I recently attended an excellent evening at Trinity Life Church in Leicester on the subject of Marriage and strengthening marriages.
The evening was led by two of the leaders of that church, David and Susan Hind, who were extremely open and realistic about many of the issues we all struggle with. I don't think you have to be a Christian, or even have any faith in particular to benefit from most of the points they made, and the material was so excellent I wanted to present it here for people to think about in their own relationships.
The format is based on their evening, but the words are a mix of theirs and mine. I hope it helps.
Thanks to David and Susan Hind for their wisdom and openness.
Ten Keys To A Lasting Marriage:
1. Remember it is a Covenant Promise
Marriage is not like promising to do the washing up and forgetting. It is a life long commitment. This is not to say that divorce is not sometimes right (when living with an abusive partner for example). However, we now live in a disposable culture which has affected our view of marriage ... if it's broken, don't fix it, replace it.
Remember the reasons you fell in love. Remember the life long commitment you made. Commit to fixing your marriage instead of replacing it. It is harder, but think about the end result ... a deeper relationship, more committed, more loving, more open and honest because of what you have been through together.
A Covenant Promise is Unbreakable. It is for Life. We have forgotten that.
2. Forgiveness and Turning Away
Many people now see forgiveness as easy, and therefore many times, worthless. That is because we have forgotten what the link is between Forgiveness and Turning Away.
We say things like 'I can't forgive' or 'How many times do we have to go through this' or 'he (she) hasn't changed, why should I forgive?'
Forgiveness is an essential part of marriage. We all make mistakes and no relationship will survive long if we do not forgive and move on.
But we should not forgive easily or it becomes meaningless, and that is the mistake many people make in not understanding the first step to forgiveness.
The person who has made a mistake has to put something right. They have to, at the very least, genuinely turn away from the mistake they made (and this turning away and putting things right has to be accepted and acknowledged by their partner in order to avoid holding a grudge) .
This obviously means different things in different situations. It may mean a very open, non-judgemental and honest (and uncomfortable) conversation with both people to discuss what has happened and commit to a new way forward. It may mean that the person who has made the mistake has to agree to change something in order to stop it from happening again, but this must be genuinely discussed and agreed, not imposed or it will not work. It may mean not going into the bookies, or not seeing a particular person. It may mean being more open about finances.
This is a much more difficult path than just saying sorry and expecting 'forgiveness' until 'next time'. But it will make you stronger as a couple, reduce the likelihood of mistakes happening again and make for a more open and honest relationship.
But this can only happen (and I must emphasise this very strongly) if your motives for having these conversations is to genuinely work forward and build each other up and not be judgemental, point scoring or oppressive to the person who has made the mistake.
And when they have turned away, the forgiveness has to be genuine. Don't keep going back to it - that will destroy your marriage far more than the original mistake, and that won't be their fault. It will be yours. Forgive.
3. Know What Love Is and What It Isn't
Ask yourself right now ... What is love?
For some, Love is a feeling. When we feel in love or loved everything is right with the world, nothing else matters. But feelings change and are not always the most reliable guide to whether we are in love or are loved by our partner.
Love is a Feeling. Love is also a Decision ... when the tough times come, the storms (and they will come), it is the decision to love the person you have committed to that will see you both through the storm. The feelings will be all over the place, but what you decide will see you through.
Love is not sex. Love is not sexual attraction to someone, no matter how good looking they may be. Love which is temporary is not real love. Love which is selfish is not real love. Love which is all about what you want and not about what the other person needs is definitely not real love.
Make a Decision to Persevere Through the Storms, whatever those storms are, whatever they bring. Sort out the feelings afterwards. The Decision will keep you strong. The Decision to always Love your partner whatever happens.
4. Continued Appreciation
It is not enough to know that you love your partner and believe that they 'should know that you love them.' It really isn't. That is just an excuse for letting things go on as they are.
We all need to be loved, to know that we are loved and to have out partner show us that they love us. It doesn't have to be grand, expensive romantic gestures:
- Tell them that you love them each and every day (and mean it)
- Make them a card or a handwritten note and leave it in their lunchbox
- Leave a flower on their pillow for them to find
- Hugs are always good
- When you ask how their day has been, listen to the answer
- Make them a cup of soup when they come in from the rain
- Praise them in front of others (do not make jokes that put them down)
- Tell your kids how much you love your partner (and your kids)
- Help with all the household stuff
- Most of all ... Have Fun
5. Walking with God
Not everyone who reads this will agree with it, and that is OK. However, many people have found that their faith and their relationship with God strengthens their relationships with people, including their marriage. Sometimes it gives us a different perspective. Sometimes it helps us to forgive or show compassion or make difficult decisions. Sometimes it means belonging to a community where we can find support and encouragement. For many, talking together and praying together with God strengthens their relationships.
Even if you don't believe in God, I believe that everyone has a spiritual side, whatever that might mean for them. Talk about it with your partner. You might believe different things. That's Ok. You can still support and learn from each other.
And if you do believe in God, pray together, grow together.
A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
6. Navigating the Seasons.
This beautiful earth of ours has seasons, and they are each incredibly different. Winter can be cold and hard, but also beautiful and filled with freshness and festivals. Spring brings new life, colour, hope. Summer brings warmth and holidays, children playing outside, picnics. And Autumn brings those beautiful golden colours and excellent walking weather, harvests and conkers.
Our married life together is the same. There will be picnics and births and joy-filled events. There will be heart-ache and mistakes and tragedy. There will be times of colour and new opportunities, and times when it feels like we are wading through treacle.
But the thing we need to remember is simply this ... the season passes and changes and will not last forever and better times will come and go and storms will come and go.
And we will grow together through each and every season.
7. Talking and Listening
Strangely enough we all believe we are good listeners. Chances are, our partners would probably disagree, which is interesting. We all want to be listened to and understood, but we also all want to talk.
We think we know what the other person is going to say, so we interrupt before they finish. How does that make them feel? How would it make us feel?
We try to solve their problems for them (because lets face it, the solutions are usually pretty obvious aren't they!). But is that what they need, or do they just need to talk.
And of course, once things are talked through, sometimes one person goes away and sorts out their problem feeling more powerful and listened to. Sometimes the talking and being listened to means you can then go on and sort the problem out together.
But one thing is certain ... if you or your partner doesn't feel genuinely listened to, it is going to cause more problems for both of you.
TOP TIP: Dont Assume, Don't Interrupt, Don't Get Distracted
Watch the video at the top of the page if you haven't already done so. Funny and Thoughtful.
8. Knowing How to Handle Differences
There are generally speaking, three positions that we can adopt with our partners when it comes to differences, arguing and conflict.
Aggressive: I am going to force you to see things my way because I'm right
Passive: I am going to give in, even if I'm right, to keep the peace
Assertive: I will listen to you (calmly), you listen to me (calmly) and we will work this out together
Now let's be honest here: you know which one is going to make your marriage stronger, don't you?
Make a decision now as to how you are going to be when you disagree, and stick to it (unless it's the first two obviously). If you have problems being assertive (low self esteem) or always getting angry, you know where I am, counselling will help.
9. Honesty and Openness
This is actually one of the most difficult areas in marriage, I think, but also one of the most worthwhile persevering with.
Everyone probably thinks openness and honesty are good ideas. The problem is it makes us feel vulnerable. 'If I am really open about (whatever) I might be rejected, shouted at, made to feel stupid, etc'
Honesty and openness need Trust. You have to be able to trust each other in order to work forward together and make your marriage work. Unfortunately, one of the only ways you can build that trust is to be open and honest:
- About how you feel (without blaming your partner directly or indirectly)
- About things that may have happened in the past (gambling, affairs)
- About what you might be going through now
- About why you do the things you keep on doing (be honest)
- About past relationships, even unhealthy ones
- About concerns you have (again, without blaming)
- About your own wants and needs
Don't do this all all at once. It takes a long time to have these kinds of discussions, and they should always be in a safe place and a right time. (But don't put them off forever either).
And it relies on that first discussion where you agree to be open and honest with each other (both of you) and also agree not to judge, humiliate or criticise the one who is being open. This is a real Trust exercise for you both.
Respect each others vulnerability. Don't use it as a weapon in future arguments.
10. Being Best Friends
As already mentioned there will be good times and rough times in your marriage, in all marriages and relationships. There will be times when you have to batten down the hatches and it will be you two against the world (or at least it will seem like that).
You have to be each others best friends as well as partners. You have to understand each other like no one else does. Support each other like no one else can. Encourage each other when no one else does. That, surely, is the aim and the purpose and the strength of marriage.
It doesn't mean you won't have other friends, even other best friends, but no-one like your partner.
It takes a long time, but this is your goal. But the good news is this: if you pay attention to the other nine points, this one should happen.
Five Love Languages and What They Mean For Us:
(Based on the book by Gary Chapman)
Each of us likes or prefers to be loved in a certain way, for our partner to show us they love us in a certain way. Likewise, our partner likes us to show that we love them in a certain way.
1. Loving through Loving Words:
What our partner says to us and what we hear makes us feel loved or unloved
2. Loving through Thoughtful Presents:
What they give to us and how much thought they put into it shows us how much they love us
3. Loving through Physical Affection:
How much they touch us affectionately, including sex, hugs, holding hands, cuddling, will make us feel loved or unloved
4. Loving through Quality Time:
How much time our partner spends with us as uninterrupted, quality time, listening, talking, cuddling, walking together, will make us feel more or less loved
5. Loving through Kind Actions:
What we do for our partners may make them feel more or less loved. Thoughtful actions to help, which unfortunately may include the washing up, but also, taking the kids out so your partner can rest, giving them a massage (without expecting sex afterwards), making them lunch.
How do you show that you love your husband/wife?
Show them the list above: ask them what they think shows them that you love them?
Don't be surprised if the results are different.
Ask them how they show that they love you.
Tell them what you would prefer them to do to show they love you.
See if it is the same thing (it probably won't be).
The point is this:
We need to show our partner what to do to make us feel loved, and they need to do the same for us. Otherwise we each may think we are doing what we need to do to show how much we love them, but it isn't working.
Example (just to hammer this home, because it's important):
If I spend my time buying my wife presents and get disappointed because not only does she complain that she doesn't feel loved. but the presents end up in storage, it is very likely that I'm approaching this wrong. Maybe what she needs in order to feel loved is more uninterrupted quality time together, or physical affection or meaningful words.
And If I don't feel loved by my wife, who is persistently showing how much she loves me by keeping a beautiful house or making me lunch every day, maybe I need to talk gently with her about what makes me feel loved, which may be physical affection or quality time together.
Key Point: Look at the list with your partner and talk about it, and then do something about it.
And Finally, Lets Talk About Sex:
(within the context of a long term, committed and loving relationship)
Have faith in yourself and your partner. You are going to be together for a very long time, long enough to work everything out, long enough to work out what to do and how to do it. Believe in yourselves and in your relationship, especially when you are still working things out.
Sex is absolutely nothing like Hollywood films or Beauty magazines. It can be occasionally romantic. But it takes work. It can be messy. Sometimes uncomfortable. You have to show each other what to do to make it better. Someone has to sleep in the damp spot. Children come in at the most unexpected times. The bed breaks. The phone rings. The lights fuse. Honestly, the best thing you can do is laugh when it happens, laugh together and move on.
Healing the Past
Chances are you both have baggage. Past relationships. Sometimes abusive or unfulfilling past relationships, bullying, low self esteem, depression, anger issues. At some point you need to talk about these things, and seek healing either together or with a counsellor, or they will get in the way of the beautiful thing that could be your own relationship together. Most importantly, you need to accept each other, baggage and all. Don't use it as a weapon.
Working Through Issues
As if the past isn't enough, how will you deal with your issues that arise together: when one of you feels like sex and the other doesn't; premature ejaculation; painful sex; unfulfilling sex; one person coming first and the other not at all; uncomfortable positions; wanting different things; experimenting. These are all issues you may need to work through at some point, and the only way to do it is to talk about it and work out a way forward you are both happy with, which brings us to the next point:
Reassuring Each Other
You both need reassurance (and not just when things go wrong, which they will). Sex is an incredibly vulnerable thing, being completely naked, body and soul to one other person, letting them into your most vulnerable place (both physically and emotionally). Reassure each other. Laugh together, but not at each other. Enjoy sex and praise and encourage each other. Don't take sex for-granted.
Sex isn't like Hollywood films, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't make the effort. Cards, candles, teasing, games, foreplay (for both of you, don't let one person do all the work), massage, music, nights away (even a cheap hotel in the same city just to get away), breakfast in bed, and so on ...
Agreeing about Sex
Sex isn't the same for any two couples, and people like to experiment, to see what turns them on or not. Chances are what turns one person on may not be the same for their partner. There are going to need to be some compromises and discussions to be had. It is essential that no-one is made to do something they are not happy with. That is not an act of love but of lust and selfishness. Talking is good though.
Non Sexual Touch
Not everything has to be about sex, and believe it or not, all the non sexual physical touch, quality time together, kissing, walking hand in hand, etc, will make the sex better when it does happen. But don't make the mistake that many people (and especially men) make in thinking that every romantic gesture has to lead to sex. It doesn't. Sex is a part of life, it isn't the only part.
Asking for What You Want
Please don't expect your partner to be a mind reader. It leads to confusion, arguments, and often unsatisfying sex and relationships. It might be embarrassing at first, but for your own sake, tell them what you want. If sex is getting boring, if orgasms aren't happening, if his stubble is turning you off or her hair is getting in the way, ask for what you want. At the very least it should start a conversation (probably not in the middle of sex though!)
Sex is not a Weapon
Please don't use sex as a weapon, and don't withhold it as a power play either. It is one of the most intimate, meaningful and powerful things you have together that no-one else in your life has with you. Don't humiliate your partner with their failings. Don't be critical. Don't keep on bringing up past failures to make yourself feel better.
Anyone can Initiate Sex
We can get into the habit of one person initiating or wanting sex and the other giving in, sometimes begrudgingly. You are equal partners in this. You can both initiate sex, both have a say in what works and what doesn't work. If it isn't enjoyable for one of you, find out why and change something. You are equal partners. Sex is an Act of Love
Remember Personal Hygiene
It is a bit basic, this one, but how many people are turned off because their partner doesn't wash, doesn't shave (above and below), doesn't clean their teeth, smokes, stinks of beer. Alongside this, what people wear to bed helps ... seventies nightclothes with thick dressing gowns your grandparents might have worn aren't going to turn anyone on. If you want to be loved, and especially if you want to have romantic, meaningful sex, have a wash.
Meeting the Other Persons Needs
This might seem strange to some, pre-occupied as we are with our own sexual desires and needs, but sex isn't actually about our needs, it is about meeting the other persons needs so that they in turn can meet yours. See how that works. Now think: what does your partner need?
Inevitable Life Changes
Your lives will change (if they haven't already) and all of those changes will impact on your sex life. Monthly menstruation is the most obvious example. Career changes and job pressures can affect how much you feel like having sex. Children (before, during and after birth) will definitely affect your sex life in many ways. What you want from sex will change as your relationship goes on. The frequency with which each of you wants sex will change. Good times and bad times will affect your desire for sex. Understand these things and support each other.
Watch your eyes and your minds
Take a look at the agony pages in most daily tabloid papers. Most of the problems are about sex and affairs and relationships, or else inadequacies about sex, too small, too big, etc. Add to that the beauty magazines portrayal of beauty that is impossible to live up to, the Hollywood romance fakery and the sheer prevalence of porn giving us very strange ideas of what sex should be like. Do not be taken in. Do yourselves a huge favour ... watch what your eyes and your minds take in - it will affect both your perceptions of yourself and your sex life.
Closeness and Good Sex
Simple one this. The closer you are as a couple in everything else, the closer you are as best friends, the better your sex life will be. You cannot spend the evening putting your partner down in front of others or ignoring them and then expect sex to be great. How you are as a couple will be reflected in how good sex is between you both. Be best friends and support and encourage each other always.
Make Decisions About Affairs
This follows on from the last but one point. The worst time to make a decision about whether to have sex with someone else is when you are in their bedroom and they are taking their clothes off. Especially if that other person is not your husband or wife. You cannot make rational decisions when your emotions and hormones and lust are making your decisions for you. Make decisions about affairs now, months and years ahead of time. Work out exactly how you are going to say no and at what point. Always wear your wedding ring if you have one.
And if the worst happens and you are with someone you like being with more than your partner, or you find yourself in an unexpected compromising situation, exciting as it may be, RUN.
Get Help and Support When You Need It. Don't be proud. Don't wait for your marriage to fall apart. Find people you can trust, preferably a more experienced married couple, and ones who will support you both and not take sides. if you get into stuck places, seek counselling.
Your marriage is the most important thing you have.
And if you need therapy, someone to talk to and more helpful ways of relating, contact me by pressing the red button x