We’ve all heard the stats on divorce. Rates are sky high.

The marriage breakup rate in America for first marriage is 41% to 50%; the rate after second marriage is from 60% to 67% and the rate in America for 3rd marriage are from 73% to 74%. But the picture may still look bleak for the couples who remain together.
Here are three descriptions:

Back to back
– These people don’t like each other. They dread the sound of the garage door opening. They don’t speak, or they fight like crazy. My hope is that very few couples stay in this situation, because the damage to self and children is devastating.

 

Side by Side – These partners get along, but the marriage is just a partnership to get through life. “Are you picking up the kids?” and “What’s for dinner?”  is the extent of their conversations. They prefer spending time with friends or watching sports, but don’t spend much time with each other. Sadly, my guess is that this scenario describes many married couples.

 

Face to Face – My guess is that only 10% – 20% of couples are close friends. They love spending time together. They seek each other out for comfort. Their spouse knows everything about them. They don’t hide things from each other. They don’t have separate bank accounts or separate lives. They are united, yet they still make space and time apart from one another.  They stay connected throughout the day via texts, flirty emails, or short phone calls. They pursue each other. They don’t just ask what each other did; they ask how each other feels about what they did.

 

I don’t claim to have a perfect marriage. Marriage is hard work! However, as a person who has been married for 26 years, trained in marriage counseling, focused her graduate thesis on adult couple intimacy, and seen her share of couples in therapy, I have a few thoughts to offer in how to have a close marriage

  • Pursue your partner in the way they experience intimacy. For women it’s through conversation. Husbands, grab your wife around her waist, uncork a bottle of wine and ask her to sit on the deck under a starry sky. Listen to her longings and her stories of relationship. Women, men typically experience intimacy by doing activities. Join your guy in the stadium or on the couch; snuggle as you watch a ballgame. I love being outdoors with John whether we’re fly-fishing, hiking, or skiing.
  • Seek counseling to get at the root of why you are disconnected. Don’t just see any counselor. Many counselors don’t have expertise in marriage counseling and may damage an already fragile relationship. I recommend you see someone who does specialized intensives stricly for marriage or a counselor trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy.
  • Take vacations together. Please don’t make up excuses about the kids. The most loving gesture you can do for your children is to fall madly in love with their other parent. Your children will never grow up and wish you hadn’t gone on that romantic vacation together. Hire a sitter. If you can’t afford a sitter, trade out a week with another family. If you can’t afford a hotel, borrow a tent.
  • Read some good marriage books. Here are a few I recommend. The Five Love Languages, How We Love, Hold Me Tight, The Meaning of Marriage, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and Sheet Music. My friend Rick Johnson just wrote a new book called The Marriage of Your Dreams.
  • Make time for sex. Sex is a huge indicator of how healthy a couple’s marriage is. When couples tell me they aren’t having sex, I know the marriage is not good. No physical intimacy = no emotional intimacy. Of course, there will be episodes surrounding illness, surgery, and childbearing when sex is not an option.
  • Schedule together time.  John and I often get caught up in projects on Sunday afternoons, but we always know we will reconnect at dinnertime and then we’ll sit outside or watch a show together: The Amazing Race, Parenthood, Downton Abbey, or Undercover Boss. We’ll share laughter and tears and later talk about these as we fall asleep.
  • Dream together. I’ve noticed the happiest couples work towards common goals. Maybe it’s a dream to move to a small town, or start a business, or build a house. Maybe it’s a trip to Europe or a cooking class. Or imagining grandchildren. Couples who stop dreaming in one accord gradually move apart.

Do you have a face to face marriage? If not, what can you do to make it closer? If you do, what would you add to this list?


Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty teacher at Colorado Christian University.

She is also the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice."