples pray together, expressions of gratitude are usually given along with expressions of need. So prayer can build intimacy, express gratitude, and interdependence on each other as well as with God. All of these practices strengthen relationships. Couples who do not practice Christianity might begin to practice meditation together, coupled with expressions of positive affirmations in regard to themselves as individuals and as a couple. Including the spiritual in a relationship strengthens it.
Marriages can, and do, last a lifetime. They can bring great joy and fulfillment. Great marriages are possible, however they take commitment and trust and a great deal of willingness to become better versions of ourselves. If you would like to find out more about how to improve your relationships, Dragonfly Wellness and Education Center has counselors and coaches who can help. For more information call (509) 724-0221.