Q & A with Drs. David and Jan Stoop
Authors of Better Than Ever: Seven Secrets of Great Marriages
You’ve compiled your Seven Secrets of Great Marriages from over 20,000 hours of leading couples counseling. Which secret do you believe is the most pivotal for marriage success?
I think that defining the role of the husband is the most powerful secret we discuss in the book. It is research-based, and when the husband can get a handle on what it means to set the pace in his marriage, it forms the foundation for a great marriage.
Which of the seven secrets has been most difficult to master in your own five decades of marriage?
Telling each other the truth is something that is easy to let slip by. We can simply overlook things that are important, or we can stretch the truth one way of the other in order to “protect” our partner. But only when the marriage is based on truth is it on solid ground.
You suggest that a “good-enough” marriage can move on to greater marital satisfaction. Where does a couple begin?
I think they begin by recognizing that every couple has problems—they are a natural part of marriage. So starting with the recognition that unresolved problems are always going to be part of their marriage is helpful. Learning how to talk about those problems in a way that doesn’t lead them into an escalation of emotions is the next step.
And what about couples that are barely hanging on? What is their first step toward a good marriage?
In our marriage, it was the commitment to never give up, and we had to come to the realization that we were equally responsible for the problems as well as for the solutions. Perseverance is a powerful quality that needs to be a part of the marriage relationship—not just putting up with things, but having both partners really committed to working on solutions and change.
Every marriage faces problems—some sooner than others. But you say one of the secrets to a great marriage has to do with one’s attitude toward handling problems. Which attitudes are deadly to a marriage and which attitudes build up a marriage?
It’s especially dangerous for a couple to believe that incompatibility marks the end of their marriage. All couples are incompatible. Simply being two separate people makes for incompatibility. Too many couples give up based on the myth of incompatibility. Couples in great marriages have learned the power of a forgiving lifestyle.
You write that a husband’s role as family leader is vital in “great” marriages, but not critical for “good-enough” marriages. Can you explain this phenomenon?
There are a lot of variations on the “good-enough” marriage. And some marriages work with a passive husband. A lot of couples are satisfied with “good-enough” and have various styles of leadership and involvement. But couples who want a great marriage find that the husband is the key to their moving to greatness.
One of the seven secrets is to “make your spouse your #1 human relationship.” Do you see this as a greater challenge for couples as they add children? How can parents make their marriage a priority in the chaos of family life?
One of the greatest tests in a marriage is the birth of the first child. I see couples who have settled for a marriage with Dad as the breadwinner, and Mom as the primary caregiver for the kids, and the marriage is on hold. What they fail to recognize is the resentment that begins to build in one or both of them over the fact that neither one feels like #1 with their partner. They have to learn that the marriage is still the priority, especially when the kids are young.
David and Jan, you have been married to one another for more than fifty years. What do you consider to be the greatest trial your marriage has endured? The greatest blessing of staying together so long?
We call the first ten years of our marriage our “great tribulation.” We marvel that we made it together through those years. A lot of what Dave had to learn was that our marriage was his top priority, and that was the way God had planned it. When a mentor couple worked with us, we both got our priorities right and that marked a major change in our marriage.
The greatest blessing of staying together so long is that we have so many shared memories. It is awesome to look back over the 50 plus years and know that we shared all those things together.