Jim and Sarah’s Story Can Helped Me Understand The Four Keys To A Great Marriage
I worked in the field of family counseling for many years. I have a degree in counseling from a major university. I mention it because it gives some credibility to this article.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to see that most relationship issues fall into one of several categories.
In this article I want to address four secrets for building a successful marriage.
Before we jump in to the substance of these four secrets, let me tell you a story about a couple named Jim and Sarah.
I met them years ago. They scheduled an appointment to meet with me over the course of several weeks. It was part of a pre-marital course they were required to take.
I was new to the counseling field. They were new to being a ‘counselee.’ It was our first rodeo so to speak.
The day they walked into my office, they were both a little skeptical. They had both been married before. They were in love with each other, but they wanted to make sure they were building their new relationship on a solid foundation.
Neither of them wanted a repeat of their previous relationships.
‘Been there, done that!’ was their attitude.
They had questions. Concerns. Fears. And even a little anxiety about taking the step.
I’m not sure if they came to me because going through a pre-marital program gave them a discount on their marriage license, or if they really wanted to know how to keep from repeating their previous mistakes.
My guess was a little of both.
As we talked that first week, I asked lots of questions. And listened. I let them unveil their life one piece at a time. As they did, I discovered three key areas that needed to be addressed.
I’ve met with hundreds of couples since then. I’ve found the same four components are the foundation to building a great marriage.
Marriage Must Be Constructed Like A Building
I’m not implying that you can just go through the motions and have a successful marriage.
In fact, it’s the opposite.
There is no such thing as a magic wand that creates a great relationship. All relationships are based on heart condition of trust, acceptance and love.
Without those components you don’t have a relationship. You may have an acquaintance, but not a relationship.Marriage Must Be Constructed Like A Building Click To Tweet
That’s why I say a relationship is based on heart condition of trust, acceptance and love. I avoid using the word ‘emotion’ when describing the heart. Emotions are often reactions to situations. Emotions are whimsical. Up and down. On and off.
So I use the term ‘heart condition’ to describe the real essence of trust, acceptance and love.
My four building blocks help build these three ‘heart conditions.’
More on that in a moment…
Back To Jim and Sarah
Jim and Sarah came to me lacking in trust. They had both been hurt in previous relationships. They were wounded and afraid to trust again.
Because they had been rejected, neither of them felt acceptance. Divorce left them trapped in a ‘performance complex.’ They felt if they didn’t perform well – do certain things with perfection – they would not be accepted.
Finally, they knew they loved each other, but weren’t sure they ‘felt’ love from one another. They had the emotions of love. They were even committed to one another. The problem wasn’t their feelings for each other. It was their ability to feel what each other gave.
So how did we ‘fix’ the problems they were having?
It took some time, but we uncovered four basic building blocks that helped them discover each other, AND recover their ability to love and be loved.
The Four Building Blocks of a Successful Marriage
Before I give you the four building blocks it’s important to know that these are not the only things that make a great marriage.
But without these, you will not have a successful marriage.
1. Shared Core Values
One of the things that surfaced with Jim and Sarah was that their previous marriages were not built on shared values.
For example, Jill was previously married to a man that did not value family time. He had grown up in a household with an absentee dad. His mom worked long hours. They never ate together. Didn’t go on vacations. He basically raised himself.
This translated into a view of family life that was vastly different from Jill.
Her family was the all American ‘Leave it to Beaver’ family. Meal times were exciting. Vacations were fun. They had family game nights and spent lots of time together.
You can imagine how much conflict this caused Jill in her marriage.
Jim, on the other hand, experienced a ‘value disconnect’ in a different way.
His revolved around religion.
Jim grew up Catholic and was a very devoted member of his local parish. He was very active and loved his relationship to the church.
His wife, however, did not consider herself religious. She didn’t like going to Mass. She wasn’t involved in his circle of friends from church. They basically had two separate lives when it came to religious views.
At first it didn’t seem to be an issue. However things changed when their first child was born. Jim wanted to have her christened. His wife was adamant against it.
It wasn’t easy coming to a compromise but they finally agreed to have her christened, but Jim had to promise he wouldn’t force her to attend Mass.
As the years progressed, so did the issues over religion. Jim wanted his daughter to attend Catholic school. His wife opposed it.
He wanted her involved in church activities. His wife said ‘No.’
Battles ensued almost daily. Eventually the issues didn’t just revolve around their daughter. Every decision about ‘life’ became an issue. Until finally, Jim and his wife separated.
Over time they drifted further and further apart until Jim’s wife filed for divorce.
In both cases, core values were violated.
For Jim and Sarah, it was important to identify and discuss those core issues without fear of rejection.
The first assignment I gave them was to identify (privately) five core values that were non-negotiable in their relationship. We called them ‘deal breakers.’ What were the five things that would be deal breakers if they could not agree.
I had them write them down privately without discussing them with each other. Once they were identified, we would address them in counseling together. This kept them from compromising on their convictions and staying true to the things they identified.
It was tough. Tough to identify those things. Even tougher to admit that they could potentially be deal breakers.
The good news for Jim and Sarah was that the five things they identified were not deal breakers. They discovered that they aligned on every major issue they brought to the table.
They were even able to address a few issues that were not ‘non-negotiable’ but important to them. On all accounts, they were able to come together and agree. It was healing for their relationship.
2. Communication Is Key
Once they identified the issues that were important to them, the next step was to talk about them. Openly. Honestly. Without fear of rejection or ridicule.
This was a huge step for both them. They were accustom to arguments, fights and raised voices. They had both grown accustom to yelling their way through conversations.
Everything in their past taught them to debate and fight.
They had to learn a new way of communication. It all began with practicing the art of listening.
With Jim and Sarah, I gave them each five minutes to bring up one issue. Articulate their true feelings without interruption. And state their case.
Because of their love for each other, they agreed to allow the other person time and freedom to talk. They reserved their own feelings until their turn to talk.
It took a little time, but they were able to lay aside their judgment. Listen to each other. Find common ground. And understand each other.
In the process they acquired a brand new communication skill. They discovered that taking time to listen and ask questions, reduced their misunderstandings. It helped them work through issues and minimize conflict.
We each have a communication style. Some are shy. Some bold. Some contemplative. Others direct. Some loud. Some quiet.We each have a communication style. Some are shy. Some bold. Some contemplative. Whatever the style, you must start the conversation. Click To Tweet
We are all different. The important thing is to know that different doesn’t mean right or wrong. It just means different. It doesn’t mean you are incompatible; it means you are unique.
It may take work, but regardless of the style of communication, if you practice honesty and openness to the other person, you can communicate effectively.
Note: Yelling is not a communication style. It is a character flaw. I’ve had clients say, ‘That’s just my way of communicating.’ My advice: Learn a different way or you will lose everyone in your life. Having a hot temper is not a virtue. It is a character issue that must be addressed if you are to have a successful marriage.
3. The Need for Sex and Intimacy
This was the challenging topic. Sex is an issue that most married couples want to ignore talking about; but it is at the root of many marriage issues.
Why? Because sex is the most intimate act that a couple can express. So when the sex is ‘off,’ intimacy is off.
It’s not just about the ‘act of sex.’ It is about openly sharing our lives with one another in the most intimate expression.
I believe that sex is more than a biological act. At our most basic level, we are more than a complex organization of cells, neurological impulses and physical desires. We are more than physical.
Every major religion acknowledges this. Though they may disagree on why this is so, and the ramifications of this truth, they agree we are spiritual beings.
Science is even ‘catching up’ on this discovery.
My point is since we are more than mere physical, biological creatures; sex is more than just a biological act. Why? It is the most intimate act between two people.
So how did Jim and Sarah approach this subject?
First, we had to talk openly about desire.
Most people acknowledge that there is a difference between men and women when it comes to sex. Testosterone, among other things, enhances the male sex drive.
Hormones can alter a woman’s sex drive.
Therefore, these things have to be discusses openly.
I had Jim and Sarah talk openly about their sexual desires, appetites, and needs.
As they did this, it laid the groundwork for them to continue to be honest and open with one another in the future.
My advice? Begin the habit of talking with your mate about your sexual desires.
Basic Ground Rules
1. Do not judge the your mate about their sexual needs. Ridicule and judgment closes the door of intimacy.
2. Be open and truly listen to each other.
3. Be considerate of each other. Sex is about giving. Not taking.
4. Get the mindset of ‘serving your mate’ instead of yourself.
5. Be respectful. If something makes your mate uncomfortable; love them enough to honor that.
There are basic ground when talking about sex. Violate them and you lose. Honor them and you win! Click To Tweet
Second, I encouraged them to Self evaluate. This means reminding yourself that you truly care about your mates desires and needs. (If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t be together in the first place).
Second, I had them affirm their desire to meet each others needs.
You would be surprised at how powerful this simple, verbal acknowledgment can be.
How does it work?
I had them say out loud to each other, ‘I care about your physical, sexual needs, desires and appetites. I want to serve you and give you what you need on a regular basis. I am here to meet your sexual needs. You do not have to look anywhere else.”
Think about those words. Contemplate them.
For Jim and Sarah, they were significant. Maybe your affirmation would be slightly different, but the key is to affirm the needs, desires and appetites of your mate.
Just speaking those words can release something powerful in your partner. AND in your own life.
Third, I had them commit to saying this on a regular basis.
This is not something that is a ‘one and done’ deal. It needs to be affirmed over and over. If you make a practice of this throughout your marriage, you will always have a healthy sexual life.
The real benefit is, you will experience intimacy that is fulfilling and satisfying.
4. Knowing Your Money Personality
Knowing your money personality save you from un-necessary trouble in the future.
What do I mean by ‘money personality?’
Each of us thinks about money in a certain way. If you grew up with parents that taught you the value of a dollar, made you work for what you got, and didn’t spend frivolously, then you probably think of money a certain way.
More than likely you are a ‘Saver.’ You value saving money for the future. You understand the value of resisting immediate gratification.
Compare that to someone who thinks opposite. Perhaps you grew up with a certain privilege. Making money was never a conscious thought.
You were never taught to postpone gratification. If you want it, get it.
I’m sure you can imagine how these two approaches to money can cause conflict.
Knowing your partners ‘money mindset’ is key to success in a lasting relationship.
A lot of this is covered when you define core values, but it is important to set aside specific time to deal with money issues.Knowing your partners ‘money mindset’ is key to success in a lasting relationship. Click To Tweet
Questions To Ask
Are you a saver or spender?
What value to put on retirement planning?
Do you think it will all work out in the end? Or do you feel you only get what you put in?
What is your work ethic? Do you value hard work? Or do you seek a quick road to riches?
How do you feel about investing? Are you conservative? Or willing to risk? What is your risk toleration?
There are many online tools that can help you discover things like risk tolerance. But the key is to talk openly about money.
I realize many of us were taught that religion, politics and money are three ‘off limit’ topics. But to have a successful marriage you must discover and discuss your money personality.
In my opinion, more marriages end over money issues than any other reason. I know there are secondary issues that result from this, but financial pressure.
What About Jim and Sarah
Fortunately for Jim and Sarah, they agreed on their view of money.
They both experienced financial pressure in their first marriage, so this was an issue they were willing to face head on. In fact, it was an issue that brought them together in the first place.
Because of their previous marriages, Jim and Sarah wanted to make sure they never faced the financial strain their previous life experienced. They were willing to save for the future, postpone gratification, and invest in their future.
Jim was a business owner, so he agreed to be honest and transparent about the finances of his business. This is something that Sarah was concerned about. Her previous husband had kept ‘financial secrets’ from her. Secrets that eventually caused bankruptcy. She never wanted to face that again.
Jim agreed and was very transparent about his money situation.
The key to their success in this area was transparency. They willingly talked about their view of money, and how they wanted to plan for the future.
When your money personality matches, life can be sweet. When it doesn’t, it can be hell on earth.
Ask yourself the questions above. Discuss your answers with your spouse. Be honest, open and truthful. As you do, you can move forward in your future. And you will build a foundation of trust.
So what happened to Jim and Sarah?
Jim and Sarah did get married. We stayed in touch for a while. Last I heard they had a great marriage.
That meeting with Jim and Sarah helped me lay the groundwork for a successful counseling practice. From what they shared with me, it helped them launch their new life with confidence and hope.
There are struggles, problems and issues in every relationship. Especially marriage. I’ve come to realize the reason is marriage is the most intimate relationship you will ever experience. It has potential for problems, misunderstanding and conflict. But with the right tools, and the proper foundation, it can be greatest relationship you will ever experience.
I want to reiterate; these are not the only building blocks of a great marriage. But I have learned that without these four blocks in place, it’s almost impossible to experience a life together that is meaningful and lasting.
We all need help.
Jim and Sarah needed help discovering their values, love language, communication style and money personality.
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What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your marriage?
What success keys for relationship have you discovered?
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