There are a lot of problems that can cripple or fatally wound a marriage, whether it's just starting or yet to come. Here are some of the common ones:
Relying on Feelings Rather Than Commitment
Romantic feelings come and go, and many spouses get nervous when the flame dies down. They begin to doubt their relationship and wonder if they married the wrong person. A lot of those misgivings are fueled by the media, which says any successful relationship must run on high-octane passion.
You're setting yourself up for disappointment if you think marriage will be one long, steamy love scene. Sometimes it's pure commitment and persistence that keeps a marriage together. In all marriages there are times when the tingle of romance fades. At those times, commitment is the force that pulls you through.
Being Selfish Rather Than Serving
In today's world, there are a lot more takers than givers. When two givers do get together, their marriage is usually fantastic. When a giver and a taker marry it's usually lopsided, out of whack and full of trouble. And the marriage of two takers can crash and burn within a matter of months.
Selfishness will damage a marriage, but serving will solidify it.
Letting Your Eyes and Heart Wander
There's an old song that said, "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends loose for the tie that binds. Because you're mine, I walk the line." You know that's an old song, since the idea of loyalty doesn't crop up in lyrics much anymore.
I've been around long enough to see how subtly the line between "friends" and "lovers" can be blurred. What begins as a pleasant friendship glides silently across the line. The only way to really avoid those boundary violations is to watch for the early warning signs.
If you begin to notice that someone lights up your life a little too much, back off! If you find yourself looking forward to the next time you can be together, cancel it.
Allowing Marital Drift
In geography class you may have learned about continental drift, where huge "plates" of earth move slowly and imperceptibly in opposite directions.
The same thing happens in a lot of marriages. The shift is often so subtle that one day the partners wake up and say "I don't really know who you are anymore."
How can you keep from drifting? By talking regularly setting mutual goals for your marriage, planning the future together, playing together, cultivating shared interests and fanning the flame of romance.
Giving in to Sexual Infidelity
The media have done us a great disservice by making a big joke out of affairs and unfaithfulness. By watching TV and movies, you'd think that everybody is hopping from bed to bed — and it's no big deal. The truth is, however, that sexual infidelity is one of the primary causes of divorce. Even those marriages that do survive infidelity are greatly damaged.
Here are some things you can do to stay out of that trap:
- Know the truth. Maximum sexual fulfillment comes in a committed marriage relationship. So if you really want the best, don't cheat. You'll be cheating yourself as well as your spouse.
- Build your emotional closeness. The better you get along with each other, the better your sex will be and the less tempting other people will be.
- Confide in your spouse rather than an opposite-sex friend. Becoming emotionally intimate makes sexual unfaithfulness an easy step. Most affairs begin as an innocent friendship.
- Guard your thoughts. Don't risk fantasizing about other romantic attachments. Your actions will tend to follow your thoughts.
- Keep romance alive. Long-term marriage doesn't have to become dull and boring, but keeping romance alive takes a conscious effort. It's your choice to maintain the excitement and enchantment.
Listening to the Marriage Cynics
These days, a lot of people put down marriage, like the comedian who said, "I never knew what real happiness was until I got married – but by then it was too late." Or the talk show host who quipped, "Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution yet." In fact, you've probably had friends say "Why would you want to get married?"
Don't listen to the humbuggers. Good marriages bring fun and laughter and meaning to life. Even after three decades, my wife and I still have a blast being together. Our love is like a thousand violins playing Tchaikovsky (for you it might be electric guitars or synthesizers). It's the thrill of shared experiences, building memories and facing new challenges. And it's so much more!
Still, I can't emphasize this enough – marriage takes hard work and commitment. With divorce so rampant today, many young couples enter marriage with one eye on the exit door.
But it takes an unwavering commitment – not giving yourself an out – to keep a marriage healthy and thriving. It's choosing to be kind and giving and courteous and affectionate and affirming. That choice is the glue that will hold you together. Even when the adrenaline rush is gone and the music fades, the love will live on.