7 key ingredients of a healthy
submitted by Jeff Herring
Mark Twain once said ``God's great cosmic joke on the human race was requiring that men
and women live together in marriage.'' Considering the difficulty of living with another
person day after day and the incredibly high divorce rate in this country, the humor of
the quote begins to fade.
One of the most difficult tasks to take on in life is to commit to living with another
person. For many people, it's one of the best things they ever did and one of the hardest
things they ever did.
We go into marriage with such high hopes and expectations and then the reality of
day-to-day living sets in, along with bills and different ways of doing things and maybe
even children to add to the circus. By the time a couple
enters a therapist's office, they are hurt, angry and bewildered. Most people come in not
knowing whether they want to stay in the marriage or get out; they just know they can't
take much more of how it has been.
Only the most courageous of couples choose to take what they have and build a relationship
that they can thrive in.
There are many elements that go into a successful long-term marriage. Through my work with
couples in counseling and workshops, I've been able to identify seven key ingredients for
a healthy marriage.
The seven seeds for growing a healthy marriage can be divided into two beliefs
and five abilities. Let's take a closer look at these essential ingredients.
1. We are on the same team.
While teammates from time to time may argue and disagree, they are working toward the same
goals. In marriage, couples who are teammates are able to put the needs of the
relationship above their own individual needs. Couples who
are not teammates continually jockey for position and control in the relationship. It's a
power struggle where no one wins.
It's human nature to want to be right. For some people, it's a strong need. In any
long-term relationship, continually battling to be right leads to resentment and power
struggles. There are times when you get to be right only at the expense of the
relationship. A good teammate sometimes gives up the
``right to be right'' in service of the relationship.
2. We are committed to our relationship.
Commitment is a word that can send people running in terror. It also can get couples
through some of the roughest waters of marriage.
True commitment means promising to do everything in your power to make the relationship
work, day to day as well as over the long haul.
In our fast-paced and instant culture, when some people bump into the difficult areas of
marriage, they decide to throw this partner out and go find another one.
Unless you work on what created the mess in the first place, you will just go out and find
someone else with whom to create the same mess.
Growth in marriage comes not only through commitment to another person, it comes through
commitment to working through the rough times and getting through to the other side.
Weathering storms together strengthens your
1. The ability to communicate
In my workshops with couples, I start with this question: ``How many of you believe men
and women are created differently?'' Usually most everyone agrees, and I congratulate them
on passing Anatomy 101. The next question is slightly
different: ``How many of you believe that men and women think, feel, perceive and
experience the world in sometimes dramatically different ways?'' Usually most of the women
agree and the men just look confused.
The point is that these differences cause men and women to communicate in very different
One couple I worked with described it this way:
She says, ``Whenever I tell him how my day has gone, he always tries to solve the problems
without really listening to me. All I want him to do is listen to me so I know I'm
important to him.'' He says, ``I just get confused in all the details and try to solve the
problem to solve my confusion.''
What is missing here is ``intimate communication,'' or the ability to step into the other
person's world and experience and view it as he or she does. One of the greatest
needs of human beings is to be understood. Many partners feel misunderstood because their
mates don't take the time to listen to the feelings behind the words.
Marriage and family therapist Kay Colvin-Guthrie says that an important part of intimate
communication is being able to share difficult feelings and still maintain a connection.
Says Colvin-Guthrie, ``If difficult feelings are not discussed, the relationship can
become more and more fragile until it
2. The ability to meet emotional needs
Harville Hendrix, in his book ``Getting the Love You Want'' (HarperCollins, $24), has some
interesting and helpful notions about the process of falling in love. According to
Hendrix, as we fall in love with someone, we believe that this person will be able to meet
all of our emotional needs.
But eventually the infatuation wears off and the day-to-day grind sets in. Partners
begin to think or even say things such as ``You are not the person I married,'' or
``You're just like your father/mother'' or whatever. Emotional connections start shutting
The trick to getting out of this stage of the relationship is to recommit to meeting your
partner's emotional needs. Let's illustrate the point with a story.