In the beginning there are I do’s’ and big hopes. There are plans and dreams and aspirations. Many people have a lot of these dreams and hopes and desires long before they ever commit to their partner for life, some even before they ever meet their life long companion and lover. And of course, as the big day approaches and well into the first year of life together, unsolicited advice comes tumbling in from every direction while people around you try to explain to you how to make a marriage work.
So, despite all that unsolicited advice, what is a successful marriage and how are you supposed to know if you have one? Some people believe that as long as your marriage is not unsuccessful, then you have achieved a successful marriage. There are innumerable books out there written on the subject with just as many opinions and more of the unsolicited advice (although is you purchased the book is the advice really unsolicited?) that can describe to you in fantastic detail how to have and embrace a successful marriage. You can read every book ever printed and still find yourself asking what is a successful marriage?
In all reality, only the two of you can define what a successful marriage means to you. However, there are a few key ingredients that all can be found in some of the happiest marriages on the planet. No marriage can really be successful without a healthy dose of self respect. While I may be wavering on that line of a little more unsolicited advice, self respect allows the marriage to hold a basic framework, it is the easel of your relationship. If one partner is seriously lacking in self respect then chances are you won’t have a partnership but a dictatorship within five to ten years. Self respect sets the boundaries regarding which behaviors you will accept and which ones you will not. Self respect prevents you from finding yourself in a marriage of chronic unfaithful behaviors and draws limits on how your spouse is permitted to speak to you.
Judging whether or not your marriage is a success or not is a continuous process, not a once and done deal that you can sit back and decide that your efforts are complete because you have reached a stage you consider successful. You are a changing, growing human entity and so is your spouse. That, by default, makes your marriage a growing and breathing, and fluid entity. A successful marriage will encourage each partner within to grow and to become a better person both within the relationship and out of the relationship. A healthy and successful marriage will be a relationship that makes each partner feel nurtured, like it’s the one place in the world that feels the safest. While over time, both parties will find they may no longer have that urgent desire to rush home just to spend time with their spouse, but it should still be considered the safest place on earth for both individuals.
A successful marriage will also hold the individual as dear as the couple. In other words, no one should have to give up their identity, to be less of themselves, in order to maintain a healthy marriage. That is not a blanket excuse for bad behavior, as you are not your behavior. If your partner asks you to stop belittling their attempts at a new career or to ask for things in a nicer manner, turning around and announcing ‘that’s just the way I am and I should be accepted’ is not a great effort toward a healthy and successful marriage. Altering your behaviors toward each other is a sign of growth, not changing who you are.
As time goes on, it can become easier to become rather complacent with each other. If comfort and safety is a sign of a successful marriage, how can complacency not be? Because being complacent is akin to taking for granted. People need to feel valued and loved, no matter how long they’ve been together. People have a need to feel respected and honored and cherished even after fifty years of marriage. So, what is a successful marriage? It is a marriage that doesn’t grow stale with time. When you find yourself feeling safe and loved and honored and have the ability to communicate well with each other, you are definitely on the right track regardless of whether you have been basking in each other for only a year or have come to know every noise, smell, excuse, and habit over the previous seventy years.
Arguments are OK
Does arguing mean that you have an unsuccessful marriage? No, not even close. Arguments, as painful as they can be, are often caused by one of two things. Arguments are typically aroused when one partner feels that somehow their values have been violated or one partner feels that they are violated on a personal level. What people value most in the world, such as security or safety, boundaries or stability, can feel like a personal threat when these needs are not met or are threatened in some manner. Most often, these values are threatened accidentally. Most arguments are born from that threat or the unmet need coupled with the general notion that people don’t like to admit to being wrong. Arguments can be one way of communicating these matters and resolving the issue. Would it be healthier to be able to just sit down and discuss the problem? Of course. But most often the individual who has initiated an emotional debate isn’t really even understanding the full scale of the issue, and thus emotions can become a guiding force in an argument. When occasional arguments lead to a stronger understanding of a spouse and allow for stronger communication and encourage a learning process, they are not unhealthy. Chronic arguing or arguing over the same things without resolution is not healthy.
Life is not easy. Throughout a marriage you and your partner will be challenged over and over again. There will absolutely be times when it seems like there isn’t even a point in staying together and seeing each other through a really rough patch. A successful marriage with be made up of two people who will want to put the effort into making a marriage successful. Because there is only the guarantee that it won’t always be sunshine and roses.
Some people will always challenge themselves. Some couples will always strain themselves trying to grow and love bigger and better while others will find comfort in the known and the secure. So, really. What is a successful marriage? If you are finding yourself growing up through life, finding home to be a happy place with ample humor and a good dose of safety, and you are continuously learning about yourself or your spouse, then chances are really quite good that you are experiencing a successful marriage.