The most successful marriage is the one in which the couple puts in the hardest work to make it happen, said Dorthea C. Murdock, LCSW, a marriage and family counselor at Salt Lake LDS Social Services with 20 years experience. She and her husband, Robert, have been married 45 years. They are members of the Yalecrest 2nd Ward, Salt Lake Bonneville Stake.
She encouraged couples to work within the gospel framework on the basics of marriage, which include -Communication: "When couples develop good communication skills, you can see them making a connection. Then they solve problems and make sound decisions. It doesn't matter what happens; they feel `This is us.' They can replenish and regroup. They have trust and honesty with each other. Trust is a foundation of marriage. Living the gospel – not just knowing it but living it – is important.
"It is good to sit down and talk about your expectations of the marriage, even before marriage," she said. "Some of those expectations will be fulfilled, but some are like a fairy tale. It is good to be clear about what the partner is expecting so you can clarify and be realistic. Some expectations aren't going to be fulfilled, and one partner could be disappointed. Sometimes you may feel that your spouse is going to be an extension of yourself. This is not realistic. But you can have a lot of common things you can share. You can really understand where each other's desires lie. Then you can work together."
Balance: "No matter how long you have been married, try to keep the marriage in balance," she said. "This marital balance can be fragile and delicate. At each stage of marriage, there will be situations that will come as challenges to this balance." She said young couples just starting learn to adjust, then children enter the home, work situations change, illnesses may come, losses may occur and other circumstances can come that a couple doesn't expect. "It is helpful to work together as partners to maintain that balance, establishing the gospel as the firm foundation. Use the gospel as the compass and guide.
"Rather than expect everything to be the same all along the way, we need to adjust. It is good at this point to stop and redefine the relationship, and refine it so that the couple is working together."
She said that no matter how long a couple has been married, if they continue working on their relationship, they can enjoy the challenges and the rewards. "If that happens through the years, a marriage will not be taken for granted."
Respect: "Respect is a very important. It means realizing you can't read your partner's mind and act on that. It means checking things out with the partner to be sure what you are assuming is really accurate. Because we have lived with a person a long time doesn't mean we can assume with certainty we know their thoughts and intentions. Have patience with each other, especially in the stresses of life.
"When children come along, they can see the parents have a united feeling – the goal they have and the direction they are going – and they have mutual respect for each other. Children may feel secure and respect their parents when they see their parents' example in working together. It is helpful for couples to work to an agreement, even if it is to agree to disagree, remembering to to include mutual respect in the process. It is important that parents and children incorporate mutual respect in their family relationships. Working with respect, they will have empathy and sensitivity to each other."
Being positive: "Sometimes we forget the positives; we sometimes just dwell on the negatives. It is nice to pause and say:
We're really doing a great job at succeeding. We met that challenge together.' Or,You were very helpful in what you did.' When children do something positive, reinforce it and validate it. Tell them their effort was appreciated.
"I am optimistic that marriages can succeed when couples are willing to work hard, to develop a sense of loyalty and devotion to each other and honor the covenants they have made with the Lord. I feel that with the gospel, if both partners are giving their all to the relationship, they have great hope in making it work."
Being flexible: "We need to be flexible and adjust and redefine as we go along," she said. "But we need to do this together as partners. As circumstances change, we can re-create a different plan for that phase of life. Take time out to talk, to share concerns. Each partner can make a want list and ask: `What is good for you? How can we come together in making our marriage really interesting and exciting for both of us at this time.' But realize that marriage isn't always going to be ideal because life isn't ideal along the way."
Spending time together: "In the pressures and stresses of obligations we have, we should make sure that we make time totally for each other on a daily basis. Couples can plan a time when they could be together on a regular basis."
Accepting differences: "There are going to be differences. And in a marriage, differences can be OK if we accept them and work with them. We can't be an extension of the other person, nor can we be at fault for our differences because we are all individuals."
- Reserve uninterrupted time for each other each day.
- Make home a harbor for each family member.
- When you see each other for the first time at the end of a day, take a minute to see how the other is doing before unloading your agenda.
- Bring surprises into your marriage: give a note, buy tickets for a date, clean the car for a drive.