How To Be Happily Married Four essential ways to help you and your spouse clarify one another’s marital satisfaction. BY DENISE J. CHARLES
To get the most out of your marriage you must first be happy with yourself.
“ Seeing our spouse's humanity is necessary or else we will be forever overcome by disappointment when our perfect husband or wife acts in ways that may be less than favorable.”
Why do we get married? If we had to answer this question off-hand, many of us would perhaps say the expected; because of love. Honest reflection on the truth about why we marry may, however, yield slightly different answers. Understanding why we chose marriage is a critical part of how we live out our marriage-satisfaction. Many of us are plagued with perpetual unhappiness and discontent, simply because our marriage reality does not match our expectations.
Very often, marriage reflects our innate desire for intimacy. It speaks to our need to be completely known and loved by another who accepts and affirms us in spite of our imperfections. While this sounds excellent on paper, our marriages often do not play out as the place where our core needs are met. How, then, do we reconcile our expectations with the reality of unmet needs in marriage? And how can we bring balance to this idea of marital happiness and personal contentment?
The following four essentials will help clarify the issue of marital satisfaction.
1. Articulate needs. While articulation is critical because it lets both spouses know what the other expects, it does not guarantee that our partner even has the capacity to meet our every need. There is some basis for a needs-based approach to marriage since knowledge can provide the basis for action. However, the significant flaw is the burden which can occur when someone is seemingly entrusted with the responsibility for another’s happiness. Articulating needs becomes useful in that it forces us to be accountable for what is known, but should be balanced against the understanding that no individual will ever meet all our needs.
2. Reflect upon personal wholeness. Have we adequately dealt with hurt from our past, whether from our childhood or past adult relationships? Very often unresolved trauma or painful issues we refuse to speak about can pose a threat to our marriage. We can look to our spouse as a replacement parent, expecting him/her to become that mother or father who was never emotionally present. However, because our husbands and wives should be our emotional equal, inadvertently foisting a parenting role on them may mean that our expectations of being "taken care of" may proceed from a place of insufficiency. This can become burdensome to the spouse who may feel that he/she can never love enough. Talking about a painful past and seeking resolution is a step in the right direction.
3. Remove our spouse from the pedestal. Very often we fall in love and expect that our mutual love means that our partner can know, anticipate and meet our core needs every time. While the ability to do so may be ideal, understanding our partner's weaknesses, imperfections and even self-centeredness is also critical. Seeing our spouse's humanity is necessary or else we will be forever overcome by disappointment when our perfect husband or wife acts in ways that may be less than favorable. While showing love and attempting to meet needs is critical to any intimate relationship, our sense of personal value should not be inordinately tied to what our spouse can do for us.
4. Know our personal value. While it is common to define ourselves through the eyes of others, it is also critical to understand who we are alone or minus attachments. Words and expressions of love do validate us, but their absence should not limit how we view ourselves. Having an identity outside being a husband or wife will add dimension to our character and allow us to bring personal strength to our marriage. Self-love encourages us to be decisive in the face of abuse or infidelity. It allows us to demand what we believe in or value in relationships, but also prevents us from crumbling emotionally when our spouse fails to deliver what we may need or expect. Our sense of resolve makes us attractive and desirable in the eyes of our partner, which in turn can positively impact our sense of marital happiness.
Ideally, when it comes to the issue of being happily married, we all want to experience what we want and think we need. Being contented in our relationships, however, should not be a definitive state toward which we strive. To some degree, contentment speaks of goal-fulfillment and a certain sense of "settledness." As dynamic beings who will continue to change and have shifting needs, we should constantly strive to adjust to our ever-evolving relationships—not settle. While this may mean savoring several high-points along our marriage journey, it also means steering away from the complacency which may signal that we think we have arrived.
Truthfully, in marriage, there is no Utopia. Maximizing our marriages will mean retaining space to grow and change as our relationship and our own personal development demands. As this is realized, we will come to the understanding that being happily married is not so much about our marriage taking care of us, as it is about our ability to take care of ourselves. Ultimately, self-love is the accurate test of our ability to love another and to be loved.