Making Marriage Work Part 2
The Business of Marriage
By TODD KAUFMAN, BA, BFA, MDiv, RP
The Business of Marriage
Falling in Love
Falling in love may come easy, staying in love can often be a bit more challenging.
Divorce rates all across the globe have been rising significantly in the last few decades. America leads the statistics, being one of the countries in the top 10. On average marriages have a 50% chance of success, and that success rate declines significantly with each additional marriage. 75% of third marriages end in divorce. So why don’t we get better at marriage instead of worse?
Although there are many explanations and excuses as to why a relationship fails, my experience over the years has taught me that a vast majority of relationships and marriages fail due to a lack of intention. A lack of attention to the very fact that there is a ‘business,’ to marriage. It is work. Becoming a couple and building a strong profitable long-term relationship should be given no less attention than building a business. At times it is really tough work, the good fight, and requires you to show up, pay attention and dig in. And the rewards can be pretty amazing!
The Science of Love
When we first couple, and love is in the air, there is an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual excitement that holds our focus and our interest in the relationship. The touch, sound, smell, and even presence of our new love releases oxytocin or ‘love hormone’ into our system. Oxytocin gives us a wonderful sense of connection and love. It makes us want to touch someone, be intimate, and care for them. As relationships mature the reality of coupling and the challenges that are inherent often take off the initial excitement and joy that can serve to mask potential difficulties. A little less shiny and new means a little less oxytocin, and in turn, less of those touchy-feely feelings. It’s a natural progression, but it need not lead to the demise of the relationship.
As couples move towards a more permanent and sustained relationship, and perhaps marriage, the stakes, and therefore the challenges, become bigger and bigger. Decisions that we make that impact our mutual finances, the raising of children, extended family, work or the long-term planning for old age hold a greater and more critical significance.
Staying in Love is a Skill
In decades gone by couples often underwent ‘premarital counseling’ with their minister or priest or religious leader The function of this meeting was primarily to ensure the long-term commitment of the couple to the faith. Today therapists that provide premarital counseling sessions are more interested in facilitating effective communication between the couple, empowering them to recognize differences as gifts, and providing skills to work through the challenges that arise.
Over the years in private practice, I have provided counseling for couples entering into long-term commitments that I call ‘Premarital Communication Sessions.’ During these sessions, we explore the intuitive differences in how the individuals in the relationship both communicate, and the ways in which they experience the connection in the relationship, including how they are wired to experience the gifts of their partner. A good starting tool you can do yourself can be found by googling ‘The Languages of Love.’
The Business of Marriage
One of the most powerful tools in a relationship is a commitment to a weekly hour-long discussion that I call ‘the business of marriage.’ This is a consistent dependable time to communicate and attend to this very important relationship you are building. These are structured discussions about both what is working, and what is not working in the relationship and how each individual can share with the other ways of communicating and actions to take that will help each individual to achieve mutual goals.
In our sessions, the couple negotiates a set of ground rules for the discussion. As the relationship matures those ground rules may be adjusted, but only with the mutual discussion and agreement of each partner. I encourage couples to look at the relationship or marriage as a ‘new thing’ which is unto itself is an entity that each individual is wholly committed to supporting and nurturing. Here are some of the basics for the rules of engagement that couples develop for their weekly meetings.
The Rules of Engagement
Create an agenda
Like a successful business meeting, you need to have clear direction and goals. This new thing called marriage (or relationship) needs an agreed-upon ‘moral compass,’ – a lens through which things that impact the marriage are considered and mutually agreed-upon. The discussions require an agenda, enabling each individual to give consideration to the items in preparation for the conversation. ‘New business’ may be raised, but these items need to be referred to either a second meeting or the next weekly meeting. Often couples may keep a whiteboard on the fridge and build the agenda throughout the week.
Start with Gratitude
A portion of the meeting, usually 25% or 15 minutes out of the hour, is dedicated to talking about what works, and how each individual felt loved and valued by their partner over the course of the week. In our sessions, each couple elaborates on these rules of engagements based on an understanding of their own communication style, and the communication style of their partner. Knowing each other’s Language of Love’ is very helpful here.
Do the tough work
Move through the agenda items in a business-like manner. This meeting is not where either party should be processing feelings. If an action this week made you feel disrespected say so, and suggest a solution, and agree to an outcome. If either of you feels like it may be difficult to let go of whatever negativity you have built up this week on the issue, commit to talking about your feelings in a separate session. Get the work done!!!!
Why does this work?
There are many reasons why this strategy has proven so successful for so many couples over the years.
- The mutual commitment to regular meetings short circuits a number of problematic issues that may arise for either person in the relationship.
- You have less time to build resentments or spiral into anger or disappointment.
- There is no longer a need to wonder if you can raise an issue contentious or otherwise, and the question of when or how you can raise this in the most effective manner disappears.
- For introverts and others who like time to process their thoughts and feelings, regular meetings give them the opportunity to do so.
- For extroverts and those who like spontaneity and are very action-oriented, they have the comfort of knowing that issues, if not dealt with immediately, will at least be dealt with in the regular meetings.
- Providing a lens or moral compass as a basis for conversation helps keep the discussion centered on the mutual goal of sustaining the relationship in a healthy and life-affirming manner.
- The very commitment to these meetings provides reassurance to both individuals that their partner is committed to both the tough and the enjoyable work of the relationship for the long term.
Follow in love may come easy, staying in love can often be a bit more challenging. For couples that recognize and tend to the business of marriage in both a healthy and regular manner, the odds of success are dramatically improved.
Considering marriage or coupling for the long run?
Working with a therapist can help you develop a plan and set of tools to keep that oxytocin flowing long into your old age!
Todd Kaufman is a Registered Psychotherapist and Coach specializing in anxiety disorders. You can reach Todd or book an appointment online at www.TheAnxiety.Clinic 1-800-699-3396.