From Once Upon a Time to Happily Ever After, Part 1

First of 2 part series

Like the old song “Love and Marriage” says, the two simply go together. Yet with the divorce rate over 50%, the notion of happily ever after seems to be reserved for Disney movies. Some couples believe that as long as they love each other they will somehow find a way to make it work.  Mutual interests may have  brought them together but that alone is not enough to keep a marriage strong. The foundation of a life-long satisfying marriage are common values, commitment, and skills. Choosing a life partner who loves to ski is a far cry from one who shares your beliefs about family or your faith.

Loving someone is challenging. On their best days it is easy to see why you fell in love with them. On their worst days, thoughts of “what was I thinking” may clutter your brain. But commitment is the glue that holds couples together when times are difficult and they feel disillusioned. It is that promise that says, “You are so worth it no matter what!”

It saddens me that couples contemplating marriage are not properly trained in the art of couple hood. Marriage is at least as important as any other career choice yet it requires no particular training. With the proper skills, couples can learn to negotiate the never ending challenges that arise thus allowing them to actually fulfill their pledge of “till death do us part”.

One of the most damaging components to any relationship is the desire to fix their partner. The inherent message is “You are not good enough the way you are.” There is no more hurtful message we could impart upon our spouse than one that devalues them rather than appreciate them. It is pure arrogance on our parts to believe we are qualified to repair what is not perfect in them. In reality, it’s a lame attempt to avoid looking at ourselves while deflecting attention onto our partner. Each party needs to seek to be the best they can be while welcoming the gifts the other brings into the relationship.

I have spent twenty years working, in part, with couples who are trying to resolve their marital problems. When they first come into my office, I quickly explain that there is no such thing. The puzzled looks on their faces indicate that this is a foreign concept to them. “The issues,” I explain, “are of a personal nature only. Each of you has unresolved personal issues that you bring into the relationship. When each of you are able to identify and heal those issues, the problems between you cease to exist.”

Will there be disagreements and differences? Of  course. But they will no longer be problematic. Problems only exist in the mind. Someone who is a neat freak can be perceived by their partner as organized, caring, and meticulous or crazy, obsessed, and unreasonable. The behavior is not the issue. It is the other party’s perception of it that is. If their partner’s neatness triggers, let’s say, images of being yelled at by a parent for being sloppy, then the issue triggers pain. Once the pain is healed, however,  the behavior itself simply is what it is.

Marriage can be the most arduous or the most rewarding adventure of your life. It is not enough to simply love your partner. There are necessary skills that will enable you to navigate the ever-changing terrain of your relationship and nurture it into the sacred and rewarding journey it was meant to be. The choice is yours.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our relationship series.

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