Why unhappy marriages? Why divorce, desertion, marital unhappiness, after a young couple exchange vows of "to love until death do us part?" Here are five practical steps you can take to be one of a shrinking minority — the happily married couple.
DIVORCE lawyers, marriage counselors and sociologists usually list three to seven major problem areas in a marriage. Here is a discussion of the five most prominent ones. By reversing the major, underlying problem in each area, you will be attacking the root cause of most of your marriage problems.
I. Learn to COMMUNICATE!
Marriage counselors list communication at the very top of needed marriage skills. One divorce lawyer went so far as to say: "It has been my experience that in at least 90 percent of all divorce cases, the reason for the termination of the marriage, if it had to be resolved in one phrase, would be 'lack of communication.' " Hugo A. Bordeaux, executive director of the Marriage Counseling Service, Baltimore, Maryland, said: "All over America, husbands and wives cannot talk to each other. This, I am convinced, is our Number One marriage problem..." Dr. Charles E. Wahl, Chief of Psychosomatic Medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine, said: "Failure to communicate is by far the most frequent circumstance in a disturbed marriage." But why this gulf between a husband and wife who talked before they were married and, chances are, for months after they married? Is there nothing left to talk about? No, that isn't the problem. The real difficulty is SELFISHNESS and neglect. The husband no longer seems interested in the wife and vice versa. The husband may be more engrossed in his favorite TV program, hobby or job. How can this be overcome? Only in one way. Both husband and wife must learn how to show true love and concern for each other.
How to Communicate
Genuine love is outgoing concern. It is pointed away from self, a desire to help, to serve, to give to the one who is the object of that love. And no one ever "just happened" to want to give his life away, or share his time, labor, thoughts, cares, hopes, and dreams with another human being. It takes work. For you, step number one could well he to turn off that television set each night (or limit viewing to an hour or so each evening). Take time to discuss the day's activities, "small talk" along with the important developments. Bring the whole family into the discussion. Communication is NOT just quiet discussion in stilted circumstances. It begins the moment you wake up, and it lasts all through the day. Husbands, call your wife from the office if possible. Take her for a walk. Don't be afraid to pitch in with household chores when the need arises. Spend an evening reading together. Comment to each other on what you're learning. Say "I love you." Each one of these is unselfish communication at its best. In short, love one another. One form of communication which couples shouldn't indulge in is arguing. When you communicate properly, arguments will not build up. Argument is not necessary. Communication, frank and free, is! Many wives complain: "All he wants to talk about is business or sports." Husbands say: "All she wants to talk about is the house or local gossip." Each waits for the other to change, and is not willing to make the first step. This lack of desire to be concerned with the needs of the other mate leads to the often erroneous idea that both husband and wife are incompatible.
II. BUILD Compatibility and Companionship
"But we're not compatible," answer millions of unhappy couples. "We just don't have anything in common." Chances are, before they were married, a couple thought they had everything amazingly in common. Never were two people so ideally matched, they thought. But why the idea now that they are incompatible? "Incompatible" is probably the most frequently mentioned but least understood of all terms regarding marriage problems. Of course, no two persons are perfectly compatible, or wholly incompatible. Only by living with a person do you learn his or her habits and peculiarities. Compatibility is not a birthright, but an adjustment. The greatest adjustment is to expand your empirical self to include another's way of life. Too many men and women want the other party to do all the adjusting. Compatibility is a process that grows. The degree to which a couple increase their compatibility is the degree to which their marriage will become rewarding. If you really feel you have nothing in common, make a list of all enjoyable things that you have done or haven't done but you wish you could. List between 10 and 25 items. Ask your spouse to do the same thing, separately. When you have both completed this, compare lists. In most cases there will be at least one common point of interest between you — probably several. Use that activity as a building block for doing things together. The more a couple think, act and do together, the more compatible they become. Struggling together against misfortune or to reach common goals is basic to marriage solidarity. A survey of 250 happily married wives disclosed that the overwhelming reply to the question, "What do you like most about your husband?" was "companionability." Yet, so often couples lack this solid feeling that they are companions together throughout life. Men have a tendency, more so than women, to seek recreation with a group of their own kind — men — rather than with their wives. This should not be so. Husbands, your wife should be your best friend, and favorite companion. Spend more time with her than with any group of men. Remember, no two people have exactly the same likes and dislikes. But that is NOT necessarily a handicap to a happy marriage. Two people of quite different natures are sometimes strongly attracted to each other. Many authorities say these complementary marriages sometimes have even more potential than the carbon copy pairings. The solution once again is outgoing interest for one's partner. Happiness in marriage on this point is determined by how much two people are willing to overlook differences and strive to be of one mind on all matters. "If two people start out with tremendous differences and resolve them over a lifetime of living together, they have a strength inside each of them and between them, that nothing can take away," wrote one marriage counselor. For more information on communication and compatibility, read our free booklet Your Marriage Can Be Happy. Chapter titles include, "How to Solve Family Arguments," "What Are the Laws of Marriage," and "Be a Family." This 72-page, color-illustrated booklet is free. There are two more kinds of incompatibility most often mentioned in the divorce courts: sexual incompatibility and financial incompatibility.
III. Sexual Compatibility
There is no end to the publishing of books about sex — from the excruciatingly factual manuals to the torridly unfactual best-seller novels. Three of five best-selling nonfiction books recently were sex manuals! Most of the novels on the best-seller list were liberally spiced with sex. Look at the fruits of this knowledge explosion on the subject of sex. About half of the 45 million married couples in the U.S., it is claimed, are "sexually incompatible to some degree." It is "the great cause for divorce in this country" according to the now-famous research team of Masters and Johnson. Others estimate three fourths of all married couples are sexually troubled, with only about 10 percent of these due to physical malfunctions. But aren't all those "love guides" helping these couples out of their ignorance? Not so. Dr. Stephen Neiger, Executive Director of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN), said, "Most of the troubled couples who come to see me for counseling have read three or four books on how to make love, and have been so damaged by them that they're forced to seek professional help"! He found that 9 out of 10 books on lovemaking were "garbage... misleading information sold in the guise of authoritative knowledge." Dr. Paul Popenoe, General Director of the American Institute for Family Relations in Los Angeles, agrees with this analysis. He explains much sex literature "may be useless or harmful for one of four reasons: 1) Some of it deals so largely with abnormalities and perversions that it confuses the average young person. 2) Some of it is so vague and general that it is not applicable. 3) Some of it is what might be called mechanistic and 4) Some of it is what might be called perfectionist. It sets up a standard which few will need to attain" (Paul Popenoe, Marriage Is What You Make It, MacMillan, 1963, p. 141).
Right Knowledge Needed
This by no means condemns proper knowledge about sex. The Victorian Age shrouded our great-grandparents in ignorance. And it wasn't bliss! But on the other hand, the pendulum has over-swung to the point where voluminous physical sex knowledge is published without the all-important missing dimension. Couples go into marriage believing sex is the elixir of life, balm for all ills, fountain of youth, the be-all and end-all of marriage. But it often doesn't work out as the manuals say it should. What is wrong? It usually involves the missing ingredient in sex — an outgoing concern for your mate. Sex is merely the height of physical communication and companionship — the first two laws of a loving marriage — shared in the supreme expression of that love. Marital sex matures as the couple increase in true love for each other. In fact, a fulfilling sexual relationship is impossible apart from an outgoing, physical expression of love — not a selfish expression of lust.
IV. UNDERSTANDING YOUR ROLE
Men and women are different in literally every cell of their bodies (due to male and female chromosomes). There are differences in height, weight, figure, skeletal structure, metabolism, strength, some internal organs, ability to bear children — and temperament! It is not a matter of superiority or inferiority in any of those fields, but a matter of difference. The wise married couple learns how to appreciate and enjoy these differences. Just what are the roles of husband and wife in marriage? There is no mystery here. What sensible woman would marry a man who refused to provide for, honor and cherish his wife? A man's role is breadwinner, leader, example, and loving head of his family. If husbands would fulfill these roles, there would be little room for family arguments, competition, marital frustration, working wives, or women's "liberation." Most women would love and honor a husband of that stature. The problem begins when men do not fulfill this responsibility. But what then is the all-important role of the wife?
The Wife's Responsibility
A survey of 622 urban housewives in 1965 revealed that they considered their roles to be mother, homemaker, and wife — in that order. In fact, a third of the women never even mentioned their roles as wives to their husbands, the only role of the three to which they vowed "I do" years earlier. Today, there is great confusion concerning a woman's role. Should she be a homemaker? Should she have a career? What is her relationship with her husband? Suffice it here to say that if a woman has chosen to be married, she must respond as a wife if her marriage is to be successful. Experienced marriage counselors have come to see that even if only one partner makes a concentrated effort to save the marriage — that is, to give in on arguments, to surrender selfish "rights," to smile, love, respect, and serve his or her partner — then the other mate usually catches the spirit and also changes! But this must be a sustained effort over many months in many cases or even years. Even if a wife finds it difficult to respect her husband it is not her role to bitterly indict him. This will insure the eventual dissolution of the marriage. The subject of the roles of husband and wife goes much deeper when you consider the little-understood mental and psychological differences of the male and female. One husband-wife team of lawyer and counselor wrote: "Deep at the root of every marital problem is the simple fact that women rarely understand men, and no man has really ever understood a woman. If this can ever be changed, married life would be smoother" (Kenneth and Irene Donelson, Married Today, Single Tomorrow, p. 27). Of course men can understand women — and women can understand men. But it isn't automatic. It involves concern for the other and a proper understanding of each one's role in the marriage state.
V. FINANCIAL COMPATIBILITY
Financial problems in marriage are really only an effect of husbands and wives not communicating (Point One) or not knowing their roles (Point Four). Finances are cited as a major cause of divorce, but they are only an effect of the other problems listed above. Many people live happily within a small salary when they communicate and make a cooperative effort. Financial arguments are usually based on home government — "How much credit?" and "Who controls the money?" Often both partners want control — or perhaps neither does. Experts cite finances as one of the major problem areas in many marriages. A Redbook survey found that "nearly 60 percent quarrel about money." The Donelsons, cited above, wrote, "... husbands and wives fight over too much just as frequently as they do over too little" (Married Today, Single Tomorrow, pp. 10-11). In other words, disagreement over how the money is to be used. Lewis M. Terman, in his voluminous research of marital conditions, listed "money matters" in the top position of husband-wife complaints. Dr. Popenoe, Director of the American Institute for Family Relations for over 40 years, clarified this point in a PLAIN TRUTH interview: "Most of the so-called causes of divorce are actually symptoms rather than causes. Financial difficulties are very common, but people don't break up from these difficulties if they're happily married. Few people are really happily married if they quarrel over finances rather than simply working the problem out together." Practical points in handling finances include first of all communication of needs, accompanied by a willingness to share. Once again this means having outgoing concern for the other mate. One primary consideration involves the setting up of a family budget. This encourages communication, consideration of both partners' needs, and agreement on priorities.
Important Financial Considerations
The main principles of budgeting include paying necessities first, avoiding credit purchases, and — an important factor for marital happiness — allowing each partner pocket money for which he or she is not accountable to the other. Many women complain they can never buy the least item for themselves or their children without an accounting to their husbands. Meanwhile, hubby stops to buy snacks, drinks or trinkets whenever he likes. Of course, there are also wives who want to spend freely and at the same time expect their husbands to account for every penny. Who should manage the finances? This is the crux of most financial arguments. The husband should take the lead in setting up the budget. Depending on the circumstances, a wife might keep the records and pay the bills. Organization and individual duties will vary with each family. There is no set pattern. But, whatever is done, it should be done together. Sharing financial duties promotes family harmony. It builds stronger family ties in every way. It doesn't matter which person stubs the checks or pays the clerk if they both communicate and cooperate.
Have Financial Harmony
Some men dress in the latest styles, while their wives are kept in shabby housedresses. This is not financial responsibility or compatibility. If the wife has expensive tastes for furnishings, home, clothing, and transportation, and the husband makes only half as much money as she wants, this is not financial compatibility. Both need to give in — the wife should learn to do without until the husband has worked hard enough and long enough to earn them. And the husband should study and work hard in his occupation so he can advance financially. In our rapidly changing economy, one more financial consideration is important. As Dr. Popenoe says, "Handling the finances should be reviewed regularly, in the light of changing conditions and the changing needs of home and family." Be aware of financial news enough to know when to buy a home, a car, children's clothes. Study the cost of living (and the cost of borrowing), and counsel widely before making major purchases or budget changes. Finances are a very important subject for every household in this affluent society. For much more information about this subject, read our FREE booklet Managing Your Personal Finances, a common-sense manual based on sound financial principles.
Your Marriage CAN Be Happy
A strong family unit truly is the building block of a great nation. "A strong monogamous family and the highest culture" have historically always gone together, according to Dr. Popenoe. "... if one deteriorated, so did the other!" If every couple practiced these five points, the ascending divorce rate would immediately begin to decline, and then vanish. It is gratifying to know that thousands of formerly unhappy marriages have been revived and enriched when the points discussed in this article have been faithfully and thoroughly applied.