Did you find an engagement ring in your Christmas
stocking? Congratulations! Getting married is one of most positive steps you
can take in your life. Research shows that marriage makes you healthier,
wealthier, and definitely happier. Married people have lower rates of
depression and anxiety than single people. Some studies have shown that they
have a death rate half that of singles. And as to wealth, well, it should be
no surprise that if you have someone who supports you and believes in you, it
will make a big difference in your ability to achieve all of your goals,
financial and otherwise.
I call this kind of marriage a "full-potential marriage." Of course, we are
all acutely aware that this is not everyoneâ€™s experience. Thatâ€™s why you
should start now to lay the ground work. Here are some ideas about what it
means to have a full-potential marriage, along with two keys to make it happen
Elaine and Mark are a good example of a full-potential marriage. When Mark has
a big deadline coming up, Elaine takes on more of the chores and tries to make
things easier on him. She makes time to listen to how things are going and
acts as a sounding board. And when he pulls off a tough assignment, she gets
as big a kick out of his success as he does.
On the other hand, Mark encouraged Elaineâ€™s growing interest in investing in
real estate, and even encouraged her to leave her job to pursue it full time.
Their income took a big hit in the short run, but Mark figured they'd more
than make it up down the road. And in any event, he felt that the growth and
learning that her new work brought into their lives was valuable in itself.
"When I start to doubt myself, I look at Mark and know he believes in me
completely. Thereâ€™s just nothing like it," says Elaine.
Together, Mark and Elaine have more energy, interests, and resources than they
did on their own. Unfortunately, many couples can only dream of this kind of
For Kathy and Jim, marriage is like a see-saw. When one is up, the otherâ€™s
down. Jim feels that Kathy, who is a full time mom, resents his job rather
than supporting it. "She seems to feel like itâ€™s my hobby, something that
benefits just me. Canâ€™t she see this is what we all live on?" he asks in
For her part, Kathy feels on the defensive about her household spending. "It
simply takes a certain amount of money to maintain a home. I'm not being
extravagant. I'm just trying to keep everyone comfortable, including Jim. But
he doesnâ€™t seem to appreciate it."
Why do some couples find themselves locked in a zero sum game, in which one
partnerâ€™s gain is the otherâ€™s loss? And what does it take to have a marriage
like Markâ€™' and Elaine's?
Based on my work counseling couples, as well as my own marriage, I believe
there are two key ingredients to a full potential marriage.
1. Support for Each Otherâ€™s Highest Priorities
As with every other life decision, getting married will expand your life in
some ways and limit it in others. If you feel like the compromises
consistently outweigh the benefits, you will likely become disillusioned about
your marriage. There is no way around compromises in human relationships, at
least not that Iâ€™ve discovered! But you accept them more easily, even gladly,
when you know without a doubt that you have your partnerâ€™s support for the
values, dreams, and goals that matter most to you.
Of course, in order to give each other this kind of support, you need to
communicate to each other what your priorities are. Clarifying life goals is a
part of every pre-marital counseling program, including my own, and that's a
great place to start. It also needs to be an ongoing process, so that staying
attuned to what's really important to each other is a habit, just a part of
the fabric of your marriage.
2. Taking Responsibility for Your Own Life
It is very difficult to believe in your partner if you donâ€™t believe in
yourself. You simply wonâ€™t have the emotional generosity it takes to cheer
your partner on, unless you are fairly self-reliant yourself. If you are
depending on your partner to make you feel comfortable, secure, or fulfilled,
then it's quite likely that a growth experience for him could be a thorn in
I was talking over this article with my husband (speaking of support!) and he
put it this way: "If you are not happy with your own life, you will get mad
for the wrong reasons."
For example, Jack felt very threatened when Lindsay went out for lunch or
drinks with her colleagues. She had an exciting new job and was very anxious
to make connections at work quickly. If Jack was taking responsibility for his
own life, he would do some soul-searching to figure out why this made him
nervous. Instead, he communicated his disapproval loud and clear, so Lindsay
felt guilty whenever a work event came up. Not exactly the kind of dynamic
that will help her succeed on the job.
You can pretty much expect your partner's career to be a flashpoint, if you're
not taking responsibility for your own life, and vice versa. Of course, true
workaholics exist. And so do partners who stray. But honestly, nine times out
of ten, when I find a person who resents their partner's job, I also find a
person who is not happy with their own choices.
As you go about planning your wedding, be sure to make time to ask yourself
- Am I clear about my most important goals and dreams?
- If not, what am I willing do to get more clarity? Read? Take a class?
Get some counseling?
- Do I know what my fiancĂ©'s priorities are? Am I committed to finding out
and supporting them?
- Do I depend on my fiancĂ© to make me feel comfortable and fulfilled? Do I
"get mad for the wrong reasons" when it doesnâ€™t happen? Am I willing to grow
in the direction of taking more responsibility for my own choices and my own
Marriage doesn't have to be a zero sum game, especially if you set your
expectations early on. Now is the time to plan for a marriage that is healthy,
wealthy, and brimming with potential.
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