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|How To Have a Happy Marriage
(C) 2000, Don Mize
Many marriages end in divorce while other couples subsist in misery. If you
long for a more fulfilling marriage, here are a few suggestions.
The secret of a happy marriage
The ability to resolve conflict is the secret to a happy marriage. When
conflict is resolved, you give one another pleasure rather than pain. Notice
I said RESOLVE, not concede or take refuge in silence.
Conflict will occur. While some couples are painfully aware of areas of
conflict, others maintain they don’t fight. Conflict is not necessarily fighting.
Conflict is wanting different things
The sure sign of trouble
Withdrawal means trouble. You may withdraw emotionally and/or
physically. To withdraw emotionally is to spend a whole day together and
yet be alone. Emotional withdrawal means you refuse to let the other
person past your barriers to know what you really think and feel. A couple
may sit in the same room for five hours watching TV like two rocks side by
side on a beach.
Physical withdrawal is when you avoid your mate. If he is on the golf
course while she is shopping, they avoid painful encounters. Emotional
withdrawal occurs before physical withdrawal.
It does matter
So many couples live parallel lives that many consider separate lives
normal. However, you are headed for trouble.
If your mate is not a source of pleasure for you, why be married? For the
children? Because of religious convictions? Because of duty? The
pressures of society to remain married have relaxed, and women are more
financially independent. With the outside pressures relaxed, many women
simply file for divorce rather than remain in an unhappy marriage.
Also, people who live parallel lives are ripe for an affair. One day someone
listens to you, really listens. He looks you in the eye, takes you seriously,
and draws out your secret dream. She doesn't correct you, believes in you,
and laughs at your jokes. And it feels so good. This other person gives you
pleasure rather than pain. Chemical changes occur in your brain, and you
are in love.
You go home to nothingness, to problems, or to painful encounters. More
and more you think of this other person, find ways to be with him, tell her
how you really feel, and you probably will end up in a sexual relationship.
At the very least, you will withdraw further and further from your mate.
Divorce is overrated as a solution
I just finished Continuing Education Unit on Texas law as it relates to family
issues. No wonder people find their lives in such turmoil after a divorce.
The legal complications of a divorce are overwhelming, especially if children
Another reason divorce is overrated is that most people will not choose to
live alone. Most people will remarry. Thus, we have a family composed of
yours, mine, and ours where children are concerned. Not only is such an
arrangement draining emotionally, the financial obligations can be
Just living together solves little. Common law marriage has unbelievable
Back to conflict
The real problem is that conflict will inevitably enter any relationship.
Conflict will occur even in an affair as two people find areas in which they
want different things. The bubble bursts, reality sets in, and the chemical
high in the brain subsides. Now he wants to go home to his wife, his kids,
and his dog. Probably only the dog will be glad to see him.
In a new marriage, conflict will occur. If you do not know how to resolve
conflict in this marriage, why do you think you will know how in the next
marriage? How many marriages do you plan to have? Do you believe that
a relationship is based on magic?
Somewhere I read that divorce courts are full of people who love one
another. That is exactly right. More is involved in a lasting relationship than
feeling love. The skills necessary to resolve conflict can be learned. And, as
you give one another pleasure rather than pain, the feeling of being in love
HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICT
Here is how you resolve conflict, restore pleasure to the relationship, and be
madly in love after thirty years of marriage.
Don’t be reasonable
Most couples fall into the truth trap. They assume that determining the truth
will resolve the conflict, as though we are perfectly rational beings.
Actually, the truth is often unpleasant and can be cruel. The truth can even
intensify rather than resolve conflict. More is involved in conflict resolution
than being rational.
Besides, the truth is always wrapped in perceptions. He sees the glass as
half full, and she sees the glass as half empty. He sees a great opportunity,
and she sees a threat. She sees a wonderful time with the family, and he
sees a day with whining children. One person looks at a cloud and sees
Beethoven while the other looks at the same cloud and sees a doggie. I
believe in Truth, and I believe that Truth is out there, but our perceptions
color our vision.
We are trying to resolve conflict rather than do philosophy. If you
approach conflict resolution as finding Truth, then points must be argued,
evidence supplied, and the other person proved wrong. The best debater
may carry the day, whether or not truth has been found. Unpleasant
arguments and recriminations make us avoid such attempts to resolve
The truth will assert itself, but conflict resolution is not primarily a search for
Agree to resolve conflict
The first step is to agree to resolve conflict in the sense that each of you
must be happy with any solution. Make a pact. Agree that anytime you
find you want different things, you will brainstorm together until you find a
Agree to take breaks
When your button is punched, you go deaf. Maybe you have a HURT
BUTTON, a GUILT BUTTON, or an ANGER BUTTON. When you
talk with your mate, your button gets punched. From that moment on, you
are on automatic. You hear and understand all the words, but you are
deaf. Think of the times you have talked and talked and never resolved
anything. Someone got a button punched.
Agree to call time out. When you sense your button is getting punched, call
time out and take a break. You will develop skills and self control, but don’
t expect to resolve all conflicts in a single sitting. In difficult situations, you
may have to brainstorm together for weeks to find a happy solution.
See the article on Dealing with Anger and Other Negative Emotions for
more help in this area.
How brainstorming works
Here is a simple illustration of the brainstorming process.
You want to go to be with your family at Christmas, but your mate wants to
stay home. Here is an opportunity for a real mess replete with hurt feelings,
guilt, anger, and unresolved conflict. Avoid the truth trap, and start
throwing out ideas. The dialogue might go something like this:
“You want to stay home? Well, let’s brainstorm. Let’s go to see my
Christmas and we’ll stay home next Christmas.”
“You say that, but next Christmas you’ll want to go home again.”
“Maybe we can fly up for Christmas day.”
“It’s too expensive.”
“Well, I really want to be with my parents for Christmas. You want to
What’s your idea?”
“I don’t know. Would they come here for Christmas?”
“They probably would.”
“Why don’t we ask them?”
What happened in that exchange? By dealing with wants, the couple dealt
with the subconscious: old memories, dreams, goals, and hurts, both rational
and irrational. By brainstorming, they brought the rational into play, but not
in a way that would lead to an argument.
By taking what each mate wanted seriously, they expressed love by an
action. Finally, a temporary solution was found that could be tested. Both
people felt happy about the solution, for the solution met the subconscious
as well as conscious needs. In other words, both conscious and
subconscious needs were dealt with in a rational way without a lengthy
process of psychoanalysis.
You can have a happy marriage
The ideas sketched out here work. If you have trouble, I do a limited
number of free consultations online and take on a limited number of online
clients. At first you might need some help in sorting things out and gaining
the necessary skills.
Let me know how it works out by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.