Every day, I hear about another couple who has decided to call it quits. Their reasons vary but are most related to lost love and incompatibility. So, I am not talking about abuse, neglect and abandonment.
Many of these couples have struggled to get along for years. Few of them ever get professional help. Most have bought the cultural lie that the grass is greener outside of their current relationship. It’s sad and disheartening. Yes, their struggles are real, but we therapists know how to help couples get off the road of lost love and learn to accommodate differences.
When you begin a marriage with the belief that marriage is a covenant, an unbreakable promise, you approach relationships differently than when marriage is viewed as a contract. Yet, while the church rails on all type of social and political issues, we do little to help couples struggling in our congregations.
Here are 7 characteristics of healthy couples that will help weather storms and stay the course. Couples:
- Provide safety in their relationship. Safety is the foundation of a every relationship that allows intimacy to grow. No matter what is raging around them, couples who create a safe space, 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. Consequently, you can relax and let down your guard.
- Manage their own emotions. To let down your guard, you need to know that your partner will manage his or her emotions. Neither partner will allow anger to get out of control. Arguments will not lead to threats of divorce. And emotions will be self-regulated. Then, during difficult times, you can turn toward each other without fear or anxiety. This builds trust and safety.
- Appreciate each other. Couples who routinely point out the good in the other person and in their relationship, 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 or look outside the marriage for support. Rather, they see benefit in the relationship, want to preserve it and deal with intimacy issues together.
- Take on conflict but do so collaboratively. Couples who work out their conflicts together often have to sacrifice and compromise. They realize the results of the conflict are not all about them. They face problems together with the mindset of “we” not “I.” The goal during conflict is not to win or to prove they are right, but to find the best outcome for the couple. Conflict is viewed as normal, but the focus is on collaborative problem-solving.
- Put their relationship first. Priorities matter because they value 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.
- Share a vibrant spiritual life. A strong spiritual life is the anchor to make it through any storm. With a shared faith and biblical 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 to forgive and demonstrate grace.
- Stay hopeful and know they will hit bumps now and then. Couples who weather storms 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 storms 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.
Couples who make it through tough times