When we get married, many of us are idealistic about our futures together. However, fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Research has found that only half of those who stay married actually consider themselves “happily married” which means only 25% of couples consider themselves happily married. Kind of sad statistics.
When my husband, Patrick and I got married fifteen years ago, we were determined to be a happily married couple with children. Now, what does that even mean? How do we define “happily married”, and what are the most important qualities we want in our long-term relationships?
When we started teaching Marriage Prep 101 Workshops ten years ago, we wanted to help other couples strengthen their relationships, be intentional, and learn how to prevent or reduce relationship problems. Since we practice what we teach, we are continually “working” on our own relationship.
Both Patrick and I came from traditional families. Even though my mother worked full time, she had a traditional role defined relationship with my father. As a young girl, I knew that I definitely wanted to be a mother. However, I was not so sure about the “wife” role. In my family, my mother took care of the children, cooking, cleaning, laundry and all other domestic responsibilities. My mom worked full time as a teacher, mother and homemaker. She had little time to take care of herself, friendships or interests outside the home. My dad was responsible for work and managing the finances. My parents spent little time cultivating their own friendship or romantic relationship.
As I grew up, I vowed to be different from my family of origin. I wanted to find and create a relationship that would be egalitarian, loving, interesting and fun. Yes, I was ambitious about marriage. Why not? We are proactive and intentional about our education, career, hobbies and interests. Most things that we are successful at require investment, work and commitment. I felt the same about marriage and family life.
In a New York Times article, “Married (Happily) With Issues” the author, Elizabeth Weil realizes that she has been laissez faire about her marriage. She takes her husband on a journey of marriage improvement with self-help books, psychoanalytic couples therapy, marriage class and sex therapy. Unfortunately it seems that this couple did not find the best match in therapists or workshops to help them.
Reasonable goals of couples therapy and workshops are: helping couples grow closer, feel more connected, learn how to resolve conflicts better, develop more empathy and acceptance, highlight strengths, increase positivity, warmth and sense of humour. Research has found that distressed couples wait an average of six years before seeking help. Unfortunately many couples therapists focus too much on problems, conflicts and diagnoses.
I wish they had found a couples therapist or workshop that helped them increase empathy and connection. I hope they will continue to grow in acceptance, kindness, respect and fondness for each other. Couples can improve their relationships with or without professional help. Being intentional, proactive and positive are the early steps to building lifelong relationships.
Some people are discouraged about marriage and relationships. However, I am optimistic that couples can figure out ways to live in harmony. Relationships do not have to be perfect, but they can be “good enough”.
Of all of the things that I have accomplished in my life, my happy, successful marriage is the one I have worked the hardest for, and believe me it is far from perfect! We continue to work on our relationship, and we imagine that it will be a life long endeavour.
Dr Michelle Gannon is a Psychologist, Relationship Expert and Marriage Prep 101 Founder.She is a writer, speaker, seminar leader, media expert, individual and couples therapist.