Most couples get married and expect to live happily ever after like they see in the movies. However, with the divorce rate hovering around 50% that's a fantasy not a reality. It's staggering to compare the amount of time and resources we put into training for our careers to be successful compared to the amount of time and resources we put into our marriages to be successful. We need more marriage training! The following sequential steps are the beginning of your training to have a successful, satisfying relationship.
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Marriage Step One: Establishing a Covenant Foundation
The first step in having a successful relationship is establishing a covenant foundation. Couples either enter into marriage viewing it as a contract or a covenant. A contract approach to marriage says I'm committed to you as long as my needs are met and I'm in love. However, the moment either of those aren't present in the relationship divorce becomes a viable option. The majority of couples, whether they realize it or not, enter into marriage with a contract mentality. In contrast, a covenant marriage says I'm committed to you for life despite having seasons where we may not be in love or my needs aren't being met. A covenant marriage is signing up for the long-haul where divorce isn't an option unless one of the three A's (adultery, abuse, or abandonment) is occurring without full repentance and change. Approaching marriage as a contract vs a covenant will greatly impact how you respond to problems in your marriage, which are inevitable. If you're in a contract marriage and go through a difficult season then you'll quickly start considering divorce and probably halfheartedly try to work things out since you already have one foot out the door. In contrast, if you're in a covenant marriage and go through a difficult season and if the three "A's" aren't occurring then you'll know divorce isn't an option and you must dig deeper and work harder to make things better. Therefore, your approach to marriage makes all the difference.
Marriage Step Two: Owning Your Brokenness
Marriage can be difficult because it involves two imperfect people living in close proximity with one another day in and day out. Often, partners get fixated on their spouse's shortcomings while not taking ownership for their own.The truth is all spouses have areas of brokenness they bring into their marriage that's usually a result from their upbringing. Some common areas include being controlling, secretive, too independent, self-absorbed, defensive, critical, passive, prideful, etc. All spouses must become aware and take ownership for their top areas of brokenness to have a good marriage. Becoming aware and taking ownership for your brokenness allows you to be filled with a healthy dose of humility, it allows you to see your contribution to conflicts, and it helps you understand what's causing your conflicts in the first place. The majority of all quarrels in marriage stem from both partner's shortcomings creating vicious cycles with one another. Therefore, understanding those vicious cycles and your contribution to them is paramount.
Marriage Step Three: Learning To Share Power
Learning to respect your spouse as an equal and share power with them is vital. Sharing power refers to both spouses having an equal voice on all decisions that impact the relationship. Often, one spouse will be more strong willed than the other and will force their way while the more passive spouse learns to give in. This is a power imbalance that's toxic for both partners and often leads to resentment. No one likes to feel voiceless. Seeing both yourself and your spouse as uniquely designed with a mixture of strengths and weaknesses helps you avoid the extremes of feeling either superior or inferior to one another. Some spouses struggle more than others with sharing power because of how they were raised. For example, adults who had permissive parenting growing up may have been used to getting their way and children with authoritarian parenting growing up may have been used to not being heard. Regardless of your family of origin, it's important for both spouses to strive towards enthusiastic agreement on all decisions so both can feel heard and respected.
Marriage Step Four: Developing Emotional Attachment
With the backdrop of commitment in a covenant marriage, owning your brokenness for humility, and sharing power to promote equality, now you're ready to develop emotional attachment. Emotional attachment refers to the level of closeness you feel with your partner. This can be cultivated through regular time together talking about your days, your struggles, and your life. When a couple is first getting to know one another they often spend hours every week talking. However, after being together for several years this often dries up as other things take precedence, which is devastating to the relationship. Couples need to protect their talk time to stay updated because people are always changing. Nothing feels more isolating than feeling like your spouse doesn't really know you anymore. This step also entails learning to work through resentments and practicing effective conflict resolution skills, which are also critical to developing emotional closeness.
Marriage Step Five: Cultivating Sexual Fireworks
Sex is often one of the first things to enter a relationship when things are going well and one of the first things to leave a relationship when things aren't going well. The majority of couples have sexual problems at some point in their relationship for a variety of factors. Some common reasons include past sexual trauma, differences in libido, and being too busy. Unfortunately, most couples fall into the trap of obligation sex where the lower libido spouse feels like it's their duty to have sex. However, when obligation sex is the norm both partners lose out. Therefore, it's vital for couples to learn how to cultivate sensual and sexual time that's equally enjoyable for both where voice and choice are the centerpiece.
Marriage Step Six: Staying In Love
Once couples are establishing a covenant foundation, owning their brokenness, learning to share power, developing emotional attachment, and cultivating sexual fireworks, it's time to focus on staying in love. The first step in helping your partner stay in love with you is regularly doing the top things that fills their love bucket. We all have a love bucket that gets filled by different things. Some common examples include adoration, quality time, affection, emotional closeness, sexual intimacy, etc. Discerning what your partner's top needs are and providing them on a regular basis is required to keep their love bucket full. When someone's love bucket is full they feel in love. The second step to keeping your partner's love bucket full is reducing all of your behaviors that drain it. Some common examples include being critical, defensive, stone walling, contemptuous, prideful, too independent, secretive, passive, etc. If you're providing all the fillers your partner desires yet also doing the drainers their love bucket will never get filled because it has a big hole in the bottom. Therefore, to make your partner stay in love with you it's essential to simultaneously be providing their fillers while also eliminating the drainers.
And there you have it, the top six steps, if done in this order, to cultivate and sustain marital happiness!