When it comes to marriage, there’s lots of advice about how to create and sustain a healthy union. It seems that everyone from clergy, to therapists, to lay educators have opinions about what is good (and bad) for marriages in the US.
This past weekend, we had the pleasure of attending a wonderful conference where many of the country’s best marriage-minded professionals were discussing the ins and outs and all the in-betweens on the topic of marriage. As you can imagine, commonly disturbing stats were thrown around in conversations including: the 50% divorce rate, the troubling numbers of couples dealing with infidelity and porn addictions & the impact this behavior is having on our kids. I think the hardest number to hear was the statement that 40% of American boys are growing up without a father figure. How this loss is affecting relationships, sexuality, parenting and crime was the topic for many conversations during session breaks and after hours.
Once you got past the doomsday stories, the real gems of the event were the presentations and the conversations held with the people in the trenches; folks whose purpose in life is to help create strong, passionate marriages. From pastors to social workers, therapists to marriage educators, the average attendee at the Smart Marriages conference is working night and day to help crack the code on what defines a “healthy” union.
Additionally, some of the country’s best relationship thinkers were there, including well-known authors John Gray, Michele Weiner-Davis, Steven Stosny and the amazing Esther Perel. Lesser known, but equally as important were experts Hal Runkel, Rita de Maria, David and Claudia Arp, Scott Haltzman and Edward C. Lee.
Over the course of the five days, I had many conversations with people and asked their best advice on what creates a loving, healthy marriage.
Here’s what they had to say:
“Focus on being the best person and partner you can be according to your deepest values. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’” ~ Steven Stosny Ph.D., author & founder of Compassion Power
“Have more sex, it’s so important. Don’t ignore your bedroom. It keeps you connected and keeps the intimacy alive in your marriage.” ~Dr. Rita de Maria, author of The Seven Stages of Marriage
“Most people in the West today are going to have two or three marriages or committed relationships in their lifetime. Some of us are going to do it with the same person. Life has become too complex to have just one marriage and live twice as long.” ~Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity
“Your number one goal should be to find what it is that makes your spouse happy and do it.” ~Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men & The Secrets of Happily Married Women
“Express your love daily in words, deeds, delicious kisses and warm embraces. Tell each other what you want and need. Expressing clear expectations is one of the greatest gifts you can give each other. This helps lessen disappointments and avoid misunderstandings.” ~Ross & Val McKinley, Marriage Educators
“Although our differences are very apparent and easy to recognize when we're naked, research has proven that brain chemistry and hormone diversity exists, too. Learning to understand and appreciate our not-so-obvious differences and how to speak and respond in the language of the opposite sex is the key to building successful marriages. ~John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
“Real giving is when we give to our spouses what's important to them --- whether we understand it, like it, agree with it, or not!” ~Michele Weiner-Davis, author of The Sex Starved Marriage & founder of the Divorce Busting Center
“Fun in marriage is serious business. We never met a couple on the way to divorce court who were having fun.” ~David & Claudia Arp, co-authors of 10 Great Dates
“Husbands and wives cannot cultivate anything lasting with each other until they first cultivate a healthy relationship with God. So have faith. Keep faith. Cultivate faith. ~Edward C. Lee, author of Husbands, Wives, God: Introducing the Marriages of the Bible to Your Marriage
“Committing to staying calm is the first key to committing to staying married” ~ Hal Runkel, LMFT, author of Scream Free Parenting and founder of the Scream Free Institute
“The five most important words describing a husband’s calling in marriage: Proactively create a happy marriage. Start with giving your wife twenty hugs, kisses and compliments each day. The five most important words describing a wife’s calling in marriage: Proactively respond to husband’s efforts. When he hugs you, receive it and hug back. When he kisses you, receive it and kiss him back. When he compliments you, thank him and compliment back.” ~Joel & Kathy Davisson, authors of The Man of Her Dreams, The Woman of His
“Love and Laughter go hand in hand...When people complement each other, laughter lives; when people compete with one another, laughter dies. To sustain love and laughter like you did in the ‘Honeymoon Stage’, remember the “Performer/Audience” concept. In each situation, there must be both a ‘performer’ and an ‘audience’ for a positive attraction to occur. Like magnets, opposites are stronger. Identify your own strengths and recognize that when you and your partner have competing strengths, it can result in loss of attraction. Choose to focus on the positives in each situation rather than dwell on the negatives. Even in tragedy, dig down deep for something good and always find the “Hero” in your partner.” ~ Yakov Smirnoff, comedian and featured relationship advice columnist for AARP
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes events like this one to keep people energized and excited about marriage. Even in the face of stories about the rising rates of infidelity, porn addiction, domestic violence (yes Mel Gibson, I’m talking about you) and divorce, people at this event were genuinely excited about marriage.
For me, I came home after five days happy to see my husband and more excited than I have been in some time about our marriage. It’s a really good feeling and I can guarantee that I’ll be going again next year. You can find out more about attending next year’s conference on the Smart Marriages website and be sure to keep an eye on Diane Sollee, founder of SmartMarriage.com & mastermind behind this event. She’s one smart cookie with her pulse on the who’s-who and what’s-what in the world of marriage.