Components of a Good Marriage

What are the mysterious ingredients that almost all good marriages have in common?  What accounts for the marvelous blending of personalities when two separate and distinct individuals establish a young family and then live together in love and in harmony for the next fifty or sixty years?  Is anything of significance know about these long-term marriages that will help others achieve stability in a world of impermanence?

Fortunately, Dr. Desmond Morris has provided an intelligent answer to those questions in his book INTIMATE BEHAVIOR.  It was brought to my attention by Dr. Donald Joy, who interpreted the findings for our radio listeners.  Dr. Joy said research now verifies that the healthiest marriage are those where a proper "bonding" has occurred between a husband and wife.  Bonding refers to the emotional covenant that links a man and woman together for life and makes them intensely valuable to one another.  It is the specialness that sets those two lovers apart from every other person on the face of the earth.  It is God's gift of companionship to those who have experienced it.

But how does this bonding occur and why is it missing in so many relationships?  According to Drs. Joy and Morris, bonding is most likely to develop among those who have moved systematically and slowly through twelve steps during their courtship and early marriage.  These stages, described below,* represent a progression of physical intimacy from which a permanent commitment often evolves.

1.Eye to body.  A glance reveals much about a person--sex, size, shape, age, personality and status.  The importance people place on these criteria determines whether or not they will be attracted to each other.

2. Eye to eye.  When the man and woman who are strangers to each other exchange glances, their most natural reaction is to look away, usually with embarrassment.  If their eyes meet again, they may smile, which signals that they might like to become better acquainted.

3.Voice to Voice.  Their initial conversations are trivial, and include questions like "What is your name?" or "What do you do for a living?"  During this long stage the two people learn much about each other's opinions, pastimes, activities, habits, hobbies, likes and dislikes.  If they're compatible, they become friends.

4.Hand to hand.  The first instance of physical contact between the couple is usually on  nonromantic occasions such as when the man helps the woman descend a high step or aids her across an obstacle.  At this point either of the individuals can withdraw from the relationship without rejecting the other. However, if continued, hand-to-hand contact will eventually become an evidence of the couple's romantic attachment to each other.

5.Hand to shoulder.  This affectionate embrace is still noncommittal.  It is a "buddy" type position in which the man and woman are side by side.  They are more concerned with the world in front of them than they are with each other.  The hand-to-shoulder contact reveals a relationship that is more than a close friendship, but probably not real love.

6.Hand to waist.  Because this is something two people of the same sex would not ordinarily do, it is clearly romantic.  They are close enough to be sharing secrets or intimate language with each other.  Yet, as they walk said by side with hand to waist, they are still facing forward.

7.Face to face.  This level of contact involves gazing into one another's eyes, hugging and kissing.  If none of the previous steps were skipped, the man and woman will have developed a special code from experience that enables them to engage in deep communication with very few words.  At this point sexual desire becomes an important factor in the relationship.

8.Hand to head.  This is an extension of the previous stage.  The man and woman tend to cradle or stroke each other's head while kissing or talking.  Rarely do individuals in our culture touch the head of another person unless they are either romantically involved or unless they are family members. It is a  designation of emotional closeness.

9-12.  The final steps.  The last four levels of involvement are distinctly sexual and private.  They are (9) hand to body, (10) mouth to breast, (11) touching below the waist, and (12) intercourse.  Obviously, the final acts of physical contact should be reserved for the marital relationship, since they are progressively sexual and intensely personal.

What Joy and Morris are saying is that intimacy must proceed slowly if a male-female relationship is to achieve its full potential.  When two people love each other deeply and are committed for life, they have usually developed a great volume of understandings between them that would be considered insignificant to anyone else.  They share countless private memories unknown to the rest of the world.  That is, in large measure, where their sense of specialness to one another originates.  Furthermore, the critical factor is that they have taken these steps in sequence.  When later stages are reached prematurely, such as when couples kiss passionately on the first date or have sexual intercourse before marriage, something precious is lost from the relationship.  Instead, their courtship should be nurtured through leisurely walks and talks and "lovers' secrets" that lay the foundation for mutual intimacy.  Now we can see how the present environment of sexual permissiveness and just serves to weaken the institution of marriage and undermine the stability of the family.*

At the risk of trivializing a beautiful concept, let me share the words of a recent popular song that illustrates this shared intimacy. Though the lyrics were apparently intended to be humorous, they speak clearly about the voice-to-voice stage of courtship from which bonded relationships develop.

I'm the official historian on Shirley Jean Berrell,

I've known her since the Lord only knows and I won't tell;

I caught her the first time she stumbled and fell,

And Shirley, she knows me just as well.

I can tell you her birthday and her daddy's middle name,

The uncles on her momma's side and ones they don't claim;

What she's got for Christmas since nineteen fifty two,

And that's only the beginning of the things I could tell you

I can tell you her fav'rite song and where she'd like to

park,

And why to this very day she's scared of the dark;

How she got her nickname and that scar behind her knee

If there's anything you need to know 'bout Shirley,

just ask me.

I know where she's ticklish and her every little quirk,

The funnies she don't read, and her number at work;

I know what she stands for and what she won't allow,

The only thing that I don't know is where she is right now.

Ole Shirley, she knows me just as well.

It would appear that Shirley Jean Berrell and her singing boyfriend are well on their way toward a bonded relationship.  I hope they will be happy together.

Before we tuck away this understanding of bonded commitments, let me emphasize that this concept applies not only to courtship experiences.  The most successful marriages are those wherein husbands and wives journey through the twelve steps regularly in their daily lives.  Touching and talking and holding hands and gazing into one another's eyes and building memories are as important to partners in their mid-life years as to rambunctious twenty-year-olds. Indeed, the best way to invigorate a tired sex life is to walk through the twelve steps of courtship, regularly and with gusto!  Conversely, when sexual intercourse is experienced without the stages of intimacy that should have preceded it in prior days, the woman is likely to feel used and abused.

For couples that have found it difficult to maintain the kind of intimacy and closeness I have described, I would like to offer the strongest endorsement for a program called Marriage Encounter.  While not intended for marriages in serious jeopardy, that program is the best I've seen for improving the quality of communication within the family. The principles on which it is based are valid and effective.

Shirley and I had heard about Marriage Encounter for years but had never found time to participate.  Finally, at the urging of a pediatrician friend, we decided to experience ME for ourselves.  Frankly, I attended for professional reasons, not expecting to get anything relevant to my wife and me.  If there is anything I felt Shirley and I didn't need it was help in communicating.  I have rarely been so wrong.

The beauty of Marriage Encounter is that it has the ability to float to wherever the need is greatest.  In our case, the need had little to do with communication in the classic sense.  Instead, we discovered a secret source of tension that Shirley had not verbalized and I didn't know existed.  It had to do with the recent deaths of eight senior members of our small family, six of whom were males.  My wife had watched as the survivors struggled to cope with life alone and the awesome implications of sudden widowhood.  Because Shirley and I are now in our mid-forties, she was quietly worrying about the possibility of losing me--and wanting to know where we are going from here.  My loving wife was also saying to herself, "I know Jim needed me when we were younger and he was struggling to establish himself professionally.  But do I still have a prominent place in his heart?"

One simply does not sit down to discuss such delicate matters, voice to voice, in the rush and hubbub of everyday life.  They are held inside until (and if) an opportunity to express them is provided.  For Shirley and me, that occurred throughout the Marriage Encounter program.  In the early part of the weekend, we worked through the possibility of my death then on the final morning, the issue of my continued love for her was laid to rest.

Shirley was alone in our hotel room, expressing her private concern in a written statement to me.  And by divine leadership I'm sure, I was in another room addressing the same issue even though we had not discussed it.  When we came together and renewed our commitment for the future, whatever it might hold, Shirley and I experienced one of the most emotional moments of our lives.  It was a highlight of our twenty-one years together, and neither of us will ever forget it.

Although it will require me to share an intensely personal statement between my wife and me, I would like to conclude with a portion of the letter I wrote to her on that memorable morning.  I will skip the more intimate details, quoting only the memories that "bonded" me to my bride.

Who else shares the memory of my youth during which the foundations of love were laid?  I ask you, who else could occupy the place that is reserved for the only woman who was there when I graduated from college and went to the Army and returned as a student at USC and bought my first decent car (and promptly wrecked it) and picked out an inexpensive wedding ring with you (and paid for it with Savings Bonds) and we prayed and thanked God for what we had.  Then we said the wedding vows and my dad prayed, "Lord, you gave us Jimmy and Shirley as infants to love and cherish and raise for a season, and tonight, we give them back to you after our labor of love--not as two separate individuals, but as one!"  And everyone cried.  Then we left for the honeymoon and spent all our money and came home to an apartment full of rice and a bell on the bed, and we had only just begun.  You taught the second grade and I taught (and feel in love with) a bunch of sixth graders and especially a kid named Norbert and I earned a masters degree and passed the comprehensive exams for a doctorate and we bought our first little home and remodeled it and I dug up all the grass and buried it in a 10 foot hold which later sank and looked like two graves in the front yard--and while spreading the dirt to make a new lawn, I accidentally "planted" eight million ash seeds from our tree and discovered two weeks later that we had a forest growing between our house and the street.  Then alas, you delivered our very own baby and we loved her half to death and named her Danae Ann and built a room on our little bungalow and gradually filled it with furniture.  Then I joined the staff of Childrens Hospital and I did well there, but still didn't have enough money to pay our USC tuition and other expenses so we sold (and ate) a Volkswagen.  Then I earned a Ph.D. and we cried and thanked God for what we had.  In 1970, we brought home a little boy and names him James Ryan and loved him half to death and didn't sleep for six months.  And I labored over a manuscript titled "Dare To" something or other and then reeled backward under a flood of favorable responses and a few not so favorable responses and received a small royalty check and thought it was a fortune and I joined the faculty at USC School of Medicine and did well there.  Soon I found myself pacing the halls of Huntington Memorial Hospital as a team of grim faced neurologists examined your nervous system for evidence of hypothalamic tumor and I prayed and begged God to let me complete my life with my best friend, and He finally said, "Yes--for now," and we cried and thanked Him for what we had.  And we bought a new house and promptly tore it to shreds and went skiing in Vail, Colorado, and tore your leg to shreds and I called your mom to report the accident and she tore me to shreds and our toddler, Ryan, tore the whole town of Arcadia to shreds.  And the construction on the house seemed to go on forever and you stood in the shattered living room and cried every Saturday night because so little had been accomplished.  Then during the worst of the mess, 100 friends gave us a surprise house warming and they slopped through the debris and mud and sawdust and cereal bowls and sandwich parts--and the next morning you groaned and asked, "Did it really happen?"  And I published a new book called HIDE OR SEEK (What?) and everyone called it HIDE AND SEEK and the publisher sent us to Hawaii and we stood on the balcony overlooking the bay and thanked God for what we had.  And I published "What Wives Wish" and people liked it and the honors rolled in and the speaking requests arrived by the hundreds.  Then you underwent risky surgery and I said, "Lord, not now!"  And the doctor said, "No cancer!" and we cried and thanked God for what we had.  Then I started a radio program and took a leave of absence from Childrens Hospital and opened a little office in Arcadia called Focus on the Family, which a three-year-old radio listener later called "Poke us in the Family," and we got more visible.  Then we went to Kansas City for a family vacation and my dad prayed on the last day and said, "Lord, we know it can't always be the wonderful way it is now, but we thank you for the love we enjoy today."  A month later he experienced his heart attack and in December I said goodbye to my gentle friend and you put your arm around me and said, "I'm hurting with you!" and I cried and said "I love you!"  And we invited my mother to spend six weeks with us during her recuperation period and the three of us endured the loneliest Christmas of our lives as the empty chair and missing place setting reminded us of his red sweater and dominoes and apples and a stack of sophisticated books and a little dog named Benji who always sat on his lap.  But life went on.  My mother staggered to get herself back together and couldn't and lost fifteen pounds and moved to California and still ached for her missing friend.  And more books were written and more honors arrived and we became better known and our influence spread and we thanked God for what we had.  And our daughter went into adolescence and this great authority on children knew he was inadequate and found himself asking God to help him with the awesome task of parenting and He did and we thanked Him for sharing His wisdom with us.  And then a little dog named Siggie who was sort of a dachshund grew old and toothless and we had to let the vet do his thing, and a fifteen-year-love affair between man and dog ended with a whimper.  But a pup named Mindy showed at the front door and life went on.  Then a series of films were produced in San Antonio, Texas, and our world turned upside down as we were thrust into the fishbowl and "Poke us in the Family" expanded in new directions and life got busier and more hectic and time became more precious and then someone invited us to a Marriage Encounter weekend where I sit at this moment.

So I ask you!  Who's gonna take your place in my life?  You have become me and I have become you.  We are inseparable.  I've now spent 46 percent of my life with you, and I can't even remember much of the first 54!  Not one of the experiences I've listed can be comprehended by anyone but the woman who lived through them with me.  Those days are gone, but their aroma lingers on in our minds.  And with every event during these twenty-one years, our lives have become more intertwined--blending eventually into this incredible affection that I bear for you today.

Is it any wonder that I can read your face like a book when we are in a crowd?  The slightest narrowing of your eyes speaks volumes to me about the thoughts that are running through your conscious experience.  As you open Christmas presents, I know instantly if you like the color or style of the gift, because your feelings cannot be hidden from me.

I love you, S.M.D. (remember the monogrammed shirt)?  I love the girl who believed in me before I believed in myself.  I love the girl who never complained about huge school bills and books and hot apartments and rented junky furniture and no vacations and humble little Volkswagens.  You have been with me--encouraging me, loving me and supporting me since August 27, 1960.  And the status you have given me in our home is beyond what I have deserved.

So why do I want to go on living?  It's because I have you to take that journey with.  Otherwise, why make the trip?  The half life that lies ahead promises to be tougher than the years behind us.  It is in the nature of things that my mom will someday join my father and then she will be laid to rest beside him in Olathe, Kansas, overlooking a wind-swept hill from whence he walked with Benji and recorded a cassette tape for me describing the beauty of that spot.  Then we'll have to say goodbye to your Mom and Dad.  Gone will be the table games we played and the Ping Pong and lawn darts and Joe's laughter and Alma's wonderful ham dinners and her underline birthday cards and the little yellow house in Long Beach.  Everything within me screams "No!" But my Dad's final prayer is still valid--"We know it can't always be the way it is now."  When that time comes, our childhoods will then be severed--cut off by the passing of the beloved parents who bore us.

What then, my sweet wife?  To whom will I turn for solace and comfort?  To whom can I say, "I'm hurting!" and know that I am understood in more than an abstract manner?  To whom can I turn when the summer leaves begin to change colors and fall to the ground? How much I have enjoyed the springtime and the warmth of the summer sun.  The flowers and the green grass and the blue sky and the clear streams have been savored to their fullest.  But alas, autumn is coming.  Even now, I can feel a little nip in the air--and I try not to look at a distant, lone cloud that passes near the horizon.  I must fact the fact that winter lies ahead--with its ice and sleet and snow to pierce us through.  But in this instance, winter will not be followed by springtime, except in the glory of the life to come.  With whom, then, will I spend that final season of my life?

None but you, Shirls.  The only joy of the future will be in experiencing it as we have the past twenty-one years--hand in hand with the one I love. . .a young miss named Shirley Deere, who gave me everything she had--including her heart.

Thank you, babe, for making this journey with me.  Let's finish it--together!

Your Jim

That is known as marital bonding!

From Dr. James Dobson's Love Must Be Tough. Request your copy today!

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