Marriage--Who Shall I Mary?
"A man shall leave his father and mother
and hold fast to his wife,
and they shall become one flesh."
Most youth wonder with whom they will spend their lives. They ask, "How will I know if I really love somebody?"
Psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan's a definition of love serves as a benchmark for answering this question. You may remember that he says, "A state of love exists when the satisfaction and security of the other person becomes as significant to you as your own satisfaction and security."
I like this definition because it provides an ongoing personal metric for gauging a love relationship. In some ways it appears to be counter-cultural to what is called a "Me, Me, Me" generation. But sincere love for the other person coupled with concern for his or her satisfaction and security is necessary for personal happiness.
Lena Dunham (one who appears to understand contemporary culture and is a two-time winner of Golden Globes), has her TV character comment on her two-day experience in a loving family relationship, "What I didn't realize is that I was lonely in such a deep, deep way. I want what everyone wants, to be happy."
Mentors and parents likely would agree that Sullivan's definition of love is relevant today because they understand that if love is to be long-lasting, it requires that individuals actively seek the satisfaction and security of the other person. It is that security that provides a foundation for personal growth, for self-expansion, for happiness.
Happy marriages are based on a love commitment rather than feelings because, although powerful, feelings are temporary. Beauty fades. Hormones quiet down. According to many studies and hundreds of my own counseling cases, it appears clear that sustainable happiness in marriage requires a love commitment described by Sullivan.
Marriage Facts to Consider
Young adults need to understand some basic relational truths so that they can enter a relationship with their eyes wide open.
* The U.S. Census Bureau records that around 50 percent of marriages in the United States and other developed nations end in divorce.
* In a 2012 study that analyzed 172 married couples over the first eleven years of marriage, UCLA psychologists reported that a deep level of commitment is a good predictor of lower divorce rates and fewer problems in marriage.
* Research suggests the more couples experience "self-expansion" in marriage (where both partners encourage the self-development of their spouse), the more committed and satisfied they are in the relationship.
* Good marriage relationships are built on learning to listen and talk well.
* Looking for new topics that interest both you and your partner leads to interesting discussion.
* Laughing together is strong relational glue.
* Common faith commitments contribute to a unified approach to life.
To enjoy a lifelong happy marriage, couples need to be clear about what commitments they bring to the marriage that will enable them to go the distance. For example, are they willing to commit to making the satisfaction of the other person as important to them as their own?
A big block to long-term commitment is temperament. It is not long before we realize that the other person is very different from what we are-different ways of thinking and doing things.
A common assumption is that in happy marriages the couple is like-minded. Yet in my own marriage, although Janiece and I share common values and are very happy, we are quite opposite in many ways. Which way is "right"--linear or creative thinking, traditional or innovative orientation, thoughtful or impulsive behavior, introvert or extrovert positioning?
Constantly trying to change the other doesn't work. We found it best to see the beauty in each temperament. At dinner in one of our favorite restaurants, Janiece and I heard some lyrics over the sound system that I think went like this:
I am me. I am me. I am me.
You are you. You are you. You are you.
An "Oh, well" resignation to nonessential differences may be the best response. Janiece and I aim for humor when our temperaments collide-although I must be careful to laugh with, not at her.
What keeps us enjoying each other goes way beyond our temperaments. We are committed to making the satisfaction of the other as important as our own. We aim for an essential marital unity based on common values, aims, and beliefs. So we give each other space, the freedom to be who we are. We are like two sides of one coin.
Marriage Values to Share
Marital unity is hard work, but it's the hard work that makes the relationship work and adds value to life. Unity results from an effort of the heart, mind, and will of a couple. Each affirms the other as the most important person on earth to them.
Marital unity does not cling; it provides space in the midst of togetherness. It's a bond that provides freedom, a commitment that engenders trust. It puts you on the happiness path.
Strong marriages possess many of the following values. These values provide a checklist for the readiness of a protégé for marriage.
____ Commitment based on mutual trust, honesty, and respect
____ Physical attraction
____ Similar work interests
____ Integrity; doing what you say
____ Intellectual compatibility
____ Belief in marriage as a lifelong commitment
____ The desire to talk and listen well
____ Similar goals for family, work, finances, and lifestyle
____ An eagerness to resolve conflicts and forgive
____ The ability to laugh together
____ A developing love communicated daily in ways that please the partner
____ A shared faith the couple practices together.
Marriage Questions to Ask
You may want to begin discussion with your protégé by telling what you learned from your own experience. Include the humor, mistakes, feelings, and hopes, but don't get too carried away talking about your past. It's easy to do, and your talk could seem to last "forever" to the protégé.
Encourage the youth you mentor to ask their questions. You might not agree with their thoughts and actions, but at least you have an opportunity to discuss them. Instead of contradicting the teen, you could say, "The way I see it is...." You then have the possibility of making a difference.
As you prepare your own list of questions to discuss, consider the following:
* What qualities do you want in your marriage partner?
* What does "love" or "respecting the other" mean to you?
* To what extent is your relationship characterized by seeking the satisfaction and well-being of your partner?
* What will you do when there is a difference of opinion, such as where to live or work, children, responsibilities, parents, etc.
* How well do your financial and vocational aspirations fit with those of your friend?
* Why do you think your marriage will be successful?
* How does your faith affect how you approach this relationship?
How can you help the person you mentor make wise marriage decisions?
Paul W. Swets
P.S. FINDING HAPPINESS BLOGS are excerpts from the new book, Finding Happiness. For information, go to www.findinghappiness.info .