Please note that I am in no way claiming any expertise in this subject. I have no degrees in family sciences. I never took a class about this. But I am very happily married and have been for all of the nearly 10 years of my marriage. That does not mean Jon and I have never fought or gone through seriously difficult personal issues apart from losing our daughter Camille. We are both far from perfect and marriage can just be difficult when you are working with imperfect people. Go figure. But, we have found techniques to work through our problems. And I am perfectly willing to share.
So I will write my thoughts down and then when I am done Jonathan will fill in in italics his comments, additions, musings, and commentary. Enjoy!
Essential Ingredients for a Happy Marriage
Honesty: From early on in our friendship, I knew Jon was very honest. He always let me know exactly where I stood with him even when he knew the truth might hurt my feelings or disappoint me. He thought of me as a friend. He had no interest in more. I was interested in exploring more. But he never led me on or gave me reason to hope that someday he would like me. I really appreciated this honesty.
In our marriage, he has been similarly honest. When he screws up, he admits it. And when he feels I need to step up to the plate in something, he only tells me when he feels it is really important. So when he does tell me about something, I listen and take it to heart.
Without honesty, it is hard to have trust. Without trust, well, it is hard to live with someone you don't trust. So being honest to build trust is in my book pretty crucial.
Ok -- here's the interesting thing. How many of you when reading this thought about your spouse and their honesty (or lack thereof)?? I think it's important to note that honesty is a two-way street. Just how honest are YOU in the relationship? Many times we withhold crucial feelings/thoughts/information because either we don't want to share or we don't find it important.
Love: You would think this one is obvious. I mean why would you marry someone you didn't love? The trouble comes when the initial infatuation stage wears off and you have to find within your relationship that true, deep, lasting, unselfish love that is essential to keep the home fires burning through the long term.
This kind of love is born of respect and gratitude and comes straight from heaven. When you can see your spouse the way the Lord does, it is easy to love him or her in spite of all the flaws you discover after you get married. This gift of charity for your spouse makes you see your spouse for the person they can become. It makes you want to be a worthy companion and help them to become that person in any way you can.
Another part of this essential love ingredient is like. You have to like your spouse. If you aren't married yet, don't marry anyone you don't genuinely like to be with apart from the physical aspect. If you are already married and feel like you don't like your spouse, try hard to find things you do like about them. Develop new things to do together that will help you like him or her. Liking the person you spend eternity with is kinda key to being happy.
Luckily, I really like Jon. I always have. He is funny and quirky and I would rather spend time with him than anybody else.
My favorite quote on this subject is: "Choose the one you love and love the one you chose". Once the choice of marriage is made you have to love (this is a verb) your spouse. I keep hearing terms like "we fell out of love" and "I don't love him/her anymore". Now, barring some evil and/or hateful act that your spouse has committed, I really don't believe that these statements are the final word. Love is found through the act of service and in serving your spouse you can recapture that love.
Forgiveness: This one is huge. We all screw up. Sometimes we screw up really really big. It happens. We need to realize when we have screwed up or hurt or spouses feelings even if we thought we were right and sincerely repent to them.
Then when our spouse repents to us, we need to forgive him or her. This can be incredibly difficult depending on the severity of the injury. Sometimes their sorry just isn't enough to take the hurt away. I find it helpful to give them a way to make it better. Make something up that they can do to show you they are sorry. I find it helps to make the hurt go away, especially if it is something silly.
The second tactic that helps with forgiveness comes from the Book of Mormon. In Jacob 3:1-2:
But behold, I, Jacob, would speak unto you that are pure in heart. Look unto God with firmness of mind, and apray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will bconsole you in your cafflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down djustice upon those who seek your destruction.
2 O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may if your minds are firm, forever.
I think these verses are helpful for anyone who has a broken heart. They give a recipe for healing the broken heart. Look to God with a firmness of mind, pray with faith, receive the good word of God, feast upon His love. But the key to feeling this love is the firm mind. We must train our minds to keep our thoughts in line with where the Savior would have them. When a person repents sincerely to the Lord, the Lord remembers the sin no more. Does this mean the Lord really doesn't remember what we did? No. He knows what we did. He just doesn't bring it back to Him mind anymore. He doesn't "remember" it anymore.
When we are injured by someone and they repent to us, we need to train our brain to not "remember" or dwell upon their bad act or hurtful words. This is so much easier said than done. I know. This principle has been key to healing my heart in the past and it is essential now to overcoming my feelings of guilt and loss. I must train my mind to be firm in seeing Camille's death from an eternal perspective and remember no more the "if only" and "why didn't I" thoughts that so easily haunt anyone in my shoes. Yes a firm mind is essential to healing the broken heart and forgiving.
Work: Marriage is work. You have to focus on making your spouse happy. That mean self improvement and service. If you are really working hard to make your spouse happy, the love part comes more easily, as does the forgiveness when you screw up. If you get complacent, things can quickly slide into a lull that is hard to escape.
I'm going to add a trick Stephanie and I use in our "work" of marriage. We are both very stubborn and usually fight for our own way. Many times in family life there are conflicting desires, activities, places to go, holidays to spend, etc. When we both come to one of these occasions, one person will ask, "how important is this on a scale of 1-10" and we then quantify how important that desire is. The higher number wins. Period. Now, honesty is obviously important and answering 10 every time makes the trick useless...
Commitment: Every marriage has highs and lows. There are times when you are more in love with your spouse than ever before. There are other times when you go for long stretches of lulls or going through the motions. Lots of couples now days seem to get into these lulls and feel they have fallen out of love and get divorced. That is not what marriage is about. Marriage is about sticking it out through the lulls and getting you booty into gear working to make it better. Lulls can last years. They are a natural part of marriage. They are not a sign of an unhappy or unsuccessful marriage. They are the sign of a normal marriage. The couple with commitment is faithful through the lull and works to bring the joy and happiness back even if it takes a long time. Commitment is key to any successful marriage.
I just want to add one important point: that many times marriage involves doing things we don't want to do, with people we might want to be with (like say, your spouse's high school football buddy) in less than desirable places. For me, noting that something means a lot to my wife (even though I don't care for it) means I need to make the sacrifice for her happiness. I took my wife down to Brazil a couple of years ago and visited some of my old mission areas. I could tell she was NOT having a good time due to language barrier, her pregnancy at the time and just how boring it was for her. But she recognized it was important for me (and of course I tried to keep it as short as possible), so she was such a trooper.