A client of mine was considering whether or not to continue in a long-term relationship that had some problems. I suggested that she think a bit about what would be the elements of a truly great marriage; then we could talk about what it would take for her and this man to develop such a relationship.
She startled me with her response. With a puzzled look, she said, “I have no idea what a good marriage would look like.”
I shouldn’t have been so surprised. In each generation, the number of children raised by two parents — let alone parents in a unified marriage — has been decreasing. When my daughter went away to a solid Christian college, most of her dorm friends were envious that she had two parents who were still married to one another, and happily to boot. More and more young people are growing up in a divorce-crumbled home.
Those whose parents have had a pretty solid relationship can observe and learn from them. Even beyond that, they can develop good gut instincts about whether a prospective spouse will be a good fit for them and able to be a good help-mate. But the young man or woman who hasn’t ever lived with a culture of mutual love, respect, and responsibility can be adrift with no idea that it’s possible to avoid replicating their family pattern.
So, I took the question of “What Makes a Great Marriage?” — to that impressive authority, My Friends On Facebook. I received plenty of good suggestions, including:
- Mutual respect. That name-calling thing is a no-no. Words can be apologized for, but are rarely forgotten.
- Make it a point to learn what makes your spouse feel loved. Then do those things. Let your spouse know explicitly what helps you feel loved.
- Offer one another unconditional regard.
- Make a commitment to work things through. Don’t keep an unspoken “Plan B” in the background of your mind. Decide together that divorce will not be an option.
- You can only change yourself. Don’t get in a long-term committed relationship with someone who has current behaviors (or indications of future behavior) that are unacceptable to you.
- Get good solid counseling together before you commit. It will help you start out with a good foundation to build on.
- Consider how, as a couple, you recover from a serious disagreement. Can you lay down your own agenda to offer and receive forgiveness? Or do you just let it simmer down and then go on without settling the issue, which can lead to problems later?
-Roz Dieterich, LMSW
To this, I can add the following: Talk to one another, out loud and not in the middle of a video, about what you want your marriage to be like. How interdependent do you think a marriage should be? Are you ready to let go of your own preferences sometimes for the sake of the relationship? What about rearing children – how did it go in your family and how do you feel about doing it the same way? Do you share common spiritual beliefs and their level of importance? Read some books on marriage and talk about what seems to be common to most good relationships.
You would do your homework if you were going to buy a car, build a house, or go on a long vacation. The stakes are much bigger here. Don’t let wishful thinking cloud your vision. A marriage, at its best, is an absolutely wonderful thing. Don’t settle for less.