Many people love the idea of one day falling in love and getting married. Sometimes they are eager for this and they don’t really take the time to understand marriage or how to make a lasting healthy relationship.
The stats are dizzying:
- Currently, about half of all marriages end in divorce.
- Each year more than 2 million couples divorce, involving about a million children.
- Over the past 20 years, the proportion of people who marry three or more times increased from 4% of marriages to 8% of the total.
- Children of divorce, particularly women, have a much higher chance of getting divorced themselves than children of intact families.
So what does it take to build a fulfilling, lasting marriage? How can you avoid the problems that commonly end relationships? And how can you keep from becoming a divorce statistic?
First thing is to solve problems before they arise:
The best thing you can do is anticipate problems and try to solve them before they occur. Unfortunately, many young people think marriage will solve problems, as if saying "I do" is a magical cure. But the opposite is true… Marriage only intensifies existing problems. That’s why it’s best to identify potential problems ahead of time. Here’s some ways to do that:
Thoroughly discuss your expectations. Each partner carries into marriage a huge bag full of expectations. Expectations are usually formed by what you observed in your home while growing up. But your spouse’s family may have been much different than your own. Just because your dad helped wash the dishes doesn’t mean your husband will want to. If your mother kept an immaculate house, don’t assume your wife will be as committed to cleanliness.
If your expectations differ, conflict will result. So the more you discuss your expectations ahead of time, the better your chances of blending together happily.
Learn to resolve conflicts. Many young couples believe a happy marriage has no conflict. Not so! Disagreements, hassles and conflicts are inevitable – they will happen. Happily married couples are those who have learned to resolve conflict through communication, negotiation, compromise and sacrifice.
Conflicts must be resolved for a relationship to survive. Burying your hurts and struggles is like carrying around a sack of rocks. Every new hurt you stuff becomes another rock you drag around. Eventually, the load becomes too heavy and the relationship falls apart. So learn to face conflicts, don’t run from them.
Go see your doctor. Most states require a premarital blood test, which detects certain diseases. Even if it’s not required, it’s wise to get a check-up and tests if you or your spouse-to-be have been sexually active.
Here’s what it takes to build a lasting marriage
Commitment. Commitment is not a popular word in our culture. Our society emphasizes individual rights, personal freedom and mobility. The idea of giving these up becaue of dedication to another person or loyalty to a relationship makes a lot of people feel trapped.
But I don’t think you can have it both ways. You can’t build a divorce-proof marriage and remain unbending toward your personal rights. That doesn’t mean you give up all your freedoms or choices, but it does mean your commitment to the relationship supercedes your individual rights.
Commitment means putting your spouse’s needs above your own. Studies show that the best indicator of marital well-being is how well each partner feels his or her needs are being met.
Communication. Someone once said, "Communication is to love what blood is to the body." Take the blood out of the body and it dies. Take communication away and a relationship dies. The kind of communication I’m talking about isn’t just exchanging information; it’s sharing feelings, hurts, joys. That means getting below the surface and examining the hows and whys of daily life.
But it’s not easy, since men and women are different in this area. Research makes it clear that women have greater linguistic abilities than men. Simply stated, she talks more than he. As an adult, she typically expresses her feelings and thoughts far better than her husband and is often irritated by his reluctance to talk. Every knowledgeable marriage counselor will tell you that the inability or unwillingness of husbands to reveal their feelings is one of the chief complaints of wives.
Patience. We live in an instant world – fast foods, cash machines, computer access to information, direct dial communication all over the world. The problem is we can’t heat up a marriage in the microwave. Relationships just don’t work that way. Marriage, especially, takes time and care to become really beautiful. That means learning patience.
Avoid these marriage killers
Relying on feelings rather than commitment. Romantic feelings come and go, and many spouses get nervous when the flame dies down. They begin to doubt their relationship and wonder if they married the wrong person. You’re setting yourself up for diappointment if you think marriage will be one long, steamy love scene. Sometimes it’s pure commitment and persistence that keeps a marriage together. In all marriages there are times when the tingle of romance fades. At those times, commitment is the force that pulls you through. You can’t heat up a marriage in a microwave. Relationships take time and care to become really beautiful.
Being selfish rather than serving. In today’s world, there are a lot more takers than givers. When two givers do get together, their marriage is usually fantastic. When a giver and a taker marry, it’s usually lopsided, out of whack and full of trouble. And the marriage of two takers can crash and burn within a matter of months. Selfishness will damage a marriage, but serving will solidify it.
Allowing marital drift. In geography class you may have learned about continental drift, where huge "plates" of earth move slowly and imperceptibly in opposite directions. The same thing happens in a lot of marriages. The shift is often so subtle that one day the partners wake up and say, "I don’t really know who you are anymore." And how can you keep from drifting? By talking regularly, setting mutual goals for your marriage, planning the future together, playing together, cultivating shared interests and fanning the glame of romance.
Letting your eyes and heart wander. There’s an old song that said, "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends loose for the tie that binds. Because you’re mine, I walk the line." You know that’s an old song, since the idea of loyalty doesn’t crop up in lyrics much anymore. I’ve been around long enough to see how subtly the line between "friends" and "lovers" can be blurred. What begins as a pleasant friendship glides silently across the line. The only way to really avoid those boundary violations is to watch fot the early warning signs. If you begin to notice that someone lights up your life a little too much, back off! If you find yourself looking forward to the next time you can be together, cancel it.
Most of all, don’t listen to the marriage cynics.
These days a lot of people put down marriage, like the comedian who said, "I never knew what real happiness was until I got married – but by then it was too late." Don’t listen to these naysayers. Good marriages bring fun and laughter and meaning to life. It just takes time, commitment, and patience.
[Excerpted from "Preparing for Marriage: Pitfalls and Promises" by Louis McBurney, M.D. Dr. McBurney is a psychiatrist in practice for more than 25 years. He has counseled thousands of couples and familes.]