The Seven Cs of Marriage

A perfect marriage doesn’t require perfect partners. Ordinary people can have an extraordinary marriage. What are the common

By Fred Smith

Mary Alice and I have been married for 66 years with the normal ups and downs, joyful surprises and difficult problems. Young couples often ask us how we have managed to have such a long marriage. We try to be honest by telling them that it takes two things: 1) both of them need to stay alive and 2) early on both need to make a decision that they will stay the course. A perfect marriage doesn't require perfect partners. Ordinary people can have an extraordinary marriage. We have found that there are seven C's in a solid marriage.

1. Constant compromise

Most successful marriages are built on daily, not occasional compromise. Initially, each spouse thinks the other will very quickly change to please them, but it just doesn't happen. Creating good compromises is an investment in harmony. The purpose of give and take is harmony and happiness. Most people of good will are willing to go 50/50 but in marital compromise each must be willing to invest an extra 10% into the marriage. The 60/40% creates a natural overlap in the relationship which forms the harmonious bond and a "win-win."

2. Conflicting compulsions

Compulsions are idiosyncrasies that have become concretized. The quirky habits that were endearing at first can grow into conflicting compulsions. For example, Mary Alice is orderly, but I am organized. To me, orderliness is aesthetic but not particularly practical; organized is very practical because it means that you know what you've got, where it is, and if you need it you can find it. It is best to recognize, accept and manage these in order to find the safest way to reduce the conflict. When each can laugh about the other's compulsion it certainly helps.

3. Commitment

Commitment is a decision, and it is best when it is a one-time, permanent decision. We felt that our commitment to stay together gave our children security even when friction occurred. Commitment eliminates tentativeness. For deep-rootedness cannot thrive in a tentative environment. The current culture wants lots of exit doors, but commitment closes off the options. But rather than losing our freedom we gained the stability of relationship. There is comfort in commitment and it is ultimately the path to freedom.

4. Courtesy

When the relationship gets too tight and binding, with the friction starting to build, courtesy is the lubricant that will dissipate the heat and keep the parts working smoothly. Discourtesy is really disrespect. Marriage counselors tell us that one of the things lacking in so many poor marriages is a genuine respect for each other. As one man said, "If I would be as courteous to my wife as I am to yours she would be the happiest woman in the world." One of our lifelong friends would say to her husband in heated moments, "Now, if we are going to argue, let's use our sweet voice." Courtesy maintains friendship.

5. Cooperative

A successful marriage is a joint venture. Each has a responsibility in the partnership. The partners bring their talents, gifts and experiences to the marriage. Responsibilities should match gifts, not stereotypical roles. Two people with a mix of needs and desires cannot fit a predetermined formula nearly as successfully as they can work out one of their own. Couples who identify strengths and gifts early in the marriage can mutually delegate tasks resulting in the effective organization of the home. Efficiency and effectiveness of the marriage come through each partner's taking responsibility for what they do best.

6. Communication

The secret of good marital communication is dealing with truth in love. It is important to express rather than to impress. Real communication is for understanding, not for persuasion. It is incorrect to assume that communication will solve all problems. Understanding is different from agreement. Those with the spirit of communication exhibit a genuine desire to hear, to understand, as well as the patience to hear and be heard. Good communication is focused on the other's need, not one's own satisfaction. Once I asked the wife of a good friend how two such strong people could have such an exemplary marriage. She quickly said, "We don't compete with each other. We complement each other."

7 Courtship

It is important to stay lovers, as well as spouses. Statistics show that the biggest problem in marriage, particularly when it has gone as much as fifteen years, is boredom. Many happy couples have kept their marriage out of a rut by setting side a weekly "date night." It is healthy that each stays interesting to the other. Too often partners want to be married to an exciting spouse but don't want, or can't generate that level of excitement for the other. Courtship is a mutual responsibility, not a tug of war. There are no competitions and no books being kept. The twist on the Golden Rule plays well in marriage: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but you do it first."

The model of a good home provides a blueprint for our children's marriages. We are demonstrating the value of marriage and family life. As it is said, "the best gift that a father can give his children is to love their mother."