Good Life

Healthy Relationships: Foundations for a happy marriage

We are now fully engaged in the wedding season (no pun intended!) It seems as if all my friends, siblings and cousins have children who are getting married this summer. While I can certainly find appropriate gifts for all these happy couples, perhaps the best thing I can do is share with them the insight, and perhaps some wisdom, that my own 29 years of marriage (and 17 years as the director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center) has provided. So here are some thoughts I’d like to share with those who are about to embark on married life.

Marriage, a lifelong commitment to another person, is both the best and the hardest thing you can do with someone you love. A good marriage can bring amazing joy, secure contentment, support in sorrow and one of life’s few experiences of unconditional love. And none of that can happen all the time because we’re all human. As much as humans are designed and destined for companionship, there will be quirks in the ones we love that drive us to distraction — and our partner will feel the same way. So be honest, be compassionate and most of all be forgiving.

Marriage is a risk. To be intimate — body, mind and spirit — is a very scary thing to do. The one to whom you give all of yourself has enormous power to hurt you and when someone trusts you with the depths of who they are, you have the power to do significant damage. To navigate the risk and come safe to the other side, marriage must be grounded in trust and trust must be earned. Respect the precious things your beloved gives to you. They are a gift.

German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche wrote, “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” While Nietzsche isn’t my idea of a romantic, he has a point. Friendship is fundamentally a relationship of appreciation between equals. In friendship, the partners appreciate one another, enjoy each other’s company, engage in conversation about things that interest them both but remain two distinct, autonomous people. Friendship is essentially a relationship based on mutuality, respect and appreciation for the other. Not a bad framework for marriage.

Be willing to talk. Be willing to listen. Give up the odd cultural myth that the person who really loves you should be able to read your mind. While the time may come when you and your partner can finish each other’s sentences (and just because you can doesn’t mean you should!), if you are waiting for your partner to discern by telepathy why you are mad or what you want him/her to do, you will wait a very long time. As the song goes, “Say what you need to say” calmly and with respect (there’s that word again). Then be quiet and listen. Then listen some more without thinking ahead about what you want to say next to make your point or win the argument.

I often wish that we would put as much time and effort, not to mention money, into our marriages as we put into our weddings; that we’d be as thoughtful about the day-to-day realities of living a life together as we are about the venue or the flowers or the cake. Maybe the next time I get a wedding invitation, I’ll tuck a copy of this column into the RSVP.