Photo: Joe Hendricks Photography
All marriages begin with great happiness, joy and hope. When we say “I do,” we expect that our relationship will last forever. No one goes into a marriage thinking, “We'll be in love for a while, then break up and start all over again with someone else.” But that’s the reality for most of us. Approximately 40 to 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce. The great majority of us don’t give up. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 75 percent of women and 80 percent of men who have a failed first marriage will remarry, usually within five years. But the odds get even worse for second and third marriages. According to Skip Burzumato, assistant director of the National Marriage Project, and psychiatrist Mark Banschick, author of The Intelligent Divorce, approximately two-thirds of second marriages end in divorce. Banschick says the divorce rate for third marriages is 73 percent. If that weren’t bad enough, most intact marriages aren’t necessarily great marriages. Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After, says the majority of marriages fail. They either end in divorce and separation, or devolve into dysfunction. Only 3 in 10 marriages remain healthy and happy.
No wonder people are discouraged. Singles are afraid to try again and those who are married worry that it’s just a matter of time before they hear these dreaded words: “I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore. I want a divorce.” I’ve got some good news for those who haven’t given up on love. You can have a great marriage that lasts forever and I’ll show you how. My wife and I beat the odds. We’d both been married and divorced twice before we met, fell in love, and married. I’m happy to report that we’ve now been together for 36 years and we’re more in love today than when we first got together. Here’s what we learned:
1. Pick the right partner.
This may seem obvious. Of course we want to pick the right partner. But most of us are drawn to people who are not right for us and many perfect partners are invisible to us. For many years I would be drawn to women who were sexy, exciting, dangerous, and not the right partners for me. I ended up feeling irritable, depressed, and hyperactive. When I met Carlin she was invisible to be as a potential partner. She was taller, older, and didn’t have “the look” that turned me on. It took us time to realize that we were perfect for each other. How many people have you looked right through because they weren’t your type?
2. Don’t let fear and lust sabotage your relationship.
Since Carlin didn’t fit my old stereotypes and stimulate those parts of my brain that would immediately inflame my passions, I began to back away. I told myself she just didn’t have “it,” that the chemistry just wasn’t there. It took us both a while to realize we were afraid of a real, healthy relationship. I began looking at other women and had a one-night stand that almost sunk Carlin and I. We hung in there and began to learn what a healthy relationship was really like.
3. Learn the 5 Stages Of Love.
I had always though there were only two stages of love. The first stage where we fall madly in love (or at least lust), and deeper stage of love where we get to know each other and enjoy the affection that only comes when we know the other person.
After being married to Carlin for nearly four decades, I realize there are 5 Stages of Love:
Falling in love
Becoming a couple
Creating real, lasting love
Finding your calling as a couple
4. Embrace the incompatibility of Stage 3.
In my two previous marriages, I became disillusioned. Things started off wonderfully, but after being together a number of years, it seemed that we just weren’t compatible. Sometimes we fought, but mostly I just stuffed my feelings hoping things would get back to the way they used to be. It wasn’t until Carlin and I hit the “disillusionment” period that I realized this was an opportunity to go deeper rather than get out and move on. I learned that we had projected a lot of our illusions on our partner and we now had a chance not only to become real but also to heal a lot of the wounds we each received from our childhood relationships with our parents.These wounds created a faulty love map that has kept us from having the real, lasting love we crave. In Stage 3, we have the opportunity to heal these wounds and become fully ourselves.
5. Love your partner like you wish you were loved as a child.
I’ve always believed that childhood needs are for nurturing and care, but when we grow up other needs become more important — things like good sex and good communication. But it turns out, our core needs don’t change as we grow up. According to Mark Brady, Ph.D., author of How Parents Screw Us Up (Without Really Meaning To), there’s one big question that all brains want answered (adult’s brains, children’s brains, all brains, really), and they want it answered, “Yes.” And they don’t want a lukewarm “Yes,” or a “Maybe Yes” or a “Getting-to-Yes Yes.” They want a substantial, resounding, unequivocal, “Hell YES!” Yes. Brady says that the brain’s big question is “Are you there for me?” He tells us that our children’s brains (and our adult brains as well!) are continually asking this basic question, whether we’re aware of it or not. The question takes many forms in children’s brains and resulting behavior, of course: “Do I matter enough that you’ll put me first when I need you to — ahead of your job, ahead of your friends, even sometimes ahead of yourself? Can I count on you to attend to me in the ways I need you to? Do I truly and deeply matter to you?” These questions are being asked — nonverbally, through behavior often — and when they get answered “Yes,” our children can relax and begin to feel safe, just as we are often able to do in our own intimate and business relationships. But it’s clear we don’t outgrow these needs. Adult still want to know every day, “Are you there for me?” Canadian psychologist, Susan Johnson thinks about it this way: “These safe bonds reflect deep primal survival needs for secure, intimate connection to irreplaceable others. These needs go with us from the cradle to the grave.”
6. Answer your partner’s bids for love every day.
Take a moment to think about the importance of emotional connection between a child and parent. A baby cries, and a father responds with attention and comfort. A little girl is disappointed when her basketball team loses, and her mother listens to her story and gives her a hug of support. As parents, we recognize the importance of hearing the request for connection that our children are constantly asking for and responding positively. We may not always do it effectively, but we know it’s important. There are times when we’re too tired, stressed, or preoccupied to connect deeply, but we know that our children need this kind of support to grow up to be confident, caring adults. However, we often don’t recognize that the need for emotional connection between loving partners is just as important as the connection between a parent and a child. This is what marriage expert John Gottman has demonstrated. We never outgrow our need to have our partner respond positively to what he calls our “bids for connection.” “In a committed relationship,” says Gottman, “partners constantly ask each other in words and deeds for support and understanding.” He says that these bids “can be as simple as ‘Could you get me a beer?’ or as profound as ‘I need you’ after a scary medical diagnosis.” If you want your relationship to last, be tuned to your partner’s bids for connection and respond positively.
7. Learn how to save your midlife marriage.
If you’re going to have a marriage that lasts you have to get through mid-life together. It turns out that isn’t an easy task. Most couples are looking forward to the time after the kids are grown. “This is our time,” many hope. But mid-life is a downer for many.