Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Four Rules For A Good Marriage

June 14, 1999

Is your marriage the way you want it to be? Here is a way of analyzing your marriage for strengths and weaknesses. I divide the basic ingredients of marriage into four interacting principles that build on one another and form an interactive loop. These principles are commitment, meeting needs, minimizing conflict and effective communications and problem solving.

1. Commitment. Commitment is the foundation. It forms the basis for trust though a certain amount of trust needs to occur during courtship to create the marriage in first place. Commitment in marriage means:

  • Each partner feels free to reveal themselves to each other in a confidential relationship of safety and trust. Trust is built on honesty and fidelity.
  • There is loyalty in the exchange of confidences and the exclusive sharing of emotional and physical intimacy. A private world is developed that takes precedence over all other relationships. It means shielding oneself from potentially competitive relationships by observing appropriate boundaries.
  • There is patience and tolerance with each other's weaknesses. It means acceptance of certain imperfections that are not vital to the marriage and recognizes that true changes may take time. Couples who live together without marriage develop poor communication and problem solving habits. There is a of the lack of acceptance, trust and security to be honest and courageous enough to confront problems and to be patient with the ones that are obvious.
  • Marriage is seen as life long. This is shown through the emotional investment given, the devotion of one's time, a nurturing of the relationship and in the expectation of faithfulness during adversity, illness, disability, aging and other trials of life. Couples honor their commitment even when it means personal hardship and sacrifice.

2. Meeting needs. This is the fun part of marriage. This is why couples want to be together. Two can survive better than one. Two are happier together than apart. Needs vary with the individual. Each partner cares enough to find out the particular needs of their partner and makes them a priority. Meeting needs in marriage means:

  • Providing for the important human needs of belonging, acceptance, affection, love, emotional support, companionship, understanding, sharing faith and belief, comforting and soothing, sexual intimacy and pleasure, and personal development within the context of marriage. It is the crucible of love and happiness.
  • Serving one another, loving and giving, sacrificing for the other's well being, and consistently putting one's partner ahead of oneself is important. The lubricant of love consists of daily acts of consideration, kindness, courtesy, and attention. It is the loosening of the bands of selfishness and daring to experiment with love. It is finding out that the love you freely give comes back to you.
  • Each partner strives to give encouragement and support for the other's goals as each partner pursues the gifts and talents within them.
  • There is playing together, having fun, sharing humor and using light-heartedness to counteract the pressures and stresses of life.
  • Partners share together in work, responsibility, easing one another's burden, and have a fundamental willingness to cooperate around solving mutual problems.

3. Minimizing conflict. Marriage is a relationship between equals. Differences need to be treated with respect. Violations of fundamental respect come from hostility, harshness, judgment, criticism, contempt, temper outbursts, pouting, verbal and physical abuse, stonewalling and disdain. The amount of negativity a marriage can absorb without harming the relationship is surprisingly small in comparison to the total interactions. Minimizing conflict means:

  • Giving each other the benefit of the doubt, overlooking faults, choosing not to extract justice at the expense of the relationship, and not overreacting to mistakes is essential. Marriage goes better when marital partners are easygoing, mild mannered, self-restrained and patient with each other.
  • Paying attention to the process of communication and being constructive in getting back on course are positive steps to avoid unnecessary conflict. Couples need to be willing to de-escalate and dampen down an argument rather than to provocatively up the ante. Good listening helps the angry partner feel understood. How a couple feels about each other after differences have been aired is more important than what was solved.
  • Marriage partners need to be able to apologize for offenses and be willing to forgive and let go of past hurts. Both partners need to be quick to repair their relationship after conflict or hurts.

4. Effective communications and problem-solving. Couples need to develop a track record for solving problems. Many times the ability to solve problems breaks down because of poor communication habits. They need to feel they can influence each other. Couples who communicate effectively have the following in common:

  • A warm and receptive body language is used and the tone of voice shows interest, respect and concern.
  • Respect is shown for whoever has the floor in a conversation. Spouses use good listening skills and empathy to draw their partner out and show understanding of what is being said and felt.
  • Respect for a partner is shown by the care in which opinions are expressed. Being polite and mannerly helps. Listening to and recognizing the validity of their partner’s point of view does too. "Being right" and "being married" don't go well together.
  • Seek to understand each other first and then attempt to discuss solutions. Negotiations have to be fair and take each other's needs and concerns into account in arriving at mutual solutions.
  • Commitments are honored after agreements have been made. This creates trust and a willingness to keep trying to improve the marriage. More needs will be expressed and more needs will be met. In this way the marriage gets better and better.