Want a Long, Happy Marriage? Be Loving AND Stubborn

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Jamie C. WilliamsonBy Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

You might be surprised to learn that stubbornness in marriage is a good thing.

Some spouses try to create a happy marriage through grand romantic gestures like sending flowers, planning romantic dinners, champagne at sunset, or wearing sexy lingerie. Special plans like these do go a long way toward creating a terrific date night or memorable summer vacation, but they are woefully inadequate for sustaining a happy marriage.

Other, more enlightened spouses realize that love is an action word that is best demonstrated by frequent small gestures.

Travel, Road Trip And Black People Couple Driving By Countryside For Holiday, Journey And Freedom With Happiness. Trendy Sunglasses, Fashion And Gen Z Friends In A Car Drive For Vacation LifestyleThese spouses understand that a happy, love-filed marriage involves daily actions that sustain intimacy, commitment, and passion. Robert Sternberg used these concepts to articulate his powerfully descriptive Triangle Theory of Love.

I use this theory to help couples understand that to sustain a happy, loving marriage over a lifetime they must continually and intentionally:

(1) Remain open and responsive to one another and act like (not just say) they are best friends with their spouse.

(2) Touch and show physical affection and passion toward each other, recognizing that the frequency and type of sex evolves with the length of the relationship and throughout the aging process; and

(3) Demonstrate their commitment to each other and their relationship by consistently behaving positively to each other and being dependable, especially when it counts.
Happy, well-adjusted couples understand that it takes all three sides of the Love Triangle to sustain a happy marriage.

In fact, they make it look easy.

Clearly, this kind of approach to marriage does make day-to-day life easier and more pleasant, in part, because relationship intimacy, commitment and passion fuse together to create a Teflon-type protection against routine ups and downs.

But, when real challenges enter a marriage, spouses must show commitment “on steroids”! To sustain a marriage through life’s big challenges, couples must be stubbornly persistent. And it also helps to take a marriage refresher course, to prove it.

Some big challenges are invited, like raising children and building a career. Others are unwanted, like illness, job loss, alcoholism, or a big mistake.

But what it takes to sustain a happy marriage through both invited and unwanted marital challenges is good, old-fashioned stubbornness. That is, couples must want to stay together and be unwilling to accept any other outcome.

Judy C. Pearson author of Lasting Love: What Keeps Couples Together, included in her book an explanation of the value of stubbornness provided to her by Larry Constantine, who at the time was the editor of Lifestyle and a professor of family studies.

Mr. Constantine explained that in this context, “Stubbornness is a quality which keeps people hanging in there when problems seem to defy solution, when logic or fear or pain might otherwise lead them to quit.”

Relationship professionals like me often talk and write about the value of commitment in a lasting relationship. But I think Constantine was on to something when he said that the important, but complex concept of commitment “pales beside the adrenaline of real stubbornness when it comes to sustaining a vital relationship.”

So, this year on your summer vacation go ahead and display a grand romantic gesture, as it will create a happy memory and earn you some relationship points. Go ahead and profess that your spouse is your best friend, your lover, and your soul mate all wrapped up in one. But, if you really want your spouse to feel the love, repeat the promises you made on your wedding day and turn them into daily actions that enhance intimacy, fuel passion, and, especially, demonstrate commitment.

Or you could channel Colbie Caillat and sing “I’m never gonna walk away…. always gonna have your back.” (Or maybe you might just want to have this cued up on your phone.)

Whatever way you declare your love this summer, why not share this post with your spouse and talk about the importance of being stubbornly committed to your marriage? Then, when times get tough (and they will), you can remind each other of your promise to be stubborn. If you are already in tough times, maybe these ideas will help you “work it out.”

Let me know if I can help.

Jamie C. Williamson, PhD is a FL Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator and Couples Counselor who is part of the Gottman Referral Network. She is an owner and partner at Amity Mediation Workshop, a mediation practice specializing in “friendly divorce” mediation and psycho-educational counseling for couples. Dr. Jamie speaks frequently on relationship topics and authors the blog “Work it Out.” You can find her online at amitymediationworkshop.com.