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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,061
February 10, 2021
Celebrating Marriage Week
By Mike McManus

Marriage Week is the perfect time to celebrate with your spouse. This Valentine's Day do something special.

Sadly, the percent of people who are married has sharply declined - by 57% since 1970. There were only 2,077,000 marriages in 2015 - fewer than 1970 - though the population grew in those years from 203 million to 331 million.

If the same percentage of couples were getting married now as in 1970, there would be 1.3 million more marriages a year. This trend is a disturbing loss for individuals and society.

What's alarming is that millions of couples are cohabiting. The number of couples living together has soared 21-fold, from 430,000 in 1960 to 9 million in 2018. Living together just doesn't work. Either partner can walk away at any time. Only the marriage commitment offers significant security. You can't practice permanence.

To those who are married, a warning: half of America's marriages have ended in divorce for five decades. Our divorce rate is triple that of England or France after five years of marriage - though a much higher percentage of Americans are religiously active than Europeans.

Marriage today is a risky business.

For those of us who are married, what can we do to strengthen our relationship? Answer: Create what I call an "intentional marriage." Date your mate! Set aside sacred time, on a regular basis, to be with each other. Why is it that we maintain our lawnmower and our hair, but not our marriages? A marriage is a living organism and needs time and nurturing.

Gary Chapman's book, Five Love Languages: How To Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate has answers. He notes that the feeling of "being in love" which prompted us to marry - is an emotion that lasts only two years at most. "The in-love experience does not focus on our own growth nor on the growth and development of the other person. Rather, it gives the sense that we have arrived."

Falling in love is effortless. The time we spend together during courtship is joyful. However, after this period, what matters is whether we take steps to foster personal growth of our spouse. This is key in creating a healthy, lasting marriage. Currently 40% of first marriages end in divorce. Sixty percent of second marriages fail, and 75% of third marriages.

"Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love, but to be genuinely loved by another," he writes. How can that be fostered? Chapman has five suggestions.

#1: Use words of affirmation that build up your partner. Solomon wrote, "An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up." Verbal compliments or expressions of appreciation are powerful communications of love.

Examples: "You look beautiful in that dress." "Thanks for washing the dishes." "I love the flowers you planted."

When we hear words of affirmation, we are likely to reciprocate in a loving way.

#2. Spend quality time with your spouse. When you come home after a day's work, sit down with your mate and ask about their day. Keep the TV off.

Your marriage needs quality conversation that lifts the spirit. Chapman offers practical suggestions, such as "Maintain eye contact when your spouse is talking. Don't listen to your spouse and do something else at the same time. Listen for feelings. Observe body language. Refuse to interrupt."

In a time of crisis, be available and supportive. For example, when your wife's mother died, did you just attend the funeral, or spend time listening while she grieved?

#3. Give and receive gifts. A gift is a symbol of love - whether it is flowers you picked from your yard or a present you bought.

#4. Perform acts of service to show your love. Such acts might be cooking a meal, setting the table, washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, cleaning the car or painting a bedroom.

#5. Physical touch. As Chapman puts it, "Physical Touch is a powerful vehicle for communicating marital love. Holding hands, kissing, embracing and sexual intercourse are all ways of communicating emotional love to one's spouse."

What is your love language? What is your spouse's love language? Discuss it. Consider how you each can better nurture your marriage.

Lastly, all marriages experience conflict. The relationships that survive and thrive are those that resolve conflict in a respectful, mutually satisfying way. Couples: date regularly, have an intentional marriage, and practice some love languages. Once a year schedule a marriage enrichment getaway.

Scripture advises: "These three things last forever: faith, hope and love - and the greatest of these is love." (I Corinthians 13:13).


Copyright (c)2021 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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