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WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT
chapter 6
Marriage
 

Marriage is the relationship with the greatest rewards and the highest risks of failure. In some countries, the divorce rate is close to 50%. There is a great deal at stake in making the right decision about marriage. If you find the right partner, the mutual benefits are enormous.
Being in love is just the starting point. Before committing to the binding state of marriage, you have to step back and ask yourself, “Is this truly the right person, the right partner, the right soul mate for me to share the rest of my life with?” If you are thinking of having a family, you also have to ask, “Is this the individual I want to have as the father (or mother) of my children?” Just because you are deeply in love with someone does not automatically mean that the two of you will have a successful marriage and happy family together.
The decision to marry should be approached on a totally selfish basis. You have to be convinced that this person is totally right for you. You may be right for that individual, but he or she may be wrong for you. If you sense that you are not ready to settle down, refrain from making a commitment until you are ready to do so.
Trust your instincts and intuition when you have some serious doubts about marrying someone. Even if you are desperate to get married, do not do it unless you are confident you are making the correct decision. You are much better off to postpone the wedding or even to walk away entirely.
Be wary about marrying someone who has no long-standing close friendships. That usually is a strong sign of a person who has difficulty maintaining relationships and sharing the closeness that successful marriages require.
Pay attention when you start to get an uneasy feeling about someone, especially if that person’s behavior is inconsiderate with some people or you see signs of meanness, problems with intimacy, a lack of truthfulness or over-dependence. Another troubling sign is when someone avoids taking responsibility for their own actions and habitually blames others or past circumstances whenever any problem arises.
Look at the company your potential partner keeps. What kind of friends does that person have? Similarly, have his or her parents established a good example of how you would want someone to behave?
If your partner comes from a dysfunctional, uncommunicative or abusive family, probe the reasons for this behavior. Try to make certain that your relationship is not going to experience a repeat pattern of such harmful family dynamics.
When you and your partner practice different religions, ensure that you have a solid understanding regarding how the two of you are going to accommodate such a difference. You need to know how this is going to affect your relationship with your partner’s family and how your children are going to be raised. Both of you have to be clear concerning everyone’s expectations in this regard.
If there is something about your partner that you do not like or admire, it is always a mistake to think that your partner will change for the better after you are married. You cannot change someone else. You can only change yourself.
As the saying goes, when you marry for money, you earn every penny of it. Marrying primarily for looks, money or status is invariably a serious mistake. You are likely selling your soul if you do so.
It is also not enough to be in the throes of intense passion. That just heightens the odds of making a serious mistake. Truly being in love with someone should go beyond simply having a strong physical attraction for that individual.
Getting married involves making a deep and total mutual commitment to each other's lifelong happiness, well-being and fulfillment. Anything less makes a marriage doomed to failure.
My wife and I have been married for more than 30 years. Our marriage is full of love, fun and mutual support. Based on our experience, I believe that one's chances of remaining in love and having a successful long-term marriage are greatly increased when the two of you:
  • Share certain values that are important to you, such as compassion, integrity, humility, tolerance and respect for others.
  • Have a strong mutual sense of humor and fun.
  • Enjoy a warm sense of affection, intimacy and mutual sexual harmony.
  • Respect each other's level of intelligence, opinions and right to hold independent points of view.
  • Have lots of common interests that give both of you pleasure.
  • Avoid expressing any jealousy, possessiveness or other destructive emotions in your relationship.
Ideally, both partners in a marriage should learn from each other as their life together progresses. In our case, my wife has inspired me to become a better person, have a more open mind and be more aware about what is going on in our community and the world. My wife has also instilled in me a much stronger sense of karma.
Achieving Happy Marriages
The actor Paul Newman was once asked by Larry King in a TV interview what was the secret to his long-lasting, happy marriage to the actress Joanne Woodward. Newman thought for a moment and then replied, “A combination of lust, respect, patience and determination.”
A well-known author was asked the same question about her husband, also an author. She answered, “I let him make all the big decisions and he lets me decide which decisions are big.” That sounds to me like a fair arrangement.
Marriages obviously have to be regarded as serious long-term commitments, neither to be entered into or ended lightly. Sheila Hailey, wife of the novelist Arthur Hailey, was once asked if she had ever considered divorcing her difficult husband. Her reply was, “Murder, yes; divorce, no.”
The best marriages usually exhibit a strong partnership philosophy with a significant amount of ongoing mutual respect, trust and support between the two partners. Major decisions, such as selecting where you are going to live, are always made together. Household tasks and family responsibilities are divided reasonably fairly. If one spouse does the cooking of meals, the other cleans up afterwards (or vice versa). Chores are allocated in a flexible, negotiated manner rather than by decree.
Both partners in strong marriages strive to enhance each other's self-confidence in whatever way they can. They actively encourage and provide strong support for each other's outside endeavors. They frequently say, “You can do it” and “How can I help?”
Happily married couples also refrain from doing or saying anything that would risk embarrassing or hurting each other's feelings. Any critical comments are made tactfully and are only spoken in private. The temptation to say something hurtful is resisted.
Individuals in successful marriages make a point of enjoying and cultivating common interests, such as dancing, music, movies, reading, travel and attending cultural or sports events. They enjoy having fun doing things together, including sharing simple pleasures.
Communication plays a critical role in a successful marriage. Being able to talk things over, especially when there is some kind of disagreement or misunderstanding, is crucial. You have to have the capacity to argue honestly and objectively with each other without getting emotionally worked up or becoming antagonistic about it.
Arguing well is healthy and constructive. Getting confrontational or becoming silent and going into a funk is not. As John W. Gardner stated, “It's not necessary to see eye to eye, just heart to heart.” Also, as the comedienne Phyllis Diller advised, “Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.” She is right.
Married couples are always going to have conflicts, disagreements and points of incompatibility. That is just life and human nature. Successfully married couples discuss these issues without allowing them to poison their overall relationship. Happily married couples do not avoid dealing with conflicts — they learn how to dance through them together with the objective of finding compromises that at least go halfway to meeting each other's needs. The worst approach is to ignore the need to resolve problem areas as they will just grow in severity. Being able to accept compromises is essential.
It is especially important to be able to communicate and work things out when it comes to disagreements over money and finances. An inability to do so acts like a deadly cancer to marriages, often becoming terminal. Neither partner should commit to a personal debt of any consequence without discussing it beforehand with the other partner.
When one of the partners is away on business, it is a good idea to stay in touch by calling the other partner at home every evening at a convenient time. Ask “What's happening at home?” or “What did you do today?” Also, take the time to talk to your children when you call.
Happily married couples respect each other's differences and strengths. They recognize and take advantage of the different perspective that each partner brings to dealing with people, issues and challenges. Plus, they give each other some latitude and tolerance, recognizing everyone has certain foibles and weaknesses.
The soccer coach Otto Rehhagel whose Greek team won the 2004 Euro Cup, follows a set routine in selecting players for his teams. First, he sizes up the technical ability of a player by watching him perform on the field. Then, he asks his wife to sit down for a coffee with each prospective player to assess his personal character and strengths. Rehhagel is convinced this is the best approach for ensuring he ends up with a championship team.
Marjorie Shaevitz, a “gender relations counselor”, has this advice for dual-career couples: “Make an appointment to, at least once a week, be with each other outside the house … Every six weeks, go away for 36 hours … To avoid bickering over housework, sit down and list all household tasks. Divide them equitably … Don't set too-high standards for housework … Never accept an invitation to a party or after-hours business meeting without discussing it with your spouse … Set up a household communication system. Get a household calendar. Get together once a week and keep each other informed of social commitments and work schedules.” Although it may be difficult to follow all of these recommendations, the main point is for each of you to make time to be together even when both of you are separately leading busy and hectic lives.
Finally, in most successful marriages, the partners understand the importance of giving each other some “space”. Both partners need to engage on a regular basis in their own independent activities and interests outside of the home. This is especially important for a spouse who is at home raising children while the other partner is working.
The Web sites www.smartmarriages.com and www.onlinedatinguniversity.org both contain considerable information on a wide range of marriage and related relationship issues. If you find yourself in a marriage that is headed for divorce, however, I recommend you consult the Web site www.thesmartdivorce.com for a practical guide to achieving “a smart divorce”.
Weddings
There are many sources for information on how to plan and organize a wedding. These include the Web sites www.theknot.com and www.ourmarriage.com. Just remember, however, that the larger and grander a wedding, the more opportunity there is for things to go wrong, especially when different religions and cultures are involved.
Before committing to having a large wedding, the bride and groom need to ask themselves, do they really want to start their marriage with an expensive, complicated, stressful event? If the bride's parents are paying for the wedding, ask yourselves, does it really make sense for them to incur such a sizeable expense? Are there more important priorities at this time?
Consider other alternatives to a large wedding. My wife and I were married in a simple ceremony with only ten immediate family members and close friends present. Six months later, my wife's parents held a large party for us to which all our relatives and good friends were invited. This arrangement worked well for everyone involved.
 

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