by Rev. Peter Stimpson
QUESTION: I met & fell in love with my husband during a flight to Florida last April. We were instantly drawn to each other. I think love is having the right chemistry. You just feel when it’s right. What do you think?
ANSWER: I think you’re lucky! I am glad that you found happiness, but I still encourage pre-marital counseling for couples, hoping to take luck out of the equation of one of the most important decisions of their lives. My only goal is to increase their chance of happiness, and to decrease their chance of divorce.
Ah yes, April is a time for lovers. Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and love is in the air. But, for love to last, for it to endure beyond April, our heads must guide our hearts. A lasting marriage depends upon the attraction lasting long after the removal of the rose-colored glasses. So, here are just a few hints for the health of your marriage.
1. TALK: Couples should talk a minimum of 1 hour per week. While this is easy while dating, it becomes more difficult when you have 3 children continually interrupting you. Nonetheless, you should not put communication on the back burner, for when the last child leaves the nest, you do not want to gaze across the kitchen table at a stranger. So, get creative. Find something for the kids to enjoy, or hire a baby-sitter and go out, but whatever you do, make room to listen and adjust to the changing goals and dreams of your spouse.
2. ARGUE: Did I say argue? Yes. Unless you marry your clone, you are going to have differences that need to be resolved. So, some of your talks may be arguments, where each of you is brave enough to bear your soul, telling the other how you have been hurt, and how you can work together to be more caring. Arguing does not mean yelling or being sarcastic. It means being assertive + sensitive, assertive to openly reveal what is on your mind, and sensitive to cushion your words so as to lead to empathy instead of defensiveness.
3. FORGIVE: We all make mistakes. If after arguing, your spouse apologizes, and then backs that up with changed behavior, do not hold a grudge or seek revenge, but instead realize that forgiveness is the flexibility needed to allow both of you to grow through the inevitable bumps encountered down the road of life. Of course, if your spouse does not apologize, or follows an insincere "I’m sorry" with the same old abusive behavior, then your marriage is in serious trouble and may need counseling.
4. DATE: Along with forgetting to talk, married couples often forget to date. Again, the excuse of a busy schedule allows for romance to be squeezed out of the marriage, and, being starved for attention, it begins to die. Dating need not mean spending a bundle at a fancy restaurant. A pizza out or a movie in are just fine. Work as hard on your marriage as you do on your career, remembering to keep romance alive with cards, flowers, holding hands, and the hugs and kisses that were the hallmark of your early relationship.
5. PRAY: Many couples get lost in our materialistic culture, which preaches that money buys happiness, compelling them to push each other up an endless, stress-filled ladder towards a goal that is always just out of reach. Knowing what really matters will provide you with the bread crumbs needed to find your way through the often confusing forest of life, guiding you to true and lasting happiness.
Rev. Stimpson is executive director of the Trinity Counseling Service.