Making A Marriage Last

The Myrtle Beach Sun-News
TSN Edition Section: E; Brief; Pg 1
September 11, 2005 Sunday

‘Til death do us part Readers, experts share secrets about making a marriage last
By Elaine Gaston; The Sun News

Although not everyone may follow the same recipe for a rock-solid marriage, those unions that thrive beyond 10, 25 or more years do share some common ingredients, such as love, respect and trust for one another.

When couples avow to carry with them into marriage the things they shared during their courtship – the passionate kisses, the mutual respect and the caring gestures – they’ll discover life’s challenges can be embraced, weathered and conquered successfully together to create a love that lasts through each marital milestone.

Kim and Dwayne Svette of Myrtle Beach established respectful rules that have sustained their marriage.

“Never go to bed angry with one another; always tell one another that ‘I love you;’ don’t take the little things serious; give 110 percent to your marriage; always have a goal for the future; and remember your wedding vows,” Kim Svette said. It’s that attitude of respect that experts say will sustain a marriage.

“The married couples that seem to be successful in making love last are those that have a high regard and respect for each other,” said Kathy T. Heustess, a licensed marriage therapist at Coastal Samaritan Counseling Center. “And they are intentional about nurturing the marital friendship.”

Challenges, such as learning to live together as one, rearing children and work pressures, can test a couple’s love and threaten to snuff out the romantic fires. Those couples that deal with life’s challenges with a sense of humor, good communication and mutual respect will fare better through the transitions and stressors that often lead couples to divorce.

In an article in the September issue of Redbook magazine, marital and relationship experts offer advice and insight on maintaining wedded bliss and staying connected through life’s inevitable transitions. Their advice is echoed by local experts who have counseled troubled couples aching to reconnect and save their marriage.

The first two years of marriage are among the most challenging, yet exciting, the experts note. The honeymoon is still fresh, so when arguments ensue, couples worry the marriage may be on shaky ground and lacking a solid foundation from which to bounce above conflict.

“It’s natural to feel bursts of anxiety, especially after arguments,” psychologist Laura Berman, co-author of “Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman: Ten Keys to Unlocking Ultimate Pleasure,” told Redbook. “Everything can seem catastrophic – even a fight about where to store the new dishes.”

The experts say couples should relax, breath deeply and focus on the day to day of building a healthy marital foundation. “The first two years are years of adjustment,” Heustess said. “And typically a pattern is set for the rest of the marriage.” Couples are learning much about each other during the first 24 months and how they’ll blend their lives together. “We all bring issues, traditions and rituals from our families of origin,” Heustess said. “Couples must figure out what to keep and what to discard as they create a new union and blend their expectations.”

Earl Moore Jr., who married his high school sweetheart, Glenda, said the first few years were an adjustment. The children came early in the marriage.

“The first 10 years were a struggle, but with the love of family, it was all worth it,” Moore of Conway said. It’s also not unusual for the intense feelings of attraction to wane “as the ordinary rituals of life settle in,” Heustess said. Studies show, according to Ted Huston, a marriage researcher and professor of human ecology at the University of Texas at Austin, there’s less holding hands, pillow talk and other loving gestures after the first year. But according to Huston, couples who were less over-the-top in the romantic department in the beginning manage better than the more gushy couples because they demonstrate they’ve matured to a deeper, more meaningful grown-up love.

Those over-the-top during the first two years of marriage divorced more often, according to Huston’s study. “They start at a high, lose it, and then look elsewhere to recapture that bliss,” he told Redbook.

The arrival of junior No doubt children can throw a monkey wrench into the marriage, especially when it comes to romance. But experts suggest couples can keep the love light shining with a little creativity and commitment to the relationship.

“Make time to go off together and be alone without the kids,” Heustess said. “The marital relationship is the primary relationship in the home. Children will feel most secure when they know Mom and Dad are secure.”

Frank Rinchich of Loris said he believed his two children brought he and his wife closer together.

“We always had time together,” Rinchich said. “We camped out a lot and went on trips in our camper… It brought us all together.”

But the couple also spent alone time together.

Couples should install a lock on the bedroom door, go on date nights whenever possible and plan an overnight away from the house once in a while, Berman told Redbook.

“Otherwise, you just become partners managing the kids and life, and that makes your marriage more vulnerable to problems down the road,” Berman said in the article.

Children can even strengthen a couple’s bond, Heustess said.

“Parenting can facilitate the concept of a team working together for the common goal of raising healthy kids together,” she said. ‘The stuff of life’

Transitions and how they’re dealt with can either make or break a marriage, the experts say. Raising an adolescent. The death of a loved one. Health problems. Job loss or a career change. The empty nest.

“These are the stuff of life,” said Hal Heidt, a licensed marriage therapist with a counseling center in Garden City Beach. “There are all kinds of external things that go on that stresses a marriage. … The most important thing to understand is that relationships go through stages. Couples need to understand that.”

Too often, couples get caught up in the stuff of life and fail to fan the flames of love.

“People begin to feel more distant and disconnected, and often times, they begin to feel unsafe,” Heidt said. “We have everything intact to be healthy in our relationships. If it’s not taught or nurtured, it goes dormant. Part of us becomes lost.” Losing touch with one another, ignoring the other’s needs, criticizing and being unappreciative and intolerant of the other’s differences puts distance between couples and creates animosity and apathy, Heidt said.

“Couples have to learn to put energy back into relationships and listen to each other’s needs,” he said. “Reexperience those caring behaviors, things they used to do when they were dating.”

Kim Svette of Myrtle Beach said she and her husband, Dwayne, of 18 years never lost sight of the deep friendship they forged early on in their relationship.

“Dwayne is my husband, spouse and my best friend,” Svette said. “I think friendship is very important.” Ava Cadell, a well-known relationship and love expert, and the founder of Passion Power, a program for couples, said the first thing couples lose in their relationship is passion.

“The reason it’s gone is because you don’t continue to do the things you did when you were first dating,” Cadell tells couples in the program. “You take each other for granted… Passion is essential in our lives, not only in sex, but in everything we do. … Passion is at least 50 percent of a relationship.”

Rediscovering passion begins with trying to understand your partner, Heidt said. “If you want to understand your partner, you have to listen to their life stories, where they came from, their life experiences,” Heidt said. “You can’t be selfish. You’ve got to realize the other person has needs just as important and as valuable as mine.” When there is disconnect, “couples either get help or they ride it out like that for years,” he said. Svette says couples give up too easily.

“I think most marriages end up in divorce because they just give up and do not try,” she said. “You have to make a marriage work. With me and Dwayne, everyone told us it would never work because we were too young. Then, after a little while, they said they will not last to their second, fifth or 10th. Then after that, I think they gave up. I am glad that we have lasted to prove them wrong.”

To forecast which couples will best weather the stressors of life and make it to their golden anniversary, Robert W. Levenson, director of the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California at Berkeley, suggested watching them argue. Successful couples manage to resolve conflict constructively without viciousness, contempt or disrespect, Levenson said in the Redbook article.

“Those behaviors are more damaging than anger because anger is situational, while disgust and contempt are about the low worth of the person in general,” Levenson told Redbook.

Heidt agreed: “Couples who have a high level of positive exchanges have greater success… They have a bank of positive behaviors.”

There’s nothing wrong with displaying pain and disappointment in a relationship, the experts say. It’s how one partner reacts to the other that can initiate a disconnect.

“My advice in a nutshell is to learn to forgive one another,” Heustess said. “And keep nurturing the marital friendship as you would any other meaningful friendship. I like to think that the definition of marriage is a lifelong partnership in which you have a consistent witness to the ‘stuff’ of your life.”