Who are your role models? To whom do you turn for advice? The role models you follow and the advice you act on greatly influence your chances of success in marriage, as in the rest of life.
Authors David Olson, John DeFrain and Amy Olson explain in “Building Relationships” that “we don't make decisions about our life in a vacuum.” Our decisions are heavily influenced by family, friends, co-workers, the media, and our own feelings and experience.
But not all sources of advice and information have equal value:
• Popular media: The media exerts tremendous influence on how we think, often without us realizing its impact. Hollywood and TV produce romantic comedies showing that, if you find your “soul mate,” you'll “live happily ever after,” because “all you need is love.” Although these are called “fiction” (because that's what they are), we hear them so often that we start believing they're reality.
• Family experiences: Olson, DeFrain and Olson explain that parents and family have a “powerful impact on your life and the way you see the world.” We all tend to follow the model of our parents, both the good and the bad, because that is the only way we've ever seen it done. They suggest that couples take an honest assessment of their family of origin. What were the strengths that should be brought into your marriage, and what weaknesses should be left behind?
• Friends and co-workers: Friends and co-workers can also have a powerful effect, for good or bad. But do these people tell you what you want to hear or what you need to hear? Do they have their own agenda? (They're divorced. They'll be happier if you're like them.)
• Marriage mentors: The authors encourage couples to “go out and find mentors.” If at all possible, find a mentor couple. Having both a man and a woman brings a balanced view and an understanding ear to both of you.
Mike McManus, founder of Marriage Savers, suggests that mentors should be “a seasoned, mature couple with a solid marriage.” This makes sense. Couples who have gone through a variety of experiences can pass on what worked, what didn't and how they made it through.
This is useful information. As Eleanor Roosevelt noted: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.”
Mentor couples also help keep you grounded in reality, as opposed to Hollywood fiction and, in a caring way, tell you the hard truth.
They also can help you see things in perspective, even when you're down on yourself or in a bad mood.
Experience may be a great teacher. However, as the authors note, in the area of relationships, “You will tend to repeat the past, good or bad, unless you consciously try to do things differently.”
Mentors can help you take the right lesson from your experience and develop a better strategy for the next time.
Mentors can help young couples deal with questions such as how to handle disagreements, what marriage books are worth reading and what strategies might help develop a greater sense of teamwork.
Perhaps your parents or another family member fits the bill. If so, use them as your mentor. Otherwise, hold onto your family, but look elsewhere for a mentor you admire and trust.
We all need advice on occasion. Whether it involves your marriage or any other issue, look for a source that keeps your long-term interests in mind. You, your spouse and your children will be better off for it.