Marriage has always been the overwhelming norm for domestic relationships throughout the history of humankind. It serves as the bedrock for society as Aristotle observed in his Politics. Marriage is to human culture what the atom is to the physical world. It is the one irreducible building block essential for a healthy and productive society.
Social Scientists find that marriage does three important things for children, adults and society.
1. Marriage provides for the proper socialization of children.
- Children who are born to and live with their married parents do markedly better in every measure of well-being than children who do not.
- Children living with both parents are significantly more likely to do better in every measure of educational success than those living with only one parent.
- Boys and girls living with both parents are much less likely to be idle (out of school and out of work) which is a significant precursor to involvement in anti-social behavior.
- Boys living with both parents are much less likely to have run-ins with the law or be convicted of a crime.
- Children living with both parents are more likely to score higher in every measure of physical and mental health.
2. Marriage provides for the well-being of adults:
- Adults who are married do markedly better in every measure of well-being than those who are not married.
- Married people live longer, are much less likely to suffer from physical and mental illness, and when they do, their recovery is faster and more successful than those who are not married.
- Married people earn more money and save nearly four times as much money as those who are not married.
- Married people are more likely to describe themselves as “happy and contented with life” and have a large and fulfilling network of family and friends.
3. Marriage regulates sexuality:
- Research shows that sexuality functions best when it is exercised within the confines of marriage.
- Married people are most likely to report they are “extremely” or “very satisfied” with the physical and emotional parts of their sex life.
- Married people are most likely to report sex making them feel “satisfied”, “loved”, and “thrilled”, “wanted” and “taken care of”.
- People who have engaged in premarital sex “fairly often” with someone other than their spouse are more likely to be unfaithful after marriage.
- Women who were sexually active prior to marriage “face a considerably higher risk of marital disruption than women who were virgin brides”.
Steps toward making your marriage the best it can be…
What about those who are not yet married?
If you are not yet married, there are already very real steps you can take to make your future marriage strong and to strengthen your relationship.
- Obtain premarital counseling from someone who believes in marriage as a lifelong commitment. Don’t just go see someone for a perfunctory two-hour session; put some effort into it!? You both are entering the most significant relationship of your life, so it is worth investing some time to make it better. Explore expectations that you have never thoroughly expressed to each other, such as how many children you want, where to live, work and career issues, religious differences, role issues, where to spend holidays, financial issues, etc.
- Also, premarital surveys such as PREPARE are very helpful in discovering key differences and similarities between you and your future spouse.
- Quick tip- Be sure to keep yourself physically and mentally pure before marriage and monogamous during marriage. Both physical and mental infidelity can destroy your marriage.
- Plan what you want your marriage to look like and work toward that plan. Seek help in outlining goals for your marriage after 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and more. Talk with your future spouse about what you will work at together and what each needs to do to contribute to your dreams. Keep having these discussions, perhaps in connection with your anniversary each year.
What about those who are already married- how can you strengthen your marriage right now?
- Be affectionate with each other. A gentle squeeze on the shoulder or a warm hug melts mountains of tension for both you and your spouse.
- Schedule priority time together. Set a date night every week or two just to spend time together and talk. Knowing you have your time together will become a tremendous source of solace to the soul of your marriage.
- Laugh together. When was the last time you shared a funny story and chuckled with each other? Loosen up and laugh freely.
- Play together. Find a hobby or activity you both enjoy.
- Be romantic together. Send your spouse a note of encouragement in the mail every once in a while just to say “I love you”. Spend one or two weekends away each year, just the two of you.
What can you work on for the long term?
- Do everything possible to become great communicators. There are many informative books, videos, and cassette programs on this topic. If you are encountering roadblocks in your communication, see a pastor or a counselor. This issue is often the real difficulty behind problems involving money, in-laws, work, children and more. It is not unusual for a couple to talk at length without ever actually communicating!
- Quick tip- When you think that you are misunderstanding each other, repeat your spouse’s words and make sure that each of you clearly understand what the other is really saying.
- EXPECT conflict and don’t be surprised when it comes. Learn to resolve it healthily and learn to grow from It.? Take two unique personalities; add misunderstandings, fatigue, stress and other external factors and you can see that you will have struggles. How you choose to deal with those struggles will determine whether you experience a “survival” marriage or a wonderful, growing relationship that improves with time.
- Quick tip- Use “I” rather than “you” statements when expressing your feelings. If an argument is going nowhere, take a break. Go away for 15-30 minutes and then come back so the argument does not get out of control.
- Be committed to your marriage for life. The attitude with which you view your marriage plays a large role in determining how you respond to ups and downs in marriage. If you believe that “we can work this out and the payoff will be worth the effort”, you will be more inclined to take the necessary steps to overcome difficulties and to see your love and your marriage grow stronger.
- Seek out a mentor couple and remain or become part of a network of close, true friends. A couple by themselves cannot provide all the emotional needs necessary for health growth. This will become especially apparent when children come along! The husband should cultivate male friends and the wife should cultivate female friends. They should also seek out an older couple who can help mentor them form their own experience with marriage and raising children. It is always helpful for a younger couple to learn from others that they can and will get through the challenging stages of growth. To be guided by an experienced and longer- married couple can add richness to the journey and can testify that the effort is worth it!
- Find significance in your spiritual lives. Dr. Neil Warren captures this point when he says, “If we try to build a great marriage that focuses exclusively on the material world, we are likely to be deeply disappointed at some point along the way. The foundation is shallow, and the painful experiences of life will have a way of washing our marriage out to sea. …It is, then, this moving away from the material world and into the spiritual realm that takes a marriage from the superficial to the profound, from the immediate to the eternal, from two distinct individuals who merge into “one flesh”. In the process, their relationship becomes stronger, larger, more colorful and more satisfying”. Research shows that couples who pray together and attend church regularly say that they are more satisfied in their marriage. These couples also report more effective conflict resolution.
Resources for Building Good Marriages
1. PREPARE is a questionnaire, used by over 100,000 couples annually, to determine the strengths and areas for growth of an engaged couple’s relationship.
P.O. Box 190
Minneapolis, MN 55440-0190
2. Engaged Encounter provides a weekend retreat that helps engaged couples learn about the expectation of marriage as well as learn valuable communication skills.
1509 South Forest
Denver, CO 80222
3. There are wonderful organizations that provide weekend retreats where couples at all stages of marriage concentrate on and deepen their love, communication and commitment to one another.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter
2210 E. Highland Avenue, Suite 106
San Bernadino, CA 924404
(800) 795-LOVE (909) 863-9969
P.O. Box 23840
Little Rock, AR 72221-3840
4. For seriously troubled marriages, Retrouvaille is dedicated to offering the tools and encouragement to work through the most challenging of problems.
Retrouvaille International, Inc
2311 Fairway Drive South
Plant City, FL 33567
5. Two of the best university-based study sites conducting research and offering materials on how to strengthen marriage are:
The Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver
P.O. Box 102530
Denver, CO 80250-2530
Saving Your Marriage before it Starts
The Center for Relationship Development
Seattle Pacific University
Seattle, WA 98119
Taken with permission from AllProDad.com.