Monday, May 25, 2009

Confidence in Marriage

Every now and then I read some of Dr. Helen's blog, which I usually find interesting but repetitive.

Many of the people who comment on her blog are deeply distrustful of marriage because they view it as a game of chance. Here is an example from this post, from a commentor nicknamed Novaseeker:
45% of first marriages fail. Of the remaining 55% even if we assume 2/3 of them are "happy marriages", you're looking at ~36% of all first marriages being "happy marriages".
(Tangentially, his statistics are wrong. But finding data for the refined divorce rate in the U.S. is tricky because normally the crude divorce rate is reported, and neither rate actually measures the chance a specific new marriage will fail.)

However, having a happy marriage is not a matter of random chance. A marriage is successful because the couple does things.
  • What can be done before the wedding to instill confidence in the marriage?
  • What can be done after the wedding to keep the marriage healthy?
Here are a dozen answers my wife and I brainstormed.

First, things to do when engaged...

1. Premarital counseling helps by requiring the couple to discuss potentially controversial topics before the wedding. This gives the couple confidence that these topics (money, holidays and rituals, religious beliefs, what to teach kids, how to discipline kids, time with extended family, etc.) will not reveal surprise differences later on.

2. Maintaining open and constant communication will avoid having secrets and will prevent hurts from being hidden and festering. Each person can also see that the other is sympathetic to the other's issues and insecurities. If an engaged couple makes habits of transparency, then the couple can be confident it will continue in the marriage. (In contrast, being "on the same wavelength" about issues is a different facet of good communication that is often overvalued by engaged couples because it adds less strength to the marriage and is more succeptable to change.)

3. If both people continue to try to find new ways of being together and maintenaning the state of being in love during the engagement, then there can be more confidence that this effort and creativity will continue.

4. Both people should be mature enough that changes in personality are somewhat predictable. For example, those who still immaturely live by making comparisons with other people not only do unexpected things today but also show few (if any) hints about what their values will be like once they mature past that stage.

5. The engaged couple can have more confidence in the marriage if both are from a family without divorce, or from a divorce that happened late in life. If both people see divorce as abnormal and undesirable (or even unnatural and abhorent) there is less likelihood either would ever consider it.

6. If the woman is in her 20s, the husband should make sure he likes looking at her mother. He of course need not feel attraction towards his potential mother-in-law, but chances are his wife will look a lot more like her mother before she finishes her physical development.

7. Lastly but most important, both people should be used to intimacy with God. If each person genuinely gives him- or herself to God, then God will give them back to each other. Furthermore, the engaged couple can be confident that God approves of their match.

Next, things done within a healthy and happy marriage...

8. People who are happily married do things for each other. Confidence in the marriage is maintained when devotion is visible and active, and each person is clearly trying to stay attractive by the other person's tastes.

9. People who are happily married have shared goals. Each person sees the other values the marriage when they live as a team and strive for (and enjoy) joint progress.

10. The marriage will be stronger if the couple waits long enough before having kids. How long this is has no fixed rule, but the married couple must form well-established habits of being together and maintenaning the state of being in love. This is much more difficult after life gets hectic and busy with kids.

11. A husband can have more confidence in the marriage when he is very good with kids. If the marriage ended he would probably see very little of his children, so when wife considers him the best person for the kids he gains security.

12. Again lastly yet most importantly, continued intimacy with God allows each person to daily gives him- or herself to God so God can give the couple each other.

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