How To Have a Happy Marriage

Many marriages end in divorce while other couples subsist in misery.  If you long for a more fulfilling marriage, here are a few suggestions.

The secret of a happy marriage

The ability to resolve conflict is the secret to a happy marriage.  When conflict is resolved, you give one another pleasure rather than pain.  Notice I said RESOLVE, not concede or take refuge in silence.

Conflict will occur.  While some couples are painfully aware of areas of conflict, others maintain they don’t fight.  Conflict is not necessarily fighting.  Conflict is wanting different things

The sure sign of trouble

Withdrawal means trouble.  You may withdraw emotionally and/or physically.  To withdraw emotionally is to spend a whole day together and yet be alone.  Emotional withdrawal means you refuse to let the other person past your barriers to know what you really think and feel.  A couple may sit in the same room for five hours watching TV like two rocks side by side on a beach.

Physical withdrawal is when you avoid your mate.  If he is on the golf course while she is shopping, they avoid painful encounters.  Emotional withdrawal occurs before physical withdrawal.

It does matter

So many couples live parallel lives that many consider separate lives normal.  However, you are headed for trouble.

If your mate is not a source of pleasure for you, why be married?  For the children?  Because of religious convictions?  Because of duty?  The pressures of society to remain married have relaxed, and women are more financially independent.  With the outside pressures relaxed, many women simply file for divorce rather than remain in an unhappy marriage.

Also, people who live parallel lives are ripe for an affair.  One day someone listens to you, really listens.  He looks you in the eye, takes you seriously, and draws out your secret dream.  She doesn’t correct you, believes in you, and laughs at your jokes.  And it feels so good.  This other person gives you pleasure rather than pain.  Chemical changes occur in your brain, and you are in love.

You go home to nothingness, to problems, or to painful encounters.  More and more you think of this other person, find ways to be with him, tell her how you really feel, and you probably will end up in a sexual relationship.  At the very least, you will withdraw further and further from your mate.

Divorce is overrated as a solution

I just finished Continuing Education Unit on Texas law as it relates to family issues.  No wonder people find their lives in such turmoil after a divorce.  The legal complications of a divorce are overwhelming, especially if children are involved.

Another reason divorce is overrated is that most people will not choose to live alone.  Most people will remarry.  Thus, we have a family composed of yours, mine, and ours where children are concerned.  Not only is such an arrangement draining emotionally, the financial obligations can be overwhelming.

Just living together solves little.  Common law marriage has unbelievable complications.

Back to conflict

The real problem is that conflict will inevitably enter any relationship.  Conflict will occur even in an affair as two people find areas in which they want different things. The bubble bursts, reality sets in, and the chemical high in the brain subsides.  Now he wants to go home to his wife, his kids, and his dog.  Probably only the dog will be glad to see him.

In a new marriage, conflict will occur.  If you do not know how to resolve conflict in this marriage, why do you think you will know how in the next marriage?  How many marriages do you plan to have?  Do you believe that a relationship is based on magic?

Somewhere I read that divorce courts are full of people who love one another.  That is exactly right.  More is involved in a lasting relationship than feeling love. The skills necessary to resolve conflict can be learned.  And, as you give one another pleasure rather than pain, the feeling of being in love will return.


Here is how you resolve conflict, restore pleasure to the relationship, and be madly in love after thirty years of marriage.

Don’t be reasonable

Most couples fall into the truth trap.  They assume that determining the truth will resolve the conflict, as though we are perfectly rational beings.  Actually, the truth is often unpleasant and can be cruel.  The truth can even intensify rather than resolve conflict.  More is involved in conflict resolution than being rational.

Besides, the truth is always wrapped in perceptions.  He sees the glass as half full, and she sees the glass as half empty.  He sees a great opportunity, and she sees a threat.  She sees a wonderful time with the family, and he sees a day with whining children.  One person looks at a cloud and sees Beethoven while the other looks at the same cloud and sees a doggie.  I believe in Truth, and I believe that Truth is out there, but our perceptions color our vision.

We are trying to resolve conflict rather than do philosophy.  If you approach conflict resolution as finding Truth, then points must be argued, evidence supplied, and the other person proved wrong.  The best debater may carry the day, whether or not truth has been found.  Unpleasant arguments and recriminations make us avoid such attempts to resolve conflict.

The truth will assert itself, but conflict resolution is not primarily a search for truth.

Agree to resolve conflict

The first step is to agree to resolve conflict in the sense that each of you must be happy with any solution.  Make a pact.  Agree that anytime you find you want different things, you will brainstorm together until you find a happy solution.

Agree to take breaks

When your button is punched, you go deaf.  Maybe you have a HURT BUTTON, a GUILT BUTTON, or an ANGER BUTTON.  When you talk with your mate, your button gets punched.  From that moment on, you are on automatic.  You hear and understand all the words, but you are deaf.  Think of the times you have talked and talked and never resolved anything.  Someone got a button punched.

Agree to call time out.  When you sense your button is getting punched, call time out and take a break.  You will develop skills and self control, but don’t expect to resolve all conflicts in a single sitting.  In difficult situations, you may have to brainstorm together for weeks to find a happy solution.

See the article on  Dealing with Anger and Other Negative Emotions for more help in this area.

How brainstorming works

Here is a simple illustration of the brainstorming process.

You want to go to be with your family at Christmas, but your mate wants to stay home.  Here is an opportunity for a real mess replete with hurt feelings, guilt, anger, and unresolved conflict.  Avoid the truth trap, and start throwing out ideas.  The dialogue might go something like this:

“You want to stay home?  Well, let’s brainstorm.  Let’s go to see my folks this Christmas and we’ll stay home next Christmas.”

“You say that, but next Christmas you’ll want to go home again.”

“Maybe we can fly up for Christmas day.”

“It’s too expensive.”

“Well, I really want to be with my parents for Christmas.  You want to be here.  What’s your idea?”

“I don’t know.  Would they come here for Christmas?”

“They probably would.”

“Why don’t we ask them?”

What happened in that exchange?  By dealing with wants, the couple dealt with the subconscious: old memories, dreams, goals, and hurts, both rational and irrational.  By brainstorming, they brought the rational into play, but not in a way that would lead to an argument.

By taking what each mate wanted seriously, they expressed love by an action.  Finally, a temporary solution was found that could be tested.  Both people felt happy about the solution, for the solution met the subconscious as well as conscious needs.  In other words, both conscious and subconscious needs were dealt with in a rational way without a lengthy process of psychoanalysis.

You can have a happy marriage

The ideas sketched out here work.  If you have trouble, I do a limited number of  free consultations online and take on a limited number of online clients.  At first you might need some help in sorting things out and gaining the necessary skills.

Let me know how it works out.

(C) 2000, Don Mize 

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