Magazine article U.S. Catholic

10 To-Do's after "I Do": What Makes a Marriage Work? Marriage Experts and Everyday Couples Offer 10 Tried-and-True Tips

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

10 To-Do's after "I Do": What Makes a Marriage Work? Marriage Experts and Everyday Couples Offer 10 Tried-and-True Tips

Article excerpt

Maureen Rogers and Lanny Law, caught in a sudden downpour, took shelter in a little cafe and warmed up with some tea. After several hours of conversation--and several pots of tea--Maureen and Lanny knew they wanted to be together. Some 20 years have passed since that tea-filled heart-to-heart talk, but when Maureen phones her husband to say she's on her way home, Lanny's ready reply is, "I'll put the teapot on." For Maureen, that simple phrase, loaded with memories and meaning, tells her she is still loved by the man she fell in love with.

Is that all it takes for you and your spouse to have a successful marriage--just some schmaltzy words and fond memories? Hardly, according to experts who study the dynamics of marriage relationships. But it doesn't hurt to take part in a little ritual only the two of you share. Similar words and actions that show love and respect, care and concern, interest and affection are all part of the answer to the question: What "works" to keep a marriage together and growing?

Since today more than 40 percent of first-time marriages fail, married couples continue to need both an understanding about what it takes to make their marriages last and some suggestions to help them make the journey together.

Chances are you are already doing some of these. Try others on for size, but don't go into this thinking there is one little trick you can learn to turn your married lift into paradise.

Maureen Law, now a marriage and family therapist in private practice in Minnesota, warns against cookie-cutter answers.

"People are more complex than easy solutions," she says. "The one-size-fits-all approach doesn't cut it. But if there's a bedrock to the relationship, simple things do work."

For Law, married to fellow therapist Lanny for more than 20 years, having a bedrock means "truly knowing the other person cares deeply about you."

Here are 10 tried-and-true tips:

1. Be able to tell each other how you feel.

Happily married couples know their spouse is not trying to hurt them by expressing his or her own feelings.

Helping couples express feelings is what Mary Jo Pedersen, a marriage and family spirituality specialist with the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese of Omaha, does in her workshops. "Once you've developed the ability to share how you feel about an issue of contention, you've reached a place of intimacy where you can start building instead of fighting," she says.

Mark and Liza Margelofsky of Bonduel, Wisconsin, both St. Norbert College graduates, were married five years ago in the college chapel in DePere. Mark is a teacher and high school coach, while Liza does home day care in order to be with the couple's two toddlers. She also waitresses part time.

The Margelofskys have kept alive their wedding day reading from St. Paul, using the description of love in 1 Corinthians ("Love is patient, love is kind ...") as a tool to help them express their feelings openly and honestly.

"Since it was part of our wedding ceremony, we use the passage from St. Paul as a reminder of what we have and what we need to do to make out marriage work," Liza says. "It's a nice tension-breaker and a friendly way to remind each other, 'Hey, are you behaving as this verse says we should, as God would want you to behave?'"

2. Be intentional about forming an "us."

Partners in a successful marriage work at being a couple. They do things together--work in the garden, attend a concert or sporting event, even paint or clean the house--because shared activities make them feel bonded. They take time to have intellectual intimacy by sharing ideas, talking about what each other is reading, or sharing what they got out of a book or movie.

Couples with good marriages balance their own needs and desires with those of the other person. The Laws, authors of God Knows Marriage Isn't Always Easy: 12 Ways to Add Zest (Sorin Books), say there are only two big questions: What do I need and desire in my life and in my relationship with you? …

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