Tonia* grew up with her mom and dad in a small town. Everyone in the community thought Tonia’s parents had a great marriage. But Tonia vividly remembers her mother and father’s arguments. Things were especially bad when her father was drunk. Tonia remembers hiding and trembling in her closet more than once. She was sure her father would hurt her mother. Eventually, her parents separated and divorced.
As a young married woman, Tonia was looking forward to her first marriage retreat. The women sat in a circle sharing their marriage and family experiences, roaring with laughter. Then Tonia began to speak, and the other women fell silent in rapt attention.
Tonia shared how she had tried for a long time to find couples with a healthy marriage. She was determined to stop the cycle of brokenness she had witnessed in her family and the families of relatives and friends.
Tonia told the other women that she read various marriage blogs and followed social media “love experts.” But they either showcased glamorous couples or depicted the harrowing problems of troubled marriages. None of these sources helped Tonia learn the basics of creating a healthy marriage. So how could she build a successful marriage?
Tonia learned some skills at the marriage retreat and has continued to practice them. She reports that she feels happier and her marriage is stronger. Here are some ideas Tonia discovered that may help you as well:
Believe a healthy marriage is possible
If you’ve been surrounded by unhealthy marriages, you may believe your chances for success are limited. An important step to creating a healthy marriage is to believe that building a strong relationship with your spouse is even possible. What you believe influences how you behave and how you function within your marriage.
When you believe in something you haven’t yet experienced, you choose to exercise faith. Put your faith into action by taking time to learn how couples relate to each other in a healthy marriage. For example, how do they communicate? How do they work through arguments? Developing strong communication patterns and conflict resolution techniques are both learnable skills. Here are a few tips:
- Give your spouse your full attention.
- Be succinct and stay on topic when you speak.
- Share your comments in a respectful manner.
- Maintain your composure.
- Agree to take a break if you or your spouse escalates emotionally.
- Calm down and collect your thoughts during the break.
- Resume the conversation when both of you have cooled off.
Be prepared to compromise
You’ve heard the popular maxim, “Don’t marry someone hoping to change him or her into an ideal partner.” While you shouldn’t plan to change your spouse, you need to be willing to make changes yourself. This is the essence of working together. Recognize that the marriage journey is an ever-evolving process of individual growth and maturity as a couple.
Michael and Jennifer* are a good example. When they first got married, Jennifer frequently railed at Michael for staying out late with friends. She thought he was inconsiderate because she didn’t know when to expect him. He found her controlling. After many arguments, Michael started calling Jennifer to tell her when he would be home. Michael’s simple compromise comforted Jennifer and eliminated arguments.
Work together to overcome risks
If someone in your family or social network gets divorced, your chances of splitting up increase. Beat the odds by joining a supportive network of people who are focused on having a healthy marriage. Your marriage benefits when you associate with others who share your goals for a healthy relationship. Interact with like-minded couples to gain the support and encouragement you need to navigate difficult times.
Look at your circle of friends and choose two or three couples who are committed to experiencing a healthy marriage. Schedule times to get together. Make plans to enjoy fun activities, share your experiences and support one another. Maintain a bond of respect and confidentiality. Commit to pray for and encourage one another.
Dr. Grace Sidberry is a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping individuals and couples build healthy marriages.
*Names have been changed.
A variety of marital issues can lead to challenges or even hopelessness for one or both spouses in a marriage. Gaining a sense of hope and direction often requires understanding the underlying issues and relationship patterns which may have led to the crisis. Reach out to well-trained helpers even if you are the only person in the marriage willing to take action at this time. We can guide you as you seek a referral and take your first steps toward recovery. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 855-771-HELP (4357) or