Counselor's Corner: How to ‘divorce-proof’ your marriage, part 2

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By John Lapp

At the end of last week’s column, I made the statement, “It is not over until it is over.” Don’t give up on your marriage until you have exhausted all possible ways to not only salvage it, but improve it. It has happened with many couples I have worked with over the past 40-plus years, and it can happen with your marriage —if you really want that to happen.
But, the column this week is devoted to some couples who haven’t yet considered the big “D,” but want some suggestions as to not only avoid a divorce, but want to strengthen the relationship and take it to new levels.
Let’s begin by addressing what causes love to die. One of the prime factors is a loss of respectfulness for one another, which should include that both partners are equal. That does not relate necessarily to one’s intelligence, or some other measure of status, but does relate to the inability to compromise, undue measures of open criticism or attempts to alienate or develop jealousy.
A major cause is when one of the partners becomes what is commonly known as a “control-freak,” making arbitrary decisions, not only major decisions but also minor ones, which, when added up, can appear to be major. What is often seen in these marriages is an overall lack of many facets of intimacy.
Too often our society has associated this word on a regular basis with the sexual relationship. However, the full content of the word includes many other things. While the sexual relationship may be a real part of the meaning, it would not be placed at the top of the list in happy, healthy marriages. Intimacy relates to emotional closeness, a sharingof innermost feelings, feelings which are accepted by each partner.
A note here of importance: feelings don’t necessarily have to be logical, correct, factual or even make sense. They are just feelings.
One of the things I have taught to hundreds of couples is what is meant by “transparency,” a subject you may have read about in other columns I have written. It is one of the most important things that couples should develop and use in order to strengthen their present marriage and proceed to take it to new heights. The trouble with this concept is that many married couples don’t have a mutual acceptance of each other. What then transpires is that one partner shares everything, even things that don’t necessarily have to be shared, and the other partner reveals very little about themselves, providing a certain mystery about the real person inside.
I have had on occasion a surprised spouse tell me, almost in shock, after hearing something I’ve said about their partner: “I never knew that, I wonder why he/she never told me about that.”
How many couples have ever read a book or been to a seminar for couples discussing each other’s top five love needs.
Keeping your love moving in the right direction requires sacrificial acts and behaviors designed to enhance your partner and help him or her feel better about themselves. A marriage that may end in divorce has had a history of selfishness, self-centeredness, operating on a tone of “if she/he would start doing ‘x,’ then I would probably feel more like being ‘x.’” The trouble with this type of thinking is that it is basically conditional. These thoughts require that something take place with your partner before you allow yourself to act.
What if your partner is thinking the same thing? Because neither of you are willing to launch your part first, then there will be no beginning of a mutual growing together. In fact it will only get worse.
Ask the bold questions: “What is wrong? What do we need from each other that is not being met? What can I do to make it better?”
This is important to do now, when you may still have the desire to make some necessary changes, because there may come a time in your relationship when it has gone too far in the wrong direction, and some glib, meaningless promise to do better will all but be ignored because it is probably not believable any more. I have met with many couples whose first appointment included something along the lines of “I’ll do whatever it takes, no matter what, to keep our marriage going.”
I believe wholeheartedly that couples need to keep dating, not ever taking their marriage for granted because of the length of the marriage. The marriage should not be allowed to become dull and boring. I know that in the early stages, you were still trying to win over the love of your spouse. That needs to continue forever.
I have never believed that since Mrs. Lapp and I have been married (nearly 56 years), we should just sit back and relax and not try to win the love of each other.
Because of her disability, we are unable to enjoy the fun of bowling, going for walks, fishing or going for a leisurely drive, just for the sake of just being with each other, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still play cards. We still have times of laughing together over things in life or some silly thing one of the grandchildren had said or done. Recently, we had a visit from Titus, our only great-grandchild, who is now 2 years old, and “talks” to us in his own language and dialect which even his mother struggles to understand. But he displays great emotion when he addresses us with his gibberish talk.
We were not fully prepared for the changes that have taken place with my wife’s form of Muscular Dystrophy, but that does not mean that we have lost sight of each other. In fact the opposite is true.
You need to continue celebrating your spouse for who he or she is. Little things mean a lot. I have purchased greeting cards for my wife just because. It is fun to give a card at any time I want to, no matter if this is one of those “special days,” but any day I want to. The cards are available in many stores here in Taylorsville. Be innovative, write a little poem, add it to the card, or add some special meaningful words of what you feel. That’s what will warm his or her heart, probably more than the nice little poem that’s included. Whatever you do, continue to show love and care for each other. Why in the world would a person want to leave that kind of relationship to find a better one? Although I know they still do. Don’t believe that your marriage has stopped growing. You can make it grow in some way or another.