By Tonya Cox
My husband and I recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. We sent our son, the last child still living at home, to visit his grandparents while we snuck away for a week just the two of us. It felt amazing to leave all the daily cares behind and relish in each other’s company and undivided attention. We refreshed our friendship and our romance. Throughout our marriage we have made it a priority to get away just the two of us and strengthen our relationship and our romance. We started this marriage because of our love for one another and our commitment to a life together. We know that for our marriage to thrive we need to nourish this creation. Like any living thing, if it is not properly nurtured it will die. Sadly, too many couples, who pledged their love and commitment to one another, find their creation has died. Their love and commitment are gone and a divorce results, accompanied by all of the personal, family, and social fallout. While divorce is common and socially acceptable today, the ensuing consequences endure.
I do not believe any couple marries with the intent to divorce. Marriage in some form or another is a part of every human society on the earth. In the western world 90% of individuals are married by the time the are 50 years old. The benefits of marriage are numerous and indisputable with married individuals reporting the highest level of personal happiness and well-being, despite the level of happiness in their marriage. Nevertheless, 40-50% of these individuals eventually divorce. Why?
I know this is a loaded question with answers as varied as there are individuals. Yet, I do believe there are basic understandings that can help couples avoid the death of their marriage and continue to feed the love and commitment they once felt for one another.
We live in an amazing age with media readily available at our fingertips. The awesome magic of love that draws two people together is spectacularly portrayed in movies and a wealth of love songs. Relationship expert Matt Townsend in his book entitled Starved Stuff calls this stage of love the “yearning stage.” He shares that this stage is all about hormones and is the important stage that drives us together as a couple; it is a necessary first step. This is where we “fall in love!” This is the most exciting stage of love. However, far too many people believe this is what love is all about. The problem is that, eventually, the “intoxicating” love chemicals regulate and couples who thought that is what love was all about become disillusioned. They believe they are “falling out of love” instead of realizing they are entering another stage of love. Matt Townsend calls this next stage of love the “earning stage.” In this stage of love couples get to really dig in and work on growing their relationship. It takes a little more time and effort because the fog of the chemicals lifts and the difficulties of family life arise. This stage is where most married couples spend the majority of their life together, yet there is little education to support their efforts and it is not where Hollywood and those love songs focus much attention. This is the stage of love that married couples do not get a lot of support for unless they seek the aid. Far too often couples do not seek that help until it is a last resort.
In the early years of our marriage my husband and I had an opportunity to do some free marriage counseling. Our counselor expressed how refreshing it was to work with a couple that wanted to improve their marriage instead of save it. More commonly he saw couples seek marriage counseling after extensive damage had occurred, and the therapy was a last resort that often was too late. My husband and I learned new ways to communicate and our marriage was nourished. Working with a therapist did not take away the struggles of the “earning stage” of marriage, but it gave us better tools to utilize. Years later we did find ourselves struggling in our marriage and again sought the assistance of a marriage therapist. We did not wait until we were dying to find some nourishment. It again was refreshing and renewing for us.
Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist from The Gottman Institute – a leading research center on relationship health, expresses the need to stop the stigma around couples therapy. She shares that most couples wait years before getting help and by then patterns are engrained. Couples do not do the maintenance needed on their relationship and just allow the erosion to happen slowly and steadily until problems are entrenched. This does not need to happen.
While I believe that every married couple could benefit from couples therapy, I also believe even relationship education programs can make a significant difference and reach a greater number of individuals. We must improve our support for healthy marriages; this leads to stable families and a thriving society. We need to counteract the false ideals around love, commitment, and marriage portrayed around us today. This educational effort is more effective before marriages occur. We can and must nourish and support marriages and change the current trends in divorce. Love and marriage are enduring when given the proper care.