Thursday, August 29, 2013

Some marriage truisms

By Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

There are four indisputable, qualifications that give me the right (obligation?) to write this essay. I have been happily married for over 45 years. If that one qualification does not suffice, there are three others that offer sufficiency as well.

A second qualification is that my college textbook, Communicating Effectively, 10e (McGraw-Hill, 2012), includes two chapters on interpersonal communication which give suggestions and advice to college students about how to have solid, committed, long-term relationships.

A third reason is that my college textbook, Understanding Interpersonal Communication, 7e (HarperCollins, 1996) had a number of chapters that related to dating effectiveness, relationship success, and family development and maintenance

A fourth reason is that I taught interpersonal communication twice a year to over 700 upper-level college students (350 per semester) for more than ten years. That unit of the course that was most popular for all of those years was that period of time when we discussed relationships. It was similar to a "Dear Abby" situation because students could ask me any relationship-related question they wanted, and I would conduct a classroom discussion on those questions I thought most relevant, pertinent, and interesting. The questions were posed anonymously at each class meeting on half-sheet responses, and at home I could pick and choose those I wanted to use, and when presented publicly students’ names were never used.

The point of these four paragraphs is simply to underscore my credibility. I have been dealing with marriage, and marriage-related issues, for all of my professional life and most of my personal life as well.

There is no order to these truisms; I offer them here as I think of them.

The first truism is one that I have made clear in all my textbooks, lectures, and when teaching interpersonal communication: Marriage is not a good way of life for the weak, the selfish, or the insecure. If you cannot get your own house in order first, you should not pursue any relationship, much less (much, much less!) marriage. One reason for the high divorce rate is that the weak, the selfish, and the insecure pursued marriage and should not have done so.

With the statistics arguing against successful, long-term marriages, you often hear people say, "My marriage failed." That is never the case; marriages don’t fail, people do. That is an essential element. Married individuals can adjust, adapt, and change. People in marriages don’t have to fail.

What everyone needs to recognize is that any two people can get married; that’s the easy part. It’s what they do the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, or 70 years that will determine how successful the marriage will be. It is also true, however, that the pattern set early in a relationship regarding communication, division of labor, and balance of power is likely to be a template for the future of the relationship. No, it is not set in stone, that’s why communication is included in the formula. Those characteristics that are important, too, include adaptability, flexibility, and adjustability since relationships are never stagnant.

One of the things I discovered in discussing interpersonal relationships with upper-class college students, and, in addition, having personal experience with a number of them, I have discovered that women hope men will change after marriage. Often, the opposite happens. That is, those traits women find in men that are most objectionable before marriage, become more pronounced afterwards. If asked, men would say, "But you knew that before we got married."

Men, on the other hand, hope women won’t change after marriage, but they do. Actually, what happens is twofold: 1) Men weren’t that observant before marriage, thus, women are just being themselves afterwards, and men perceive it as a change. 2) Women do change after marriage because at that time, they have a dual responsibility—to become a better person themselves and to make their husband a better person to whom they actually want to be married.

A successful marriage is one in which you fall in love many times, always with the same person. There are small moments, medium-sized moments, and large moments—but they all add up to a continuous relationship bathed in love—and if not bathed in, at least sprinkled with love.

There are a number of strategies that lead to a stronger marriage. Because you cannot avoid conflicts, I have discovered one way to solve them before they erupt. This is especially tough for men, but if your marriage is worth it, simply admit that you’re wrong. "I’m sorry, I screwed up."

In a relationship, the results of a kind word or deed are immeasurable. I have found the opposite results for a harsh word or deed.

We have raised four children, and I found it has been consistently true that it is best to spoil your spouse, not your children. I try to do everything I can, at all points that I can, in every way that I can to help my wife, make her life better and more comfortable, and to please her. My feeling is simple: The better my wife feels about her life, the more likely it is that my life (and, thus, our life) will be stronger and more satisfying.

Finally, it must be understood by relationship partners, that marriage is not a 50-50 relationship. It is best not to put a number on it: 60-40, 70-30, or 80-20. The best chance for long-term success is when both relationship partners make the relationship a priority and give all that they can to make it work. They should never worry whether or not they, or their partner, is giving more to the relationship. It may require that; all relationships are different and require differential levels of commitment and effort. Partners must give what they can and what is important to make the relationship successful.

There are many advantages to having a committed, solid, long-lasting relationship. It helps you avoid cancer, keeps you healthier and out of trouble, and helps you live longer, too—among other benefits. And the obvious conclusion, when you realize what can be gained, is that there is no wealth like a good life. Having a good marriage is what the good life is all about.

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At msn, in an essay called, "8 Things No One Tells You About Marriage," Ylonda Gault Caviness discusses eight truths about marriage that are worth reading about. Caviness writes, "Sometimes it’‘s the least romantic parts of marriage that have the most to teach you about yourself, your partner, and the nature of love."

"10 Hard Truths About Marriage" at the Psychology Today website, by Kaja Perina is fabulous. These ten hard truths should be read by every couple approaching marriage, by newlyweds, and even by those ensconced in marriages. This is a wonderful essay.

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Copyright August, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

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