Do you remember the naiveté of being a kid and thinking about love? When a kindergarten kiss by the swing set meant two people were probably going to get married?
When holding the hand of the opposite sex should be avoided, because as we all know, that’s how you get cooties?
Then we grow up. Love and marriage become less foreign and more of a possibility.
The barrage of intrusive questions from parents, co-workers, friends, acquaintances, mentors, and even strangers come early and often.
If I had a dime for every time I heard such a question, I could have one hell of a wedding (or, you know, a new car).
“Is she the one?”
“When are you going to get married?”
“Why aren’t you married yet?”
Some people want that. Some make it a goal to get married. Once upon a time that was my goal, too. That was until I had a realization; getting married is too easy for me.
If your goal is to get married, I have some excellent news for you. Getting married is a super easy thing to do.
Marriage is a bad indicator of success
It’s true. Getting married is a cinch. You could be hitched in less than a day if you wish. All you have to do is grab a
victim partner, hop on the next flight to Las Vegas, and get ‘er done. Congratulations, you’ve tied the knot. You’ve made it. You’ve made Momma proud.
Now, if only the marriage itself could be that simple. Given the high rate of divorce and unhappy marriages in the United States, one should think twice before caving into social pressure for something so uncertain.
The chances of failure are so high, you would think all marriage licenses would come with a Surgeon General’s warning. Something that puts it into perspective. Maybe one of the following:
- WARNING: Individuals are more likely to get struck by divorce than they are to get struck by lightning.
- WARNING: Individuals infected with Ebola have a higher survival rate than marital happiness.
- WARNING: Individuals are more likely to live after base jumping, the most lethal sport in the world, than to live a life free of divorce.
- WARNING: Individuals are more… well … you get the point!
“So, Dale, have you sworn off marriage?” Good question, but no. That’s not it at all.
I’ve just decided to shift my focus. I don’t want to worry about getting married. I want something more. I want an intimate relationship that lasts.
I want to center my attention on developing the healthy relationship habits that sustain fulfilling relationships.
Divorces and unhappy marriages are rampant. Yet, I see so many couples jump in head first with the expectation of effortless happiness.
Just because there’s pressure to get married, it doesn’t mean it’s the right course of action. With a little bit of tequila and a dance floor, I can fall in “love” with just about anybody. Jumping into nuptials after that? Well, that’s going to require a lot more tequila.
As a culture, we desire relationships that have fountains of passion. We want the crazy, deep, intense love that we feel when we first have chemistry with someone.
At first it’s easy, because it’s new, exciting, and feels so natural. The problem is that we equate this initial physical attraction we feel with the actual love we desire, and they aren’t the same thing.
Intensity doesn’t always equal intimacy.
The initial spark that kept the affection alive will one day fade, and when it does we assume the love isn’t there anymore. We fail to realize what we called love wasn’t real love.
Instead of learning how to maintain that connection or develop a long lasting interest in one another, we call it quits. Real love isn’t a byproduct of hormones and suppressed loneliness.
The true, unmatched connection we seek with another person is born out of trust, communication, acts of affection, and vulnerability. Authentic intimacy is the result of intentional effort between two people, not just from bouncing between the bed sheets.
I need to make sure that when the honeymoon hangover sets in, I’ve laid a solid foundation for the relationship and learned the ongoing endeavors needed to maintain intimacy for decades.
Practicing Successful Habits
If more time is spent planning the wedding day than planning the marriage, there’s going to be some surprises.
Maybe instead of spending endless nights planning a Pinterest dream wedding, spend more time reading a book on healthy relationships or going to counseling.
Maybe instead of jumping in blindly, find a marriage mentor who has a happy long-term marriage.
(Side Note: If you’ve never seen a counselor before, do it! It doesn’t have to be a reactive measure to negative life events. Counseling is awesome and effective as a proactive measure as well).
When it comes down to it, how “compatible” two people are is only a small percentage of the relationship’s success. Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist with over forty years of research into what makes and breaks relationships, has broken relational success into seven habits.
Here’s a brief overview of the seven successful principals:
- Enhancing love maps – Knowing the details of your partner’s life. Understanding who they are. It’s more than just a history of their life. It’s learning their hopes, dreams, and worries, too. It’s discovering their worldview and what makes them tick.
- Nurturing fondness and admiration – Not only realizing what makes you love and cherish your partner, but communicating it to them. A simple way to do this is by first listing three or four positive traits your partner has. Then, let them know a specific example you appreciated when they expressed that trait.
- Turning toward each other – Hollywood rom-coms often portray guys winning the love of the girl through grandiose gestures. Gottman’s research, however, shows that real love lasts through the everyday small things with your partner. It’s being there for your partner during minor events, and responding positively to your partners interests, affection, attention, and humor.
- Let your partner influence you – This is walking side-by-side as teammates, and not one person taking control. It’s considering each other’s opinions and feelings. It’s making decisions together.
- Solving your solvable problems – This is essentially understanding which relationship problems do have a resolution, developing the conflict resolution skills needed, and then walking through the difficult conversations until coming to a mutually fulfilling resolution. Gottman’s set of conflict resolution skills involve starting the conversation in a favorable manner (focusing on the issue and not attacking the other person), making a receiving attempts to deflate tension and negativity, keeping the environment safe by soothing yourself and our partner, compromising through finding common ground, and being tolerant of each other’s faults (because neither is perfect).
- Overcoming gridlock – Gridlock is often being issues that keep resurfacing and have yet to be resolved. Gottman says the reason for issues to resurface is because the true underlying causing aren’t being expressed or discussed. For example, let’s say a couple who lives in a small town gets into arguments about moving to a big city. While the act of moving might be the continued focus of the conflict, the underlying issues may really be one of the partner’s isolation and loneliness or inability to pursue big dreams, aspirations, and career goals. Getting the real issues out into the open can help move towards a resolution.
- Creating shared meaning – marriage is more than a business transaction. Couples who create a spiritual dimension in their relationship, a culture of purpose and understanding, experience more fulfillment in their marriage.
Further, Dr. Gottman recognizes four traits that drive relationships into the ground. They are often referred to as the four predictors of divorce. Just as it’s important to have certain habits, it’s just as important to avoid others. The four negative habits are
- Criticism – attacking the individual as a whole instead of focusing on a single behavior.
- Contempt – making the individual feel worthless or like lesser of a person.
- Defensiveness – putting responsibility and blame onto someone other than themselves.
- Stonewalling – avoiding or withdrawing from the difficult conversations. Also known as the silent treatment.
For a low-level overview, check out this video:
Ultimately, seeking compatibility or perfection won’t cut it when we need connection.
The great thing about relationship skills is you can improve them at any stage. These techniques work whether you’re just dating, in a serious relationship, or are a decade into marriage.
Let’s stop turning marriage into a finish line when it’s more like a mountain climb. Relationships don’t become a walk in the park once vows are spoken and rings are exchanged.
In reality, getting married is jumping out of a plane from 13,000 feet; if you haven’t packed a functional parachute, you’re going to have a bad time.
Stopping the Pressure
It isn’t helping anyone to treat marriage as the all-powerful, self-sustaining, and infallible union it isn’t. That false idea that getting married will help everything else work out.
Asking someone when they’re going to get married may not be the best course of action. It may be abrupt to assume dating someone, regardless of how long, means two people have wedding bells in their future.
Here are some awesome questions to ask someone who’s in a relationship, before
throwing them to the wolves asking them when they’ll walk down the aisle:
- Does your relatioship feel fulfilling?
- Is your partner trustworthy and loyal?
- What are some hard topics you’ve talked about that have tested your relationship?
- Do you communicate honestly and openly, with empathy and vulnerability?
- Do you and your partner give each other everyday attention in the small things?
- Have you two talked about expectations for money, sex, and kids (the three most common reasons cited for divorce)?
- Do you or your partner exhibit any of the four predictors of divorce?
- Could you see yourself with them long-term?
- Would marriage be something you even want?
The importance is asking questions offering a sincere reflection of a relationship. These questions can inspire some self-reflection for the individual to offer comfort for a relationship or to bring up red flags that should be addressed if they have long term intentions in mind.
More than getting married
As we can attest from the high failure rates of marriage in the United States, marriage does not equal happiness. It’s because there are a plethora of things way better than just getting married.
What’s better than getting a marriage license? Having a teammate alongside you as you go through life.
What’s better than getting a marriage license? Having a deep, safe, intimate connection with someone.
What’s better than getting a marriage license? Having a partner in your life who’s on your side and wants the best for you. Someone who encourages you to be the best YOU, not a fulfillment of their expectations.
What’s better than getting a marriage license? Having a special person who you trust and can communicate with wholeness.
What’s better than getting a marriage license? Having a best friend who fights fair, forgives generously, and loves fully.
Don’t make your goal to get married. Don’t make your goal to have a wedding day.
Make your goal to have a long lasting relationship with a best friend that’s both fulfilling and empowering. That doesn’t mean it’s going to always be full of rainbow-pooping unicorns and an endless supply of good times and fun.
When it is, it’s great to have someone to celebrate with. Come hell and high water, however, it’s a lot easier to get out when you’re working at is as a team rather than going it alone.
After all, getting married is quite easy. Being in a relationship that makes both people fulfilled? That takes a little more work.
Don’t settle for an other half. Strive to develop yourself as much as possible to attract your other whole. Not a lover who completes you, but a lover who complements you as you are.