A bride and groom preparing for their wedding decided to interview three couples who had each been married various lengths of time. My husband and I were one of those couples. The first thing they asked us to provide was a key phrase or a few words of wisdom we would give based on our marriage experience.
My husband said, “look at the big picture”. He told the engaged couple it is easy to get so bogged down with the immediate problems in your marriage, that you lose sight of its long- term value. Conflicts can be resolved, pain and sadness may become less hurtful, anxiety and anger will subside, difficulties will ease. Sometimes married couples regret acting less than judiciously, at a time when they were feeling overwhelmed. Later, they might wish they had looked ahead at the “big picture”, and considered more carefully how their actions could impact their family’s future.
My words of advice were… “don’t expect your spouse to make you happy.” Naturally I didn’t mean that a person can’t find great delight, reward and fulfillment in a relationship with their partner. I did suggest however, that thinking your spouse is responsible for making you happy is misguided. It is up to each individual to find joy in life. We are responsible for our own happiness. One way to not become overly reliant on your spouse for happiness, is for both partners to pursue interests of their own. If there are times when your marriage is going through a difficult period, perhaps it will be career satisfaction, your relationship with God, your children, your friendships, your hobbies, or your volunteer work in the community which will provide a sense of well-being. We place far too great a burden on our “significant other” if we expect them to be responsible for the happiness in our life.
The engaged couple also asked us to comment on some of the things which had caused conflict in our marriage. How had we resolved those differences?
We talked about financial issues. Deciding how our money should be spent has often been a “bone of contention” for us. Giving our partner the freedom to “splurge” at times, on things we might not think are necessary, has made a difference.
We talked about child rearing. Respecting our divergent opinions and recognizing how we’d been influenced by the child rearing practices in our own parents’ homes was helpful.
We talked about decision-making and the value of compromise. We talked about a balance of power and the importance of ensuring that both spouses feel equal responsibility as well as equal opportunity.
Finally the couple asked us what things were the most important to us in a marriage partner. Trust and faithfulness were two things I said were vital to me when it came to a life long relationship. Fun and a sense of humor were my husband’s top criteria.
I’m not sure how helpful our advice was to the engaged couple. Each marriage is so different. Two people who want to spend their lives together must find their own unique way to make things work. Those of us who are continuing on the journey, can only wish them well, and hope they will find a meaningful measure of happiness and fulfillment together.