Another couple I know is calling it quits after 27 years of marriage. The husband announced that he is done and wants to be happy. He’s not happy and believes he needs a different partner to accomplish his happiness.

The news wasn’t surprising in that this couple has struggled for years. The pandemic probably pushed their relationship to the breaking point. But it got me thinking, what does it take to make it through difficult times?

Here are 7 characteristics that help couples stay the course no matter what comes their way:

  1. They provide safety in their relationship. Safety is the foundation of every relationship that allows intimacy to grow. No matter what is raging around them, couples who create a safe space can weather storms. This safety is created emotionally and spiritually. It is that feeling that your partner has your back, will listen to your concerns and accept you for who you are-flaws and all. You don’t worry about divorce or not measuring up because you have a deep trust with this person. Because of this, you can relax and let down your guard.
  2. They manage their own emotions. In order to let down your guard, you need to know that your partner will manage his or her emotions. They won’t allow their anger to get out of control. Arguments will not lead to threats of divorce. And feelings will be self-regulated. Then during difficult times, you can turn towards each other without fear or anxiety. This builds trust and safety.
  3. They appreciate each other. Couples who have a regular pattern of pointing out the good, build positive emotions. They appreciate each other and say so often. This frequent verbalization of positives creates a positive relationship. Then, when difficult times come, they don’t turn against each other and become a source of more stress. Rather, they see benefit in the relationship.
  4. They take on conflict. Couples who work together often have to sacrifice and compromise. It’s not all about them or ego-centered behavior. They face problems together with the mindset of “we” not “I.” The goal during conflict is not to win, but to find the best outcome for the couple. Conflict is a normal part of the relationship, but the focus is on collaborative problem-solving.
  5. They put the relationship first. Priorities matter because they tell a person what is truly important. Couples who survive hard times, put their relationship above work, money and children. They know a strong martial bond impacts all other areas of their life. Thus, they give full attention to the relationship. They check in with each other and stay attuned to their partner’s needs.
  6. They share a vibrant spiritual life. A strong spiritual life is the anchor to make it through any storm. With shared faith and worldview, couples create the best chance of going the distance. Those who cultivate a spiritual life together, bring God into their everyday affairs. They pray, study Scripture, worship and serve others together. This spiritual bond is not easily broken. And it provides ample room for forgiveness and grace.
  7. They stay hopeful and know they will hit bumps now and then. Couples who weather storms like we have seen this past year, stay hopeful. They know, “this too shall pass.” They bend but don’t break under pressure. And they don’t use escape and avoidance to deal with stress. They face problems head on and know they will get through the storm with God’s help. Problems will come, but when they do, there is a commitment to stay by each other’s side no matter what. The end result is a strengthening, not weakening of the relationship.

If these characteristics describe your marriage, wonderful! Continue to do the work to keep your relationship strong. If these characteristics do not describe your marriage, you can work to build these into your relationship. You can read articles and books about marriage, get mentored by another couple, or seek counseling.

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