We all have our favorite ingredient for beginning a healthy marriage: Being in love, finding the perfect “soul mate,” or good communications skill.
But the “love-is-all-you-need” and the “soul-mate” myths are little more than romantic nonsense that make Hollywood producers rich. Almost every couple feels “in love” and that they've found their “soul mate” when they marry. Nonetheless nearly half of these “in-love/soul-mate” marriages end in divorce. And good communication skills help marriages thrive, but they're not the starting point.
The best foundation for a healthy marriage is two emotionally healthy people. Experts Les and Leslie Parrott describe such people as having high self-esteem and the willingness to enter a relationship which “involves mutual influence and emotional support.”
The Parrotts explain such individuals “could stand on their own,” but they choose to stand together as a team.
Author Mark Gungor agrees, saying healthy marriages start “when two complete and happy people get together.” They don't need each other to be complete and happy, they already are.
Expert Randi Gunther describes several unhealthy characteristics that easily sabotage a marriage:
•Insecurity appearing as anxiety, possessiveness, jealousy or a powerful need to control, even micromanage, your spouse
•A fear of intimacy, which confuses deepening commitment with entrapment
•The constant need to win, which makes real conversation impossible, because your spouse is typically left with “only three options: fight, accept defeat, or leave the battlefield”
•Pessimistic attitudes, which undermine the hopes and dreams of others
•A constant need to be center stage, while pushing everyone offstage
•Addictions, whether to alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography or any other addictive behavior
•Defensiveness, which often appears as shifting the blame, making excuses or endlessly arguing details
•A practice of breaking promises, ignoring agreements or re-writing agreements (“I never really agreed to that.”)
Individuals often enter marriage believing that their spouse will somehow heal them. This is not likely to happen.
Positive change takes place when each spouse allows the other to influence them. But emotionally needy people, especially with insecurities, defensiveness, addictions or the constant need to win, make influencing each other nearly impossible.
When you look at your fiance/spouse, do you think: “I need you because I love you”? A healthy, loving relationship creates a need to be with the other person.
Or do you think, “I love you because I need you”? If the only reason you love someone is because you need them, there is a fundamental flaw in the relationship.
Gungor puts it bluntly: “Get yourself whole before you get yourself married.”
But even emotionally healthy couples can enter marriage with emotionally unhealthy expectations. A classic example is the expectation that your spouse will meet all your needs. Gungor warns: “No man was ever designed to meet all the emotional needs of a woman.” Likewise, no woman can meet all the emotional needs of a man.
Men need to be challenged and encouraged by other men. Women need to be nurtured and uplifted by other women. Historically, men worked shoulder-to-shoulder with other men, while women worked surrounded by other women. This is no longer true.
Gungor explains that “men need to find a band of brothers they can connect with, and women need to find good girlfriends who can fill the void that was once filled by their mother, sisters and childhood friends.”
Healthy marriages need emotionally healthy men and women who have healthy expectations. By keeping your emotions and your expectation healthy, you'll be going a long way toward safeguarding the foundation of your relationship.
©2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.