Cultivating a Happy Marriage

Gerald Rogers was married for 16 years, and after painfully finalizing his divorce, he wrote down marriage advice he said he wish he had. Eleven days after the article was posted, it had more than 2 million views. People were curious. James Russell Lingerfelt, a self-proclaimed romantic realism author, shared the article on his blog and its prevailing theme — “if we make a conscious decision to daily place our spouse’s desires and needs above our own, and that’s reciprocated, the marriage will succeed.” What could we as men learn from Rogers’ experience?

A Continual Investment

In “Marriage Advice I Wish I Would Have Had…,” Rogers, a transformational speaker and coach, emphasizes marriage isn’t about chasing a happily ever after. Marriage takes work, a commitment to grow together and a continual investment in one another. Happiness will follow as a natural side effect.

The dispiriting truth is that marriage statistics remain grim. About 50 percent of couples get divorced, 10 to 15 percent of couples separate without the legalities and 7 percent are chronically unhappy, according to data by Ty Tashiro, PhD, in his 2014 book “The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love.” To borrow from the words of TIME contributor Eric Barker in his piece on how to keep love alive, “‘happily ever after’ ain’t easy.”

How to Find True Love

Should we expect marriages to end up as either 1.) a scandalous divorce or 2.) an unrealistic fairy tale? Sick of love stories, Nate Bagley set out on a journey to find out if true love really exists. He used Kickstarter and his life savings to create “The Loveumentary” and capture the greatest love stories in America by interviewing happy couples in long-term relationships. Bagley shares that a woman who has been married for more than 60 years gave him the best relationship advice: “don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.”

Love serves as a strong basis for a marriage, but the foundation requires more to not only survive, but thrive. Based on the research and experiences of Rogers, Barker and Bagley, the following can help revitalize your marriage and prevent it from heading toward divorcehood.

  • Never stop courting. When you took a marriage vow, you made a promise to be the man who owns your wife’s heart and protects it. Never stop dating, take her granted, forget your wife chose you or get lazy in your love. Romantic surprises like buying cupcakes, leaving a love note or sending roses to her work can help eliminate emotional apathy. Also, be gentle and graceful with your love. Even the smallest gesture given with love and grace can reduce marriage atrophy.
  • Be strong and compassionate. “The feminine spirit is about change and emotion,” says Rogers. Your job is to hold and support her when she’s sad or upset. You’re her pillar of trust and strength who listens and hears what she’s saying without judgment. Tell her it’s okay, she’s important and you’re not going anywhere.
  • Focus on the good. Ever hear how people don’t change? It’s true. You can’t change your partner, and trying to change differences rooted in lifestyle, personality, values and background will be a dead-end. You can’t change your spouse, and you don’t need to. For a happy relationship, concentrate on increasing the good, rather than reducing the bad, says Barker. To prevent divorce, focus on increasing positive feelings over decreasing conflict.
  • Practice self-love. Bagley learned that the happiest couples consist of “emotionally healthy and independently happy individuals.” Self-loving, self-aware individuals who treat themselves with care and respect can in turn treat their partner with care and respect. With emotional health, a partner can take responsibility in conflict, forgive and partake in a happy partnership.
  • Live with intention. Whether you’re single or married, happiness is a choice. Be an active and mindful partner. Even a goodbye kiss can make a difference in your relationship. You can choose to kiss for 10 seconds, give a peck or leave without a kiss at all. A happy marriage is your choice as well. Ask yourself, how can you create a meaningful connection or fun memory every day?
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