A friend of mine once said something that I thought was crazy, at first. Now I know he is right. He said, “You always marry the wrong person.” In a way, he simply is building upon an important key thought about any relationship: nobody’s perfect. It suggests that the 50% divorce rate today might be improved if people headed into marriage with heaping helpings of grace rather than the expectation of effortless bliss.
You might head me off here, saying that some people are less perfect than others! And it’s true, some people’s backgrounds and wiring makes them a hazard to any spouse. They are ticking time bombs of abuse and infidelity. But apart from these more severe issues, marriages are falling apart at an unacceptable rate.
What is behind all these “irreconcilable differences?” Men and women who are certain enough to make a lifetime commitment find themselves just as confident to walk away, usually within the first two years. Why? And it’s the same across America, rich or poor, religious or not. The new social norm is about exchanging rather than changing. What is driving this new norm? There must be some faulty assumption–something that sets up expectations for failure? Perhaps we can get a little insight, looking back upon Mark Sanford’s very public free-fall.
The former governor of S.C., suddenly disappeared, exchanging his 20-year marriage and his stellar political career for a fleeting new season of romance. He was convinced that he had found his soulmate.
The inadequacy of that pursuit is brutally evident now, given how it affected his family and his career.
I don’t dismiss the ideal of a soulmate, but finding yours does not necessary start with a lighting strike. We must come to see and to respect design. Principles of healthy relationships are like gravity–they are there whether we acknowledge them or not. We ignore them at our own peril. Healthy things grow, have seasons, and produce fruit. This kind of assumption, that marriage is a living thing that needs to be nurtured and fed, that assumption can set couples up more for success. (Learn more about marriage principles at The Gottman Institute.
Instead of looking at marriage like the lottery, (is this the winning ticket?) young couples need to think of it as an account that compounds interest over an extended period of time. When you’re trying to grow something like a savings account, you have to do three simple things:
2) Make desposits
3) Invest well
The application to marriage is clear. The first one is about going the distance, even through downturns. The second one is about seeking first to give, not get. The third one, invest well, is where most people’s learning curve begins. If you are married and do not know your spouse’s “love language,” I would suggest starting there. (See the book section for Garry Chapman’s text, The Five Love Languages.)
What single assumption or habit has helped your marriage thrive? (comment)