Marriage Memo head RM med (2)

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July: What Works… and What Doesn’t

One thing I have learned about working with married, cohabiting and engaged couples is that every one of them is unique. No couple is exactly like any other because no two people are exactly alike. Nevertheless, after spending thousands of hours with hundreds of couples, you can’t help but recognize some basic patterns repeating themselves. While I would be hard pressed to define a specific formula for relationship success, there are some definite tendencies associated with particular attitudes and behaviors. What follows is a general outline of what seems to work (i.e. tends toward healthy marriages) and what doesn’t (tends toward more marital distress and lower satisfaction in marriage). And by the way, most of this is backed up by scientific research in addition to my own experience.

In general, healthy couples
• Have known each other for a long time (2, 3, or more years) before getting married.
• Did not live together or have sex before marriage.
• Were healthy and mature individuals themselves before marrying each other.
• Have the blessing of their parents and friends on the marriage.
• Show an obvious affection for each other in the way they talk and act with their spouse.
• Seek wise counsel and make careful, deliberate, joint decisions on important life choices.
• Have total transparency and share everything (including joint accounts, passwords, etc.)

In contrast, couples who have more problems and difficulties tend to
• Move too fast in the relationship (sex, living together, having children, etc.)
• Have unresolved problems in their own past or in the relationship
• Make unwise life choices (e.g. education, career, health) and often “slide” into situations without actually making a thoughtful decision.
• “Keep score” in the relationship, being more concerned with their own satisfaction than with meeting their partner’s needs.
• Lack a full, no-holds-barred, 100%, do-or-die commitment to their spouse and the marriage, and may threaten (or at least consider) divorce during a conflict or difficult situation.

These are just a few of the common trends that stand out, and of course there are exceptions to every rule. Marriages are complex, and can’t be boiled down to a simple list of do’s and don’ts, but I think if you take time to look closely at relationships around you, as well as your own, you will see similar patterns emerging. If you see them in your own marriage, know that you can learn to do marriage better. It may be too late to change the past, but it’s never too late to change the future. If you need help in making a change, please contact us:

Phone: (434) 455-2117

Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director

Above image courtesy of photostock at

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