How To Make Your Marriage A Dream Marriage
By: Patricia Oelze
Updated May 09, 2019
Medically Reviewed By: Jeffrey Craven , MA, LMHC, LPCC, LLC
We've all seen it. Some of us have even lived it. The dream wedding. Flowers, a beautiful gown, enchanting music. That magical moment when you say, "I do" in front of your friends and family. You commit to spending your life with a person, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. But what happens after the cake is cut, the honeymoon is over, and life settles in? How do you turn the dream wedding into a dream marriage? What about when times are bad, or there is more sickness than health, and the dream feels more like a nightmare?
So, what constitutes a dream marriage? Current statistics indicate more than 40 percent of new marriages in the United States end in divorce. Not everyone is living the dream. Every duo's idea of a "dream marriage" is different. Some couples like to be together all the time while others function well spending time apart. Some couples dream of a white picket fence and life with many children or a house full of pets.
Others imagine life on the go full of travel and adventure. While the specifics of a dream marriage may be individual, most couples envision a life together that includes more happiness than sorrow, more contentment than resentment, more peace than discord, more prosperity than failure, and more health than sickness. While there are a variety of ways to achieve this dream, most experts agree on a few ways to keep a marriage heading in a positive direction.
Communication is commonly known as a key to healthy relationships. According to the American Psychological Association, communication styles are more important than commitment levels, personality traits, or stressful life events in predicting whether a couple will get divorced. Many couples think they communicate but have trouble truly connecting with their partner. The following are just a few ways to improve communications with your partner.
- Embrace Diplomacy - According to Dr. Suzanne Degges-White who is a professor and chair of the Counseling, Adult and Higher Education department of Northern Illinois University, diplomacy is not just for international relations. Learning to give and take is integral to creating open communication. Try not to go into conversations or communication with your mind made up and no room for change, as this shuts off your ability to listen and be empathetic.
- Don't interrupt or use name calling. This may sound obvious, but in the heat of the moment, or when discussing a contentious topic, it can be very easy to resort to these tactics. Poor communication behavior only leads to less and lower-quality communication.
- Use, "I" statements. Focus on how you feel rather than what you perceive your partner is doing wrong.
- Think about the "we." Dr. Degges-White also suggests using collaborative language which recognizes the needs, not just of the individuals, but the couple. Sometimes what is best for an individual in a relationship is not the best thing for the couple.
Set Reasonable Expectations
Some researchers and psychologists assert that spouses with low expectations of their partner and their marriage are happier because they are not constantly disappointed when their lives do not live life up to their dreams. Other experts assert setting lofty goals and ideals for your spouse and life together helps to push both in a higher direction, leading to deeper satisfaction. So which is right? Have low expectations to avoid disappointment or hold high expectations to create more deep and meaningful commitment?
According to a 2016 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the answer lies somewhere in between. It concludes couples should be careful to set expectations which relate to their ability to meet them. This research observed newlywed couples for four years. The study found that couples in marriages with low levels of destructive behavior thrived on elevated standards and expectations.
Couples with more severe problems and destructive behaviors found that high expectations caused lower marriage satisfaction over time. This may seem obvious, but what was most telling was that couples with higher levels of destructive behaviors, but low expectations reported being about as satisfied as healthier couples with low expectation.
The result here seems to be that achieving a dream marriage is all about making sure your dream matches your ability to reach it.
Achieve The Magic Number
When it comes to a happy and sustainable marriage, researchers at the University of Washington found there is a magic ratio between positive and negative interactions - 5:1. That means for every negative interaction; a couple needs to have at least five positive ones. If the ration dips below this for too long, the research shows they could be headed for divorce. The researchers in this study were more than 90% effective when using this method to predict divorce.
According to the research-based Gottman Relationship Institute, a lot of it has to do with the way you communicate, especially during conflict. They also found the nature of the negative interaction had a large impact. Simply showing anger wasn't nearly as harmful as behavior which showed criticism, contempt, or defensiveness.
A couple can have an argument or tense conversation, but tempering a negative moment like raising your voice with positive ones like taking your partner's hand, making a joke (not at their expense), or showing that you understand and care about their perspective can turn things around. Here are eight points they suggest you keep in mind when having a conflict with your spouse:
- Be interested - Listen when your partner talks. Ask open-ended questions and make eye contact.
- Express Affection - Hold hands, kiss, and express genuine kind words both during and outside of conflict.
- Demonstrate they matter - Bring up something that is important to your partner, even if it isn't for you. Show small kindnesses and support if your partner is having a tough day. Small things can add up.
- Intentional Appreciation - Intentionally focus on the positives of your marriage and verbalize your thoughts about your partner's positive traits and things that are good in your life together.
- Find opportunities for agreement - This makes your spouse feel validated and breeds further positivity.
- Empathize and apologize - Put yourself in your partner's shoes. Acknowledge and validate their feelings. You can say things like, "I see that you feel frustrated." or "I understand why that would make you angry." And if you did something wrong, say you're sorry.
- Make Jokes - Playfulness and laughter can diffuse tension. Just remember to respect your partner in all joking and teasing.
Know When to Ask For Help
Despite all that couples do individually and together to make a marriage a happy and healthy, life can be very difficult. Circumstances beyond your control can put stress on yourself and your marriage. Knowing when to ask for professional help can be the difference between divorce and achieving the lasting fairytale love many dreams of.
According to the American Psychological Association, Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples is about 75% effective. This is much higher than it was a few decades ago because therapists have learned more about what causes marriages to fail and new, more effective tactics to prevent these behaviors. Studies show couples are more successful the sooner they seek professional help. If you wait until you're already thinking about leaving your partner, it may already be too late.
One great way to find a qualified professional to help you keep your dream marriage alive is to visit www.betterhelp.com/start. Effective, professional counselors are just a click away!
Grande, D. (2017, December 06). Couples Therapy: Does It Work? Retrieved February 02, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-it-together/201712/couples-therapy-does-it-really-work
Mcnulty, J. K. (2016). Should Spouses Be Demanding Less From Marriage? A Contextual Perspective on the Implications of Interpersonal Standards. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,42(4), 444-457. doi:10.1177/0146167216634050
(n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2018, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/healthy-relationships.aspx
Recipe For A Happy Marriage: The 7 Scientific Secrets. (n.d.). Retrieved February 02, 2018, from http://time.com/30921/recipe-for-a-happy-marriage-the-7-scientific-secrets/
The Magic Relationship Ratio, According to Science. (n.d.). Retrieved February 2, 2018, from https://www.bing.com/cr?IG=FF9C33ACE0E84E65BD26062431377DB7&CID=24B5F6863A64683C30A1FD0C3BCB6939&rd=1&h=mBtucnQh3YnpvyxGpf-pisl2kt1pLJTxcjCS4qMZNRY&v=1&r=https%3a%2f%2fwww.gottman.com%2fblog%2fthe-magic-relationship-ratio-according-science%2f&p=DevEx,5067.1