Extend Your Circle of Friends and Family
Happy couples say both partners try very hard to make their partner’s friends and family their friends and family. Don’t expect it to happen overnight; it can take time and sometimes a good deal of patience. But the effort is worth it. Just as your relationship gets stronger with each day you get to know and love each other better, incorporating these new friends and family can make your relationship stronger, too.
Keep things in perspective. While it’s very important to accommodate both of your parents and relatives as much as possible, in the end, your life as a couple comes first. Patterns of interaction that may have been fine when you were single may not be ideal now that you’re a couple. You may no longer want to go to your parents’ house for dinner every Sunday. You both may want to spend some Sundays by yourselves, just the two of you and perhaps your children. Be generous with your time, but also set limits to protect your relationship. Most of all, be patient. It can take a while for everyone to adjust to new family dynamics.
“Gerry and I are very thankful my mother was so understanding,” Lilo says. “When we got married, I was the only remaining child my parents had and they didn’t want me to feel guilty about spending less time with them. My mother said to me that day, ‘From now on I’ll be second fiddle your husband will come first. That’s the way it should be.’ With an attitude like that on her part, we established a wonderful relationship in which she was always there for us and our children and we were always there for her.”
Holidays Present Challenges
Holidays have to be planned with great care. Which in-laws do you go to for Thanksgiving? For religious holidays? Over vacation? Start well in advance of the holidays to talk over with each other what your holiday plans will be. Here again, if you both take the long view, it will be easier to achieve balance and fairness over the course of years.
My Friends…Your Friends…
It’s important for both of you to have friends jointly and individually. One common mistake many newly married couples make is to think that because their spouse is now their best friend, they may not need any others. If you each had friends before you were married, there should be no reason not to maintain many friendships. Ideally your good friends will become both of your friends.
Friends provide an important support system. They support you, both individually and as a couple. Their different life experiences can offer a fresh perspective on how your life and your marriage are going.
Women and men alike often get a different kind of enjoyment and nourishment from relating to their buddies than they get from their spouses. That is only normal. If you expect your spouse to fulfill all your needs for companionship all the time you may be putting far too much pressure on your marriage. Developing and maintaining friendships, individually and as a couple, allows each of you to grow as individuals. When each of you is stronger, your marriage, in turn, grows stronger.
Developing and maintaining friendships, individually and as a couple, allows each of you to grow as individuals. When each of you is stronger, your marriage, in turn, grows stronger.
Forging new friendships with other couples who have good marriages can be enormously rewarding. Spending time with other happy couples, watching their relationships grow as yours does, reinforces and strengthens your commitment to each other. Socializing with other couples also expands your interests, bringing out different aspects of your personalities that might not be evident when it’s just the two of you. You each get to see each other in a new light, which keeps your relationship fresh and exciting.
Your Children Help You Make New Friends
Once you have children, you will find that they provide wonderful opportunities for making new friends. You may meet other parents in the playground, at the park, or in the course of arranging play dates for the children. What better foundation for a friendship than that you both have in common the people you love most in life your children. Friendships like these can last for decades, and often include longtime friendships between the children as well.
“When our kids were little, we met several other couples, at a nursery school PTA, who had kids the same age as ours and who had similar interests to ours,” says Lilo. “It turned out they had great marriages, too and they’ve been our friends for fifty years.
“About ten years ago, when one of our friends was widowed, we all started a picnic club,” Gerry continues. “We would meet once a month and have a picnic dinner together in the park where our kids used to play, or in one of the couples’ homes if the weather wasn’t good. We added five other couples. Some are widowed now, but we all still meet and feel close, because we know so much about the ups and downs of each other’s lives and the lives of all our children.”
Celebrate Often with Friends and Family
Large occasions or small, happy couples make time to celebrate their love and happiness with friends and family. They don’t just have fun on birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. They create festive occasions in between picnics, dinner parties, neighborhood gatherings, family reunions to get everybody together. In many families, as the relatives get older, they get together for funerals or memorial services. It is much better not to wait for a sad occasion, but to look for happy occasions, while everyone is alive and well, to celebrate together.
Give Back to Your Community and the World
The same qualities that make you a good marriage partner make you a good citizen. To be a good marriage partner you have to look beyond your own needs as an individual to the needs of your spouse. To be a good citizen, you have to look beyond your own needs and those of your family to the larger needs of others in the community. Being good in one arena reinforces the other. By making your community a better place to live, you are making yourself just a little bit better, too. That, in turn, will strengthen the bond of your relation¬ship. It is also some of the most deeply satisfying and pleasurable work you can do.
Helping others gives you and your partner another chance to celebrate successes. Building a community pool in your neighborhood, helping children learn to read, bringing a better politician into office, or finding a home for a homeless family gives you great cause to celebrate and to meet interesting people who share your outlook.
The opportunities to enjoy the satisfaction of serving your community are endless. You can work in a soup kitchen; volunteer to teach at your local school as a teacher’s aide or a tutor; organize fund-raisers for a new church, synagogue, or mosque; coach Little League or soccer; or be a Scout leader. You don’t have to wait until after retirement to begin! Doing something worthwhile and challenging leaves you feeling better about the world and yourselves. You realize how lucky you are.
Whether you and your partner work together or separately, doing something for others brings out the best in each of you. You have one more thing to admire. That goes double when you can get your children involved, too. Your whole family grandchildren included will reap the benefits.
“I was eating lunch with my seven-year-old granddaughter after her riding lesson, when she spilled some Coke on the floor,” Gerry, the proud grandfather, recalls. “She went to get paper towels to clean it up. As she wiped up the spill, she realized the floor looked much whiter in that patch than the rest. So she spilled out some more Coke and cleaned a bigger and bigger section of the floor until practically the whole floor was spotless. I said, ‘The floor looks nice now, but why did you do it?’ She looked at me with a very serious face and said, ‘How else can I make the world a better place, Grandpa?’”
You Get Back More Than You Give
Building a happy, healthy life together brings you full circle. The love and respect you’ve shared with each other become the seeds of love and respect for others. Your ability to share in decision making gives you stability and a sense that you’re in it together. Having a wonderful sex life keeps you feeling vibrant and intimately connected. Staying fit and healthy gives you the energy and enthusiasm to experience more fun and more pleasure in your lives.
Nearly every aspect of your lives together is enhanced by a good marriage. You’re likely to surround yourself with friends who also have good marriages. You’ll have an exciting partner with whom to explore each day. If you’re lucky, you’ll have the unparalleled joy of raising children together. If you’re even luckier and work hard at your marriage all your lives, you may also be able to see your children and grandchildren carry on your tradition and have great marriages for themselves.
“Lilo and I suspected we would be happy together more than five decades ago when we first met, but the reality is even better than our dreams,” Gerry says.
“We imagined us together, as a little old couple, holding hands,” Lilo adds. Gerry continues Lilo’s thought. “We’re not just holding hands, we’re still dancing, we’re still making love, and we’re still skiing down mountains together. Looking back, I know we couldn’t have had such a great life with anyone else.”
“Gerry got me to be more adventurous, and I got him to be more sociable. We have as much fun now as we did when we were younger. Being married has widened our world immeasurably,” Lilo says. “We love the spouses of our children, and our grandchildren our family has been one of the greatest joys. We’ve shared the magic of a wonderful marriage and the miracle of children. The best part is being there for each other. We also were fortunate to be able to have an impact on our community together. In a great marriage you get older but not old.”
This article was adapted with permission from WONDERFUL MARRIAGE Copyright © 2008 By Lilo J. Leeds and Gerard G. Leeds. BenBella Books, Inc. 6440 N. Central Expressway, Suite 503 Dallas TX 75206. For more information about this book or information about the its authors Lilo and Gerard Leeds, Terrence Real and Susan Seliger.
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