For me, one of the saddest things to see is a relationship between two people who previously professed their deep love for one another now entering its final stage of dissolution. The divorce rate in this country is tragically high. When I was young and naive I believed that all you needed for a happily-ever-after life was love. After all, that is what the Beatles told us. But with life comes experience and hopefully wisdom. Having recently celebrated my eighteenth wedding anniversary with my second husband, I’ve learned that it takes more than just love to make a marriage(or any important relationship) last a lifetime.
There are three common denominators that successful long-term couples possess. I refer to them as The C*A*N Elements. They are:
Commitment: Most couple’s make a critical mistake of basing their relationship on feelings. But feelings are fickle and can change at the drop of a hat. Yesterday I wanted to send you back to your mother; today you’re everything I live for. Many years ago I was watching the Oprah Show. Her guest was Dr. Harville Hendricks, considered to be the most successful marriage counselor in the country. He suggested basing your marriage on commitment rather than feelings. Commitment is that force that gets you through the tough times; the determination that fuels the fires of success; that voice inside your head that says, “You mean to much to me. I’m not willing to quit. I’ll try one more time, and then one more after that.” Remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place – what qualities did you find so attractive in him/her? They are still present. Focus your attention on those.
Anyone who’s ever achieved a significant goal in life has relied on their determination to succeed. As Yoda said, “There is no try. There is only do.” In other words, never quit. The rewards are great when you remain faithful to your promises.
Acceptance and Appreciation: We all know that it’s not ok to try to change our partners. However, many will make a valiant attempt only to discover that it leads to tension, conflict, and fighting. The covert message we send is “You’re not good enough the way you are. I can fix you and make you better.” There is no more hurtful message to convey to our spouses than one that diminishes their worth. (Caution: hurt is a root cause of anger so consider yourself forewarned.) Acceptance of that which we cannot change nor have the right to change allows us to be at peace (with our partners and circumstances). However, acceptance is sometimes accompanied with sadness. “My wife nags me but that’s just the way she is. I’m not happy but I can’t change her so I’ll just accept her the way she is.” But sadness does not make for a happy marriage. Appreciation, on the other hand, does. Find every opportunity to appreciate each endearing characteristic of your spouse no matter how inconsequential. And let them know – frequently – even after that fact.
The number one complaint I hear from my clients is “I put my heart and soul into my marriage/family/job and no one appreciates what I do. They take me for granted.” Too often, a partner will find someone outside of the marriage who truly values them. Let that person be you. This one simply practice completely transformed my marriage.
Negotiation: Challenges and conflicts are a normal part of every relationship. They simply represent each person’s unique perspectives, needs, beliefs, desires, etc. Conflict is beneficial for the growth of any relationship and yet for the average couple it causes arguing, fighting, hurt feelings, and a breakdown in communication. By learning good negotiation techniques, individuals can learn to navigate their way through any changing circumstance that presents itself over time. Knowing there are multiple solutions to every situation affords the couple hope for change, thus alleviating despair (the very definition of anger).
Savvy skills enable couples to resolve their differences peacefully and permanently. Customize your style of negotiation to suit your spouse. Make it easy for him/her and always keep their best interest at heart. A few good skills can avoid a lot of heartache.
The Beatles had good intentions when they wrote “All You Need is Love”. And while love is a necessary foundation for marriage it has proven insufficient in making them last forever. By adding three key elements, you, too, C*A*N have a happily-ever-after life with your partner. I’m living proof.
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