A recent letter to my Washington Blade advice column raised the question:
What can any of us do in order to have the best marriage possible?
I loved getting this letter, because it handed me the opportunity to sum up a great deal of what I tell many couples who are struggling with this question.
So without further ado, here’s the letter and my response. I hope you find it useful!
And if you’re struggling to have a thriving relationship, feel free to reach out to me. I will be glad to help you.
My boyfriend and I are getting married next June! We’re very excited. We’ve been a couple for four years and we’re each other’s first serious relationship.
We’re putting a lot of effort into planning the perfect wedding and we think that we should put even more effort into building a great marriage.
So far it’s been smooth sailing–we really get along well, agree on most things, and (corny as it sounds) are deeply in love. But we want to be prepared for the tough times that will surely arise. Everyone keeps warning us that marriage isn’t always easy.
So, we thought of asking you: What are your recommendations for how we can have a happy marriage?
Congratulations on your upcoming wedding and on being so thoughtful about your future together. I’m happy to give you my top suggestions for how you can have a great marriage.
Know that perfection is impossible: Every couple will fight at times, hate each other occasionally, and disagree about important topics. Think about marriage as an ongoing challenge to get along well with another person on a life-long journey in very tight quarters. All along the way, you will have to deal with the unexpected, collaborate on tackling problems, and learn to tolerate disappointment. You’ll have to work hard to keep yourselves calm. And no matter what, at times you will explode.
Don’t expect your partner to meet your needs: There’s a popular view that your spouse should be like an ideal parent, who will comfort you when you’re upset, pamper you when you’re worn, and generally provide you with a safe haven in life.
Of course, marriage can sometimes be cozy and warm, and it’s a good idea for spouses to be caring and considerate toward each other. But taking care of yourself is actually your own job. When both partners aspire to be strong, self-sufficient individuals, you increase the likelihood that when one of you slips, the other will gladly help you up.
Advocate for what you want, and let go of the results: While you are welcome to speak your mind, please don’t try to control what your husband wants to do or how he thinks.
Don’t try to be right: If you’re right, then he’s wrong. And you don’t want to have a marriage where there’s a winner and a loser.
Instead, accept that you’re two different people. Consequently, it’s inevitable that you’ll have different ways of seeing things, different preferences, different goals, and different outlooks.
Wondering how you can make decisions about important matters when you don’t see eye-to-eye? Read on!
Avoid compromise: Yes, you read this correctly. Compromise means that you meet in the middle, that you each give something up. Often this means that neither of you really gets what you want. It can also mean that you sacrifice this time around because he sacrificed last time, which is a recipe for score-keeping, deprivation, and dissatisfaction.
As an alternative, consider major disagreements as opportunities to talk about why each of you wants what you want. Cultivate an attitude of generosity toward each other, meaning that as often as possible–and only if you can do so wholeheartedly–you are willing to lean in your husband’s direction because you recognize that something is really important to him.
Of course, because you are different, there will be times that you will want different things. When this happens, you may decide that your spouse’s desire is more important than your own, or you may decide that you must honor what is most important to you. Considering what is important to each of you in making such decisions can go a long way toward reducing bitterness and hostility, and toward deepening your understanding of each other.
Don’t wait for him to go first: Always do your best to be a generous, loving partner who puts maximum effort into having a happy relationship. If both of you wait for the other to go first, you may be in for a long, bitter wait.
Do you have other suggestions? Email me, and I can feature your ideas in a future blog!