I’m going to share with you what I believe are the three most important things to ensure a strong marriage. These are the three most important out of several, many, dozens, that are important.
My name is Kimberly Holmes, and I’m the CEO of Marriage Helper.
I have a Master’s degree in Psychology, and I’m trained as a marriage and family therapist. I have been working with couples for almost a decade in this type of work.
At Marriage Helper, we have seen hundreds of thousands of people go through some iteration of our courses, online courses, and workshops and training. We have had an amazing success rate at helping couples stay together and creating a stronger marriage than they ever had before.
We would love for that to be you as well.
When it comes to having a strong marriage, you can build your foundation on top of these three things:
I’ll start with mutual respect instead of love or commitment or any of the other ones that you might hear out there. Some even recommend having sex every day of the week, which honestly isn’t even healthy for either person.
I’m not starting with those because I believe that for you to create a solid relationship where both of you are hearing each other, wanting to listen to each other, and actively listening to each other, it starts with having respect. When one partner or both partners begin to lack respect, you begin to have a person who looks down on the other.
If I am married to my husband and don’t respect him, whether I am consciously saying it or not, I’m telling myself that “he is lesser than me.” If I don’t respect someone as my equal, which in marriage we have to respect our spouse as our equal, it will not lead to a long-term healthy relationship.
You don’t want your marriage relationship to look like one of you as a parent and one of you as a child. Even if one of the people in the marriage is acting like a child at the time, that’s not the way you should treat your spouse, ever. You need to treat your spouse with respect. You need to show your spouse that you see them as your equal.
What does that look like when we see our spouse as an equal?
That means that you consult them about major decisions. You ask for their opinion, and you listen to it. If they’ve had a bad day, you listen, and you empathize. Even in just our communication, there are so many aspects that can show that we respect our spouse.
If I respect my spouse and they make a decision that I’m not necessarily 100% excited about, if I respect him, I’m not going to attack him for that. I’m not going to try and throw him under the bus. I’m instead going to voice my side of it respectfully, like a mature human being, or I may realize that it’s not a battle worth fighting. I can simply let my husband’s desire go the way that he wants it to go.
Respect can look like a lot of different things. I believe that people can question and ask themselves, “am I showing my spouse that I believe that they are my equal? Or am I acting like I’m better than them?” If you feel like you might be acting like you’re better than your spouse in the way that you’re treating them, responding to them, the tone of voice you use towards them, then it’s time for you to start changing some of your behaviors.
The second thing that’s important in having a strong marriage is acceptance.
A lot of times, when people hear that, they think, “Oh, no. I can’t accept some of the things that my spouse has done. I can’t accept some of the things that she said. There’s no way I would accept that.”
Let me let you in on a secret. There’s a difference between accepting something or someone as they are versus accepting the behavior or the thing that they did. What I am talking about here is accepting your spouse for who they are as a person.
If you are trying to change your spouse, if you believe that you don’t like the way they want to spend their time, you don’t like their hobbies. You don’t like the fact that they’re an introvert. You don’t like the fact that they’re an extrovert. If you can’t accept that about your spouse, then what you’re probably doing instead is trying to change your spouse. That’s not working out well for you.
If a person in a relationship feels like they have to change who they are for their spouse to like them or love them, it causes resentment over time.
One of the questions you should ask yourself is, “does my spouse possibly feel like they have to meet a set of standards that I have for me to love them, for me to accept them?” This could even be a question that you ask yourself when accepting things that have happened. If your spouse has been involved in gambling, some addiction, or had an affair, then, of course, you may not accept the things that they have done. What we have to do is learn to separate the action from the person.
I had some friends several years ago. The husband had become an alcoholic, and the wife did not accept the behavior of drinking. He was doing things that were putting him and the family in danger while he was drunk. That wasn’t something she condoned.
That wasn’t something that she was encouraging to happen, but she still accepted him for who he was as a person—seeing that he had worth and value that was separate from the action he was currently doing.
I believe that’s what we’re missing in society these days.
It seems like we have to accept the person and every single thing they do for us to love them. That’s not true at all. I can accept and love the people in my life even if they do something disagreeable.
If you have kids, you accept your kids as they are. You see the “amazingness” that they have. You appreciate their personalities and how they grow and develop. But if your child doesn’t listen to you, if you tell them to clean their room 500 times and they don’t do it, that’s not a behavior you accept. That doesn’t change the fact that you love them and you accept them as a person. We need to see it the same way with our spouse.
The third most important thing for a mutually healthy long-term relationship and having a strong marriage is healthy communication.
One of the quickest things that can break down in a marriage is communication. It can break down by the couple no longer talking to each other, stopping date nights, not asking each other questions or wanting to learn more about the other person, or asking them about their day.
I was being interviewed just this morning at the time of recording by a radio station in Kansas. The DJ was asking me, “what is it that you see with couples that you work with? Do you feel like couples stop being interested in each other after they get married?” I responded to him, and I said, “I do.”
When my husband and I started dating, we played this game called the ‘question game.’ Every single time we talked, every date we went on, every phone call we had, we would talk until 1:00 AM or 2:00 AM on the phone. We dated long distance for ten months, and we would ask each other questions, every question in the world, just going back and forth with each other’s turn.
That was such an amazing part of when we dated. We learned so much about each other, and it was very unfortunate that after we got married, for some reason, that question game stopped. Do you think that my husband or I stopped growing, stopped learning, stopped developing, stopped having opinions? No, not at all. We continue to change daily, to grow, to develop because we are dynamic human beings.
Why did the questions stop? Life gets in the way.
That’s one way that healthy communication can start breaking down. The other way is when the communication turns sour, instead of listening to each other. Think back to when you were dating. I know when I think back to when Rob and I were dating, that’s my husband; I was on my best behavior. He could do something that would make me mad, and I would be so patient, I would believe the best about him. I would give him the benefit of the doubt.
That is how most of us are when we’re dating. We are more likely to have great communication. Unfortunately, what happens after we get married is all of that goes out the window. Something in the wedding cake gives us amnesia to handle situations with grace and respect.
What I am encouraging you to do is think back to how you handled disagreements. Hopefully, when you were dating, that was more patient that was more loving. That was more listening, more gracious, more empathetic, and do that again because that will help you have healthy communication.
Suppose the communication in your marriage has become sour or negative. In that case, you need to reset it and stop the negative communication cycle because that could make a huge difference in repairing your relationship and putting you back on a positive trajectory towards having a strong marriage.
We have a whole toolkit that teaches you exactly how to reestablish the communication in your marriage and have more positive communication. Stop the negative, start the positive we call it the SMART Contact Toolkit because it’s the best and smartest way to contact and communicate with your spouse.
At Marriage Helper, we want you to have a strong marriage. We believe that you can do that by having mutual respect and accepting each other for who you are, even if you don’t accept behaviors or things that have happened.
If you have read this and you say, “I am struggling in one, two, or all three of those areas,” then we can help you. We want to help you have a strong marriage. We have coaching, we have online courses, we have the SMART Contact Toolkit, and we have workshops for marriages. You can call our office at (866) 903-0990 or visit this page to schedule a call to speak with one of our client relations reps to create a strategy for how you can move forward in creating a better marriage than you’ve ever had before.
We would love to help you.
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