Great relationships aren’t discovered; they are created. Anyone with sufficient motivation and a willingness to do the work that is required for a successful relationship is capable of achieving this regardless of their background, personal history, personality, or predispositions. People are more capable of creating a great relationship than they realize. What is required is the development of certain traits and skills and the motivation necessary to accomplish that. Most of us have at least the minimum amount to take on this intention.
Preparation for marriage is composed of three major parts: developing essential qualities, cultivating the necessary skills, and asking the right questions. This is the work of a lifetime, but the good news is that you don’t have to be completely accomplished in these aspects in order to get into the game. It’s mostly on-the-job training. Several months of study and practice is the minimum requirement, a year or two is ideal. We summarize these practices as doing the work necessary to be ready for a fulfilling marriage.
Qualities: So what, exactly, is the work that needs to be done in order to create a great marriage? Part of doing the work is cultivating the qualities within you that are necessary in order to respectfully, peacefully, and lovingly live together in a co-creative partnership. Examples of qualities include patience, persistence, commitment, faithfulness, responsibility, resilience, courage, honesty, forgiveness, generosity, and goodwill. These are the ones that will help each partner mature and become eligible for a great marriage.
Skills: The skills required involve effective communication, including speaking respectfully, and non-reactive listening. Communication occurs non-verbally as well as verbally and includes facial expressions, gestures, physical contact, and body language. Other skills are active participation and cooperation, negotiating for your own needs, setting boundaries, conflict management, and emotional honesty, including frequent expression of appreciation and gratitude.
It’s not the presence of differences themselves that can erode a relationship; it’s the failure to work with the differences and come to terms with them that can erode the integrity of a marriage. When issues don’t get addressed, the problems that arise from the unaddressed issues cause tension. In extreme cases when enough of these unresolved differences occur over time, it drains the goodwill and trust out of the marriage. The couple can lose even the desire to heal the rupture in the relationship. It’s dangerous to lose the motivation to do the work.
Mastering the Art of Asking the Right Questions
It is not necessary or even possible to completely resolve these differences prior to getting married. It’s enough to identify them, acknowledge them, and put them on the table for discussion.
- Children: Is there an agreement about having children? When? How many? Who will take care of them? How long will mom or dad stay at home? If there are problems with fertility, is adoption an option? If we have a change of heart about any of these questions, how do we negotiate our prior agreements?
- In-laws: What is our policy regarding family visits on holidays? How do we deal with aging or dependent parents?
- Work: How do we determine whose job dictates where we live? Are all promotions and raises in salary acceptable, even if they require more time away from the family?
- Money: What are our expectations of each other for financial contributions to the family? What is the maximum one person can spend without consent from the other? Do we want a budget?
- Friendships: Is it OK for each of us to have friends of the opposite sex? How much time do we have to spend with our friends? How do we deal with it if one person feels neglected?
- Sexuality: How do we handle it if there are differences in rates of sexual desire? How open are each of us to different sexual techniques? Is there a willingness to seek professional help if there is a sexual problem? If so, when? How do we deal with it if one person wants to get help and the other doesn’t?
- Separateness and Togetherness: What would be the ideal amount of time spent together and apart for each of us?
- Privacy: What is our policy regarding communication about personal and marital concerns with other people?
- Love: What are each of our preferred ways of having love expressed?
Picking the right person is an essential part of the process to encourage success, but the factor that is even more important is evolving into the right person. Instead of looking for the partner of our dreams, we must become the partner of our dreams. If we develop our signature strengths, become a skilled communicator and negotiator, and practice the art of asking meaningful questions, we are well-positioned to co-create a great relationship with all the extraordinary benefits that come with a fulfilling life of cooperation and love.
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