Feb. 14, Valentines Day, is observed annually as a significant cultural, religious and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love in many regions around the world.

While it generally is characterized by sending greeting cards with images of hearts, flowers, chocolates and other gifts, it also can be an opportunity for you to look at your coupleship and celebrate, evaluate and make plans to make some changes.

Once, marriage was simple. You got married, had children, worked the land and stayed married whether you could stand each other or not. The concept of a “happy marriage” was no more relevant than the idea of a “pretty tractor.”

That has changed as married individuals have become more independent. Couples don’t need each other for quite as many reasons as they once did. Divorce is readily acceptable as “no fault,” yet most people remarry looking for the “right one.”

However, it isn’t generally a matter of finding the “right one” but rather an absence of the “right relationship skills” that dooms a marriage.

Certainly there are instances when through deception or ignorance one partner is not what the other had thought; but in the majority of failed marriages it is a lack of relationship skills that is to blame. We often see couples come for help who are in their third or fourth marriages, who started out each relationship with grand hopes and expectations but ended up in the same unhappy situation they had experienced before.

It’s easy to fall in love but staying in love, well … that takes hard work. Although the divorce rate has fallen lately, it is still 47% for first-time marriages.

So, what are the secrets to a happy long-term marriage? It begins with the three c’s: commitment, communication and conflict management.

• Commitment is believing you are in this relationship for the long term and are willing to put work into making it succeed. If you have good communication skills, one area of conflict because of miscommunication is mostly eliminated.

• Communication, especially sharing your feelings, both positive and negative, learning to both listen and talk to each other and ask for what you need and want are equally important. It’s helpful to establish a daily sharing time.

• Conflict management is important, as often, just the state of being married can engender more anger than any other social situation you find yourself in and are willing to stay. Learning to “fight fair” and not to attack or leave is essential. It is also advisable to learn to “act on the pinch.” As soon as you feel a negative feeling set a time to get together and discuss what happened. Use “I” messages, sharing your feelings and what happened and explore ways to act differently in the future.

Another aspect is finding ways to have fun together; establish a date night, play games and exercise together.

Many couples can do these things by themselves, but if you can’t, contact a couple’s counselor to get started. ◆

The McConaheys are relationship coaches who live and work in Pelham, North Carolina. They can be reached at mindfulconnectionscoaching@gmail.com or (336) 388-9964.

The McConaheys are relationship coaches who live and work in Pelham, North Carolina. They can be reached at mindfulconnectionscoaching@gmail.com or (336) 388-9964.

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