What is a good marriage? At some point in their relationship, every couple has asked this!
A good marriage involves trust, commitment, intimacy, passion, patience, good communication… The qualities of a good marriage can feel endless, but my favourite advice is this: a good marriage is a growing marriage.
Marriage is a gift. It begins with you walking alongside the one you love, and creating the marriage and legacy you both desire.
Any relationship will become stagnant unless you grow both individually, and as a couple. Your relationship is like a kit that takes time to put together right.
As a qualified relationship therapist, I get to observe many relationships. The ones that experience a good marriage understand a few very important facts.
1. Your friendship matters
We all know what it’s like to have a good friend. When I look back to one of my very first friendships it began because we had similar ideas, yet our differences were complimentary. That friendship was built through the time we spent together, the fun that we had, and the trust that was built over time.
Relationship expert John Gottman says, “Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship.” Friendship is the core of a strong marriage.
Your relationship was firstly a friendship and that’s something we never want to lose. It took time to develop and time to maintain.
Good friends are rare. When you continue to build the friendship in your marriage it will keep your relationship strong when the challenging times come.
2. Communication is the key
The past two years have put many relationships to the test as couples struggle to cope with the covid pandemic. Fear, uncertainty, changing roles, and stress were very present throughout 2020/21. Those who were able to turn towards each other and communicate through the uncertain times we’re able to cope a whole lot better than those who suffered in silence.
Statistics tell us that poor communication is the No. 1 reason marriages split up, and the relationships that excel in this area will have much greater intimacy and success.
It takes time to become a better communicator. Usually, in a relationship, there is one that is better at it than the other. Be patient with each other, set aside time to communicate and listen, talk about the events of your day. Grow the intimacy in your marriage by learning to express your feelings and needs.
3. Fun & playfulness lights the spark
When couples come to relationship counselling their focus is always on whatever problem they have. Problems have a way of growing when they get all the attention.
Whether there is a lack of communication and support or very little intimacy, that couple comes to me wanting change.
Although their challenges do need to be worked through, it’s very important to help that couple re-engage at the same time, and start having some fun together.
The longer you stay married, the easier it is to give your attention to other things, take each other for granted and put aside fun and playfulness. The intimacy in your marriage thrives on quality time. Sparks form by engaging in date nights, getaways, and new activities.
Being playful and having fun together is pleasurable and positive. It creates laughter and happy memories that can quickly shift the negative focus in the relationship to something positive.
4. Sex is important
In a sexless marriage, neither partner wins. Sex is a valuable part of your marriage that is born out of the love and commitment that you share. When physical intimacy is partnered with emotional intimacy the sparks will fly long after the sex is over. It’s a powerful form of connection taking your passion and desire for each other to a whole new level.
Many couples struggle to prioritize sex in their marriage, with statistics showing that15-20% of married couples live in a sexless marriage. This can mean no sex, or even very little sex.
At the beginning of the relationship the idea of living in a sexless marriage would be unthinkable…but getting to that place is easier than you think. Busyness, stress, unrealistic expectations, rejection, and unresolved conflict can get you there fast, and over time it can seem a whole lot easier to avoid sex altogether.
Sex can be a minefield if you allow it to be. Take the pressure off each other and start by communicating your desires and dreams for your relationship as a whole. Talk about how you can re-prioritize sex again as part of your dream marriage. Then make time for it.
Getting back to a healthy sex life could be more about rebuilding your communication, affection, and fun quality time together. It’s always the best place to start.
5. Never lose sight of the good
Encouragement – we all need it! I’m sure you remember when a coach or teacher believed in you and helped bring out your best. It made you feel important and gave you the confidence you needed to be better.
This is a powerful gift that we have the potential to give away at any moment – to our friends, work colleagues, and partners. You carry the power to breathe life and confidence into the one you love.
It’s so easy to focus on what isn’t working and magnify what your partner isn’t doing right. But that will never give you the happy, intimate marriage that you really desire.
Did you know that your partner is doing some pretty amazing stuff every single day? Just like you appreciate being acknowledged for what you do in your day, so does your partner.
Overlooking the little things and choosing to believe the best about your partner is an act of kindness that we all need. Set your eyes on the good things that your partner is doing and highlight them. You might be surprised how amazing they really are!
6. Your beliefs and values matter
Every couple carries with them hidden beliefs and values that steer them through life. Deciding what you want for your lives will be determined by what you believe to be important.
In our family, we value respect, kindness, and generosity towards others and ourselves. Some of these are driven by our faith in God, others grew over time as we saw what was good for our marriage.
I remember the Bible scripture that we chose for our wedding day. I didn’t quite understand how important these attributes were to creating a strong and healthy marriage at the time.
That compelling bible verse went like this –
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hope, always perseveres.
This scripture has guided us in our marriage and encouraged me to live free from the bitterness and resentment that can easily come into any relationship.
Our spiritual journey was heightened as we had a family. As we modelled our beliefs to our children it has helped us, love, when we had very little in us to give to each other. It helped us to never give up as we looked beyond our challenges to find the good in each other.
Take the time to talk about the hidden beliefs and values that you both carry. They will, in some part, determine how you treat each other, how you raise your children, and how you deal with all the little day to day challenges.
7. Conflict is best when you both win
Some would smile and say: Married life is just like a walk in the park – ’Jurassic Park!’
We all need humor occasionally. We need to allow some funny marriage advice to guide us. It lightens the mood and allows us to breathe when stress and work make you feel like we’re in a danger zone.
Conflict is a very normal part of a healthy relationship. It means that we are different! It seems easier to avoid the communication that is needed to come out better on the other side of the conflict, but that issue will only compound, and come back up later.
Toxic arguments that are fuelled by criticism, defensiveness and avoidance will never get you the outcome you want. A calm, timely conversation with an open mind will allow you both to learn more about each other and grow as a couple.
Take a pause when tensions are rising. Consider if there are other contributing factors that are adding to the conflict like stress, tiredness, frustration from work, pressure from family, or anything else. Then, try to find the humor.
Dr John Gottman, the relationship expert, proves through his research that 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. Your personality, how you value money and tidiness in the home, and every other issue can rub your partner up the wrong way. The goal is to manage conflict rather than to eradicate it or avoid it.
A good, healthy marriage carries with it a set of problems that you need to learn to live alongside. Many can be resolved, but realistically accepting your differences and understanding that sometimes we need to agree to disagree is okay, too.
Q & A
We want to have a good marriage but my husband and I get locked into disagreements and we find it very difficult to work through it. Is there an easy way to compromise?
Compromising is a learned behavior. We develop it in our work life, and we also need to develop it in our relationships.
How you approach a compromise is really important. When you do it well, you feel like you’re on the same page. Like you’re both winning.
The best way to reach a compromise is to first spend time listening and understanding each other’s perspectives. Be patient with that and really try to see what your partner sees.
Many people can reach a compromise once they really understand each other, but if you don’t, write down a few possible ideas and decide on one that you are both comfortable enough to try. Then after 1-2 weeks sit down with each other and discuss it again. If this hasn’t worked, you may want to try another one of your possibilities for a couple of weeks.
Slowing things down and taking the emotion out of the issue is the best way to reach a compromise that you are both happy with. Understanding each other’s perspectives is key!
What is your favorite marriage book?
One of my all-time favourites is ‘The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It’s a great book to read together and discuss. This marriage book explores the differences that we carry in how we feel love from our partners. It’s a very valuable book that will strengthen the intimacy in your marriage.
The Marriage Playbook, which was written and published in early 2021 is a great coffee table book also. Written with you in mind, I give topics to discuss and playful date night ideas, setting you up for some good conversation and playful ideas to inspire fun and intimacy.
How do we move from a sexless marriage to a passionate one?
Take it slow. It took you time to get where you are today and will take some time to improve your sex life again. Talk about what you enjoy about sex and how you can help each other be ready for sex. Take the pressure off and spend time hugging, kissing and touching each other with no agenda but to be affectionate. You will be surprised what happens when the pressure is taken off.
If you feel that healthy sex life is unachievable, get some professional help from a therapist and allow them to guide you back to the sex life that you both desire.