Professionally today we know more about what makes or breaks marriages than ever before. While some divorce statistics can be misleading, in short roughly about 25% of marriages are fulfilling. Almost everyone in America gets married at some point, with only about 5% remaining single for life.
Unfortunately many problems begin before the marriage starts, often due to people getting married for the wrong reason. As Neil Clark Warren notes, some men have only one rule, that “I am taller than her.”
The truth is we need to go much deeper in our search for making the right choice for who we will spend the rest of our life with. A great place to start is by making a list of ten things you can’t stand and of ten things you must have. For instance, if being around someone who smokes is a nonnegotiable, then put it on the list of the “can’t stands.” If honesty is a given then put it on your list of ten “must haves.”
This is a simple, yet powerful exercise that can save you a lot of pain and heartache. If someone registers high on your “can’t stand” list of qualities then you have a number of objective red flags from which to evaluate your relationship, and vice versa.
The next thing to know is that marriage will not erase baggage from your life. Indeed many people get married hoping that the new relationship will “fix” things, when in reality it makes everything more complicated. As Les Parrot shares, “Get yourself healthy before you get yourself married.” We all have baggage, but we need to do the hard work of dealing with it and being honest about it with our partner before we say, “I do.”
And lastly, consider where you are by quantifying the love you share with your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse. As Anthony Robbins summarizes, there are four levels of love, and you owe it to yourself and your partner to meet their needs at level three or four to give your relationship the best chance.
Level one love is simply where one person selfishly takes and gives nothing in return. This is the unhealthiest relationship to be a part of and needs immediate correction for it to survive and flourish.
Level two love is give and take, commonly called horse-trading. At this stage partners give if they are given to and no more. Again, this is a very unhealthy and immature place to be. While you can’t change your partner, you can determine that you will not live here.
Level three love is where things blossom because at this level each partner gives freely, expecting nothing in return. They give at this level because this is who they are. When two people meet each other’s needs at this level their relationship will provide the trust and fulfillment they each desire.
While the above three levels speak about our intimate relationships, level four love is what Jesus talked about when he said to love your enemies. At this level a person loves even those who seek to do them wrong. This love defines how you relate to the entire world. I don’t believe that many people are able to remain at this level for very long especially without regular immersion in the grace of God.
Until next time, a great resource for further help is Dr. John Gottman’s book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.