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Family and relationship experts Linda and Richard Eyre have co-authored more than 30 books, including New York Times best-selling Teaching Your Children Values and The Book of Nurturing, and are frequent guests on Oprah, Good Morning America and Today. Married for 40 years, they have raised nine children. They describe each year as “better than the last.” SUCCESS sat down with the Eyres to learn how they keep the magic alive.
Is there a secret to a lasting marriage?
Yes, and it is one word: commitment. The stronger the commitment, the better the chance a marriage will have in enduring the challenges and buffering the conflicts that all marriages experience. The commitment must be strong enough that bailing out is never an option.
How can couples keep the romance alive with
the frenetic schedule of
kids, work, upkeep of the
house and errands?
Two thoughts on this one: First, continue the courtship. We try to go on a date every Friday night. We have done it since we were married. If something else is scheduled on Friday, we shift it to another night of the week. We go alone, we talk, we share, we express love in the same romantic ways we did when we first fell in love. Things like flowers, poetry and spontaneous surprises should be involved. Once a month, our date is called a “five-facet review” because we go to a restaurant and spend the entire evening brainstorming about each of our kids. How is Josh doing physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Socially? Spiritually? We take notes. We always hit on a couple of key areas to concentrate on during the month ahead, and we nip problems in the bud. Working together on our greatest stewardship—our kids— draws us closer together as a couple and as a partnership.
Second, we have a weekly Sunday session, as we call it. It’s our planning and scheduling time when we work out the week ahead, and it also includes what we call testimonies, when we both take five minutes or so and express our feelings for each other, for life, for the kids. It’s like a weekly formal declaration of our love and commitment to each other.
How can married couples improve
Sunday sessions and weekly dates help a lot, but we are both amazingly strong-willed and opinionated. It is at times when we disagree, which is frequently, that we need our best communication. We have what we call the paraphrase-back rule—before one of us can make the next point or argument, he or she must first paraphrase or repeat back the point just made to the other person’s satisfaction. Then we can make our point. This defuses disagreements pretty fast, and hones the quality of empathy, which is the most important tool in a marriage.
It’s not about never disagreeing; it’s about how we handle disagreements. A marriage counselor we met on a plane said, after 35 years of practice, she had discovered three kinds of marriage that were conflict-free. The first, she said, was where one of the parties had died. The second was a marriage where one partner was so totally dominating and the other such a complete doormat that there could never be disagreement. And the third was where the two lived such totally separate lives that there was never enough overlap for a conflict. Disagreement, well-handled, is what produces marriage synergy.
What are some of the common ways couples
begin to drift apart, and how can they get
back on the same path?
If there are not regular, scheduled times to be together and to communicate and plan together, drifting is guaranteed to happen.
Another way we try to stay on the same page is to think of our relationship as two very important and equal general partnerships. The inner partnership is all about the kids, the house and all that goes on inside. The outer partnership is about the businesses, the finances and the causes we are involved in outside the home. In our case, as we write books together, additional coordination, communication and synergy always take place.
By the way, it is not a bad idea to do a little writing together in any marriage—to write up a little document of your parenting philosophy and of your communications techniques. Co-authoring things, even private documents, draws people together.
Money is one of the most argued
topics in marriages. How can couples
harmoniously manage money in
Share everything. Have no secrets. Do joint, not separate, accounts. Plan together. Make finances a part of the Sunday sessions and the weekly dates.
What are the best ways couples can keep magic
in a marriage?
You have to work at magic! The best way we know is to actually set relationship goals. Most people set goals only for their achievements and accomplishments, such as career goals, money goals and weight-loss goals. It doesn’t occur to us that we can have relationship goals because relationships are too hard to quantify or to measure. But, in fact, a goal is a clear vision of how you want something to be in the future. So, we both write a description of our relationship five years out. We each do this separately, and we do not share the descriptions with each other. These represent our ideas of what our ideal relationship could be, and instead of waiting for the other person to do something about it, we both work at it in our own way, reading the description or relationship goal often, as each of us unilaterally tries to bring the relationship closer to that ideal.
If a couple is contemplating separation, how
would you advise them to reconsider?
View separation as a last resort. Think of it as amputation—something to not even consider until all other options and remedies are tried. When you have an infection or some kind of a dysfunctional malady, you try to heal it or cure it first. You cut it off only when all else fails.
The first thing I would prescribe is a relationship restructure, wherein proactive steps are taken to rebuild the relationship from the ground up. The tools would be the five-years-out relationship description, the weekly Sunday sessions, the Friday date night and the monthly five-facet review discussed previously.
Too many relationships just become what they are through neglect and reactivity. Make yours what you want it to be through attention and being proactive. Bottom line: The magic comes from hard, mental work.