Experience has taught me the FACTS that follow. These are five words that outline steps you can take to create a happy marriage that could last a lifetime.
If you’re in a new marriage, relationship, or romance that is not working so well, FACTS may be what you need. The fairy tale notion about marriage (love at first sight, instant rapport, never any arguments, eternal bliss) has come and gone, and now reality has surfaced. The wonderful experience of falling in love can be a strong basis for a couple’s domestic bliss. But love will change along with changes in health, age, financial status, children, parents who need care, and other challenges. Life will almost certainly throw us a curve.
In my revised edition of The Gift of a Lifetime: Building a Marriage That Lasts, “Marriage is not a romantic fantasy. It is instead a psychological journey that begins with attraction, travels through a course of self-discovery, and culminates in a satisfying, lifelong union.” Of course, most of us are still trying to figure out the formula for such a happy ending. I have the answer: Follow the FACTS. (By the way, all quotes in this blog come from my book, The Gift of a Lifetime.)
F is for Forgiveness
How many times do you need to forgive someone but don’t? Instead, you carry the burden of feeling angry or resentful and can’t let go of the wrong that has been done to you. And yet this only hurts no one other than yourself. What if keeping that wrong alive only causes distress and negative thoughts? Making a conscious decision to let go and move on despite the hurt, releases you from negative thinking and lets you choose happiness instead. It does not mean you condone the hurtful action; it means you realize the mistake and can allow the other person a chance to do better. It can be thought of a decision to forgive, an empowering choice you make to improve the emotional landscape within your heart.
Of course, forgiving does not mean continuing to be vulnerable to a people who might hurt you, lie to you, break their word, or attempt to harm you. You have a right to protect yourself. Whether they can find redemption or not is up to them. It is not your responsibility to facilitate that. But if your heart grows heavy, and you find yourself obsessing about painful events in the past, perhaps a choice to let go can help you to find peace and focus on more constructive aspects of your life.
A is for Acceptance
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone accepted you for who you are and not for what you look like, or how smart you are, or how rich you are? Wouldn’t it be nice if you were accepted even with all your flaws? (which we all have) Unconditional, positive regard frees us from anxiety about our worthiness. It also eases that sense of perpetual loneliness that many of us feel. If someone acknowledges you and all your faults and still holds out their calm and steady welcome, there is a basis for a relationship that is more than superficial.
Acceptance is a process of seeing people for who they are and focusing on their good qualities while allowing the unique or different ones to prevail. It means adjusting to and being more tolerant of the differences in your partner and seeing the differences as opportunities rather than as deficiencies. A true relationship is never with a carbon copy of ourselves. When we bump into those differences, we are reminded that we are reaching out to another human being. We are seeking that love to supplement our self-acceptance. Giving love is as transformational as receiving it.
C is for Compassion
In The Gift of a Lifetime, compassion is defined as “tenderness and concern shown to a person in need of caring.” It lets you get out of your world and look into the reality of other people with kindness and patience. The desire to help alleviate their suffering or reduce their painful feelings can create a soft and open heart that allows us to really feel connected. Being able to surmount the obstacles of genuine compassion and clear sight can transform our relationships with others.
Never underestimate the value of simply listening. Sometimes just being present is all that is needed. If you are unsure of what your spouse or partner needs in their time of grief, or simply just having a bad day with the kids or at work, just ask: What can I do now to make it a little better? That question can go a long way in stretching your capacity to care about their needs. It is kind, unselfish and patient. The way love should be.
T is for Trust
“Trust is the most important thing we can bestow on a person. It is a risk, that leaves us open for loss.” In other words, sometimes we must take an emotional gamble because the potential benefit is too great to ignore.
Trusting someone means being able to be vulnerable and safe with another person. It allows open and honest communication without fear of rejection. Trusting creates a deeper connection and bond with your partner. Your relationship has a boundary around it, much like a castle wall, creating a foundation of safety and dependability. If spouses or partners cannot trust each other, their communication will be ineffective and feelings, goals, and needs will be suppressed.
Although trust may be a small 5 letter word, it is a big request. It means that what you say and do need to be the same. Whether it is a simple task like walking the dog or picking up a child from school, it must receive the same priority as trusting each other to uphold marriage vows. We must be able to know that it will be carried through.
S is for Spirituality
“Loving is one function of spiritual life. As we advance spiritually, we exercise our capacity to serve others and to practice spirituality in our marriages. A spiritual couple is faithful.” It is not necessary to share the same spiritual beliefs as your partner, but being able to talk about your spiritual views and having the permission to practice these beliefs within the relationship is crucial.
You don’t have to belong to a church or even believe in a particular religion to have a rich spiritual life. Perhaps a better term is “moral values” or just “values.” Without a sense of our life’s higher purpose or definitions of right and wrong, how do we guide our own conduct? How do we teach our children to guide their conduct? How do we know that our relationship is proceeding in a positive direction? Without these abstract ethical systems, people tend to use material gain as their only yardstick to answer the question, “Am I happy? Am I going in the right direction with my partner?” We all want a safe foundation, and spirituality is an important part of being able to feel safe in a committed relationship.
Practice these five FACTS, and you will have a marriage or relationship for a lifetime. The story of you and your loved one may not be a fairy tale, but reality can make us happier than a fable.