Sunday, December 27, 2009

What is a good marriage?

Early this month, Elizabeth Weil chronicled her attempt to improve her marriage in the New York Times article, A More Perfect Union. Ms. Weil says the idea of trying to improve her marriage came to her one evening:

I started wondering why I wasn't applying myself to the project of being a spouse. My marriage was good, utterly central to my existence, yet in no other important aspect of my life was I so laissez-faire. Like most of my peers, I applied myself to school, friendship, work,health and ad nauseaum, raising my children. But in this critical area, marriage, we had all turned away. I wanted to understand why. I wanted not to accept this.

Ms. Weil and her husband begin to examine their marriage through self-help books (Harville Hendrix, best selling author of "Getting the Love You Want"), psychoanalysis, and marriage education class. The details of these experiences are intimate and thought-provoking. As I read this article, I began to examine my own expectations about marriage.

I realized that a lot of my knowledge about marriage evolved from Disney movies, General Hospital and Ken & Barbie. Clearly, not the most reliable sources. While my parents have been married for 39 years, I never fully grasped the details involved when one commits to another person for life. I did not learn about marriage in school--although I did take a home-economics class in junior high school and can make a mean chocolate chip cookie. But cookies will only get me so far. Having been married for ten years, I have found that the following C's are important for a good marriage: compromise, communication, and commitment. If any of these are out of sync, things can get dicey.

Compromise--as I've discovered, I can't always get what I want. And even if I did that probably would make for a boring existence. Compromising is a challenge and I get the opportunity to work on it every day. From small things like dinner to larger issues like vacations, we each compromise to make our union work.

Communication--easily the most complex issue in a relationship. I've learned that actually my husband cannot read my mind much to my dismay. Given this, I've had to work on actually saying what I mean and expressing my thoughts and feelings. Sounds easy, but can be absolutely be challenging.

Commitment--to the marriage. Being committed to and trusting the relationship is crucial to a successful union. This does not mean that I should forsake all others (and individual aspirations), but that if I nurture the relationship through trust it will flourish and grow into a beautiful union.

All of these things take practice and patience. I enjoyed Ms. Weil's article because she discusses the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of marriage. It helped me to examine my own thoughts and knowledge about marriage as well as identify what I see are the key components of a successful relationship. I felt inspired at the end when she says, "I felt more committed than ever. I also felt our project could begin in earnest: we could demand of ourselves, and each other, the courage and patience to grow."

What are your thoughts about a good marriage/relationship?
How do you negotiate the balance of marriage, self, work, etc?

Useful Links:

Ms. Weil's article: A More Perfect Union

Try to See it My Way: Being Fair in Love & Marriage, book by B. Janet Hibbs

Posted by Lisa Colby, LSW

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