January 2015

Marriage: Discover the Thrill of the Ride

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

If life is like a box of chocolates, marriage is more like an old wooden roller coaster. With its uphill climbs, downhill plunges, sharp curves and rickety-rackety bumps along the way, it’s a treacherous journey—terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Although you won’t see any height or weight restrictions at the altar, marriage is not recommended for the faint of heart. If you are tall enough to get on, be sure you are big enough to endure the ride. Then get ready for a series of surprises. At some point, life is going to jerk you around so fast you won’t know whether to scream bloody murder or shout hallelujah. That’s when you hold on for dear life.

Every change, positive or negative, has the potential to throw your marriage off its track: the birth of a baby, a death in the family, a job loss, a promotion, relocation, retirement, an accident, a physical illness or disability, even the natural process of aging. It’s a good thing we can’t see around every bend, or it would scare the living daylights out of us. The key is to take it as it comes and enjoy the ride.
Ten tips for staying together:

1. Mean what you say. No couple plans to fail at marriage. So why then do so many marriages end in divorce? Perhaps we are saying something we don’t mean. While marriage vows are worded differently among various cultures and religions, the one common thread is the lifetime commitment. Consider these traditional vows of marriage: Do you, (groom/bride), take (bride/groom) to be your (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do you part? Don’t say “I do” if you don’t mean it. Believe it or not, a day will come when you look at your partner and think, “I’ve made a terrible mistake!” What you think next will determine the fate of your marriage. Mean what you say on your wedding day, and plan to keep your promises.

2. Be faithful. Nothing shores up a marriage more than trust, and the foundation of trust is fidelity. Affair-proofing your marriage is not about your good looks or your sexual prowess. All of that is temporary anyway. Fidelity is a matter of integrity—a commitment to do the right thing. But faithfulness is a lot more than abstaining from extramarital sex. True faithfulness is the acknowledgment of your partner in everyday actions. “Your needs and interests are important to me. I care for you more than anyone or anything else.” That’s the kind of devotion that makes for a satisfying and enduring marriage.

3. Show and tell. Your partner is not a mind reader. It’s important to express your wants, needs and expectations and to let your mate know if something is bugging you. When trouble comes knocking—and it will—open up the door to discussion. Sometimes a simple conversation can clear the air, and a few minor adjustments can help you regain your equilibrium.

4. Fight for it. Conflict exists even in the happiest marriages. The key to a fair fight that doesn’t damage your relationship is to attack the problem, not the person. Your best weapons are honesty, reason, good ears, an open mind, compassion and compromise. Here are a few rules to remember: Keep the battlefield out of your bedroom. Remain calm (no screaming, name-calling, hitting or throwing things). Stick to the current issue (no dredging up past offenses). When you are wrong, admit it and say, “I’m sorry.” When you are right, be gracious (no rubbing it in). Forgive your partner and yourself. If the problem persists, seek professional counseling. Your marriage is worth fighting for.

5. Factor in some fun. Couples who know how to play and have fun together develop a bond that can carry them through the most difficult times. If you are not already reserving one day or night a week as a play date for you and your mate, start there. Don’t wait until it’s convenient, or it will never happen. Pick a day, mark it on your calendar and do whatever it takes to protect that time slot. Whether you make plans to go out or stay home, the whole point is to spend time doing something together. Since the main objective is fun, resist the temptation to talk about work, bills, problems or to-do lists. Use the time to enjoy each other.

6. Learn your partner’s love language. In his best-selling book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman points out that we all speak our own language in terms of how we express love and what we interpret as love. The book should be required reading for anyone who is married, has ever been married, or is contemplating marriage. Head to the bookstore now or order it through your favorite online source. You will discover your own love language and, at the same time, gain significant insight into what makes your partner tick. Think you already know? Maybe, maybe not. Read it together or separately and be willing to discuss. For an investment of approximately $10, you will gain a deeper understanding if not a complete and utterly unexpected awakening.

7. Roll with the changes. While our core values generally remain the same, as we mature, our interests, priorities and even our outlook on life can change. True love gives us the freedom to be ourselves. Give your mate room to grow, and be supportive of his or her dreams, aspirations and endeavors. When changes come, remember your vows and actively choose to keep on having, holding, loving and cherishing.

8. Make sex a priority. Once the newness wears off and you’re sharing a mortgage and a bathroom, life gets busy, and sex can become a little…unsexy. The challenge is to continue making physical connection a priority. (Plan for it, and put it on the calendar if you must!) Then stoke the fire. Husbands, great sex doesn’t start in bed. It begins with kindness, respect, affection and praise. (A few chores around the house won’t hurt either—see #9). Feed her desire by showing her on a daily basis how much she is loved and appreciated.

Wives, the ultimate thrill for your husband is your interest, enthusiasm and enjoyment. If he knows you are having a good time, he will experience the most amazing sex of his life, no special moves or pretzel positions required. Sex is not everything, but sex is important in marriage. What is most vital is the lasting intimacy it fosters.

9. Divide and conquer. While daily chores might seem like a trivial issue, it’s just amazing how the division of labor can disrupt an otherwise happy marriage. Start by making a master list of all the household chores. Divide a sheet of paper in half. On one side, make a list of chores for which you typically take responsibility. Have your partner fill in his or her own list. Next, put an X beside the tasks that you absolutely hate, and have your partner do the same. Come up with an agreement that you can put into practice. Out of this comes a whole new level of respect, minus the resentment.

10. Ban the “D” word. Nowhere in your wedding vows is there a provision for stopping the ride to get off. It is essential to go into marriage with a firm intention of permanency and a powerful belief that, together, you can walk through fire. Unless you are being physically or emotionally abused, do everything you can to solve the problems, and never, ever say the “D” word. Don’t threaten it. Don’t even think it.

For every uphill struggle, there is the promise of a downhill rush. Stop focusing on the fairytale version of marriage and discover the thrill of the ride. 

Linda Hopkins enjoyed a 20-year ride with her partner, Zack Smith, until his passing in 2001. She is currently on the marriage roller coaster with Tom Hopkins. The couple will celebrate their tenth anniversary this month.

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