Keeping Your Marriage Healthy

While children should near the very top of a couple’s priority list, nothing should be more important than the relationship a husband and wife share with each other. To that end, this page details practices and principles which will help keep a marriage healthy and happy even while raising children

Developmental Milestones for Keeping Your Marriage Healthy

Before Children Are born (And Throughout Marriage Too!)

Successful parenting begins long before children are born. Because a marriage is the foundation of a successful family, the stronger the marriage, the stronger the family. Here are some things to keep in mind with building a strong marital foundation:

  • Nurture your marriage! Your marriage is foundational to good parenting
  • Parents who have more satisfied marriages are better parents
  • Don’t allow children to take precedence over your relationship!
    • A helpful analogy is that the family is like a solar system where the marriage is the sun and they children are planets orbiting it, NOT the other way around
  • Remember, you will be with this person for eternity, so keep working at it!

When Couples Have Younger Children

As children are born, life changes and the marital relationship changes with it. One problem that can arise is that the primary caretaker in a two-parent family (usually the mother) tends to dominate parenting activities. Although the following pieces of co-parenting (parenting as a unit) advice are mainly for women, they could apply to men as well:

  • Mothers often are the gatekeepers (maternal gatekeeping), which may disempower fathers. In response to this, always be positive towards fathers and appreciate his efforts
    • Let go and step back (ask yourself, “Do you want a second mother or a father?”) – let men do things their own way some time even if it is not your way
    • Value his different way of caring and cleaning
    • Encourage him and allow him to be involved in full range of parenting (don’t hover as a mother)
    • Give him alone time with kids (go somewhere so children can trust and love him)
    • Trust him (you married him after all!)

When Couple’s Have Older Children

As children age, they naturally desire more autonomy and freedom. One way children try to get what they desire if a parent does not let them is by asking the other parent. This can be damaging to a couple’s relationship. Here are some tips to keep in mind with joint decision making in marriage:

  • Remember, children pick up on parents’ disagreements over parenting and will learn which parent to “ask” from an early age
  • Present a united front – if you disagree with your spouse – tell children that parents will discuss it together and get back to the child
  • If either parent disagrees with a decision regarding a child, don’t move forward with it. Discuss it further
  • Do not triangulate with your child and your spouse
  • Do not team up with your child against your spouse

Some Relevant Concerns for Keeping Your Marriage Healthy

Remaining Committed to One’s Spouse…For the Right Reason

There are two reasons to stay in a marriage: constraint commitment (staying together because the costs of separating are too great, for example staying together for children) or personal dedication (an intentional decision and desire to stay in a marriage for mutual benefit).

Wouldn’t we all rather go through life wanting to be together with a spouse rather than holding on for dear life? Here are some things to remember when it comes to personal dedication in marriage:

  • Seek to have “Intentional personal dedication” where you sacrifice for the relationship, invest in it, and seek your partner’s welfare
  • Always observe exclusive cleaving and unity – a spouse is preeminent in the life of the husband or wife. Nothing social, occupational, or political takes precedence over it
  • Remember, even children should not take precedence over one’s spouse. They should know that your spouse is more important than anything else
  • Follow Thomas S. Monson’s advice to, “Choose your love; love your choice.”
  • Practice spiritual patterns: couples who practice faith together have lower conflict and are more likely to be satisfied and committed
  • Set spiritual patterns early in marriage and if don’t have them later, it is never too late to start

Fostering Connection with One’s Spouse Throughout Life

How do couples remain connected for the long haul? Here are some tips that may help:

  • Get in sync with your partner’s preferences: Find out what your partner likes and do it!
    • One idea is to practice caring days – a day where you just do the things that your spouse would like
  • Talk as friends not just as co-workers, co-parents, and problem solvers – just as friends
    • Show genuine interest for each other
    • Look at one’s spouse and give attention when communicating
    • Take turns speaking
    • Avoid giving unsolicited advice (try asking, “Do you want to me to listen to you or do you want my input?”)
    • Communicate understanding and empathy
    • Take your spouse’s side
    • Avoid interrupting or rebutting
    • Express affection
    • Validate one another’s emotions
  • Respond to bids for connection (invitation from one spouse to connect through various means including conversation, mutual activities, physical affection and other forms)
    • Couples can turn away, turn against, or turn toward bids for affection. The best is to turn toward! (Husbands who divorced disregarded their wives’ bids for connection 82% of the time (19% for those who stayed married) – 50 and 14% for wives)
    • Make an effort to do activities together
    • Have a stress-reducing conversation at the end of the day
    • Do something special each day to communicate affection and appreciation
    • Keep track of how well you’re connecting, and make enhancements when necessary

Reducing and Resolving Conflict

Every couple has conflict because after all, no two people are alike! Here are some thoughts to not only help you resolve conflict, but reduce its frequency

Resolving Conflict in Marriage

  • Remember these aspects of healthy communication (willioughby day 12)
    • Seeking Meaning: listening is key
      • Focusing on understanding the other person
      • Not thinking about a response or rebuttal
      • Avoiding giving Partial Attention
    • Seeking Clarification: asking for help
      • Asking about unclear messages
      • Active listening
      • Encouraging examples
    • Seeking Congruence: focusing on what we can do to resolve the concern
  • Be alright with taking a timeout or break from a heated discussion (as long as you promise to come back to the topic). Sometimes going to bed angry so you can wake up less emotional can actually be a good thing

Reducing the Frequency of Conflict

  • Ensure that your ratio of positive to negative interactions is around 5:1
  • Accept your spouse’s influence (joint decision making)
    • If there is something that is bothering you, possibly ask, “Is there a reason that you do [certain thing] this way?” rather than immediately arguing about it.
      • Focus on your spouse’s positive qualities (make and share lists)
      • Remember, “The formula for a happy marriage is the same as the formula for living in California: when you find a fault, don’t dwell on it!” (Humorist, Jay Trachman)
      • Follow the advice of Gordon B. Hinckley and look for the best, “I have witnessed much of the best and much of the worst in marriage…Faultfinding replaces praise. When we look for the worst in anyone, we will find it. But if we will concentrate on the best, that element will grow until it sparkles.”

Supplemental Materials for Keeping Your Marriage Healthy

Other Ideas to Promote Greater Marital Satisfaction

  • Seek greater balance between Parent, Worker, and Spouse roles
  • Share expectations and conduct frequent “checkups”
  • Make time to talk to each other
  • Negotiate an agenda (ex. Discuss activities children may need to drop to make time for the marital relationship)
  • Adopt an experimental attitude
  • Don’t ignore sex and intimacy

Good Reads

LDS Resources

 

 

 

Note for Author: For information not provided in links, see 2017 personal notes on lecture about marriage and parenting from SFL 240 class