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How to Have a Marriage That’s ‘Good Enough’

What could happen if couples embraced their marriage as being "good enough" —being satisfied with love and sharing a life-long friendship, where spouses treat each other with respect and kindness?

I’ve yet to meet an engaged couple, starry-eyed in love, who say they want their marriage to be “good enough.” I haven’t attended a wedding ceremony where the altar has a banner with these words: Our marriage will be tolerable and “good enough”!

“Good enough” sounds second-rate, mediocre, a low bar. All of us long for a wonderfully dreamy life with our spouse. Our hearts crave a relationship full of love and acceptance. Would I be happy with a “good enough” marriage to my husband, Greg? No. Nuh-uh. Nope. How about great? Stupendous? Romantic? Those descriptions sound more like it.

What does it take to be satisfied?

So, it was with some confusion that I found myself agreeing with how Dr. John Gottman describes a “good enough” marriage in a recent NBC News article: 

I think the ‘good enough’ relationship is one in which you get treated with respect and love and affection, and those are the essential ingredients. … Building trust really involves your partner really having your best interest at heart, not just their own, and commitment means really cherishing what they have in you rather than resenting what’s missing.

Gottman explains that the “good enough” relationship requires trust and commitment as a baseline for happiness and that “the good enough relationship is one that you don’t have expectations that are too high or too low.” So, in essence, Gottman isn’t saying that you alter your expectations to accept mediocrity; however, you can’t constantly strive for the perfect relationship or you’ll never be satisfied. 

Imagine what could happen if we simply embraced our marriage as being “good enough” — satisfied with being loved and sharing friendship and intimacy. If we’re always striving for something we may not be experiencing in our relationship, we can easily miss the gift that is right in front of us. If we’re comparing our relationship to our best friend’s marriage or a relationship that Hollywood concocted and portrays unrealistic perfection, we may feel dissatisfied because our marriage doesn’t stack up against them. We need to learn to be content with our relationship — neither settling nor striving for something that is unrealistic. 

What is good enough?

The “good enough” marriage has these essential ingredients:

  • A relationship where trust, love, intimacy and commitment are shared.
  • A life-long friendship, where spouses treat each other with respect and kindness. 
  • A recognition that the feelings of “butterflies” will come and go, that being romanced isn’t about the emotions spouses had early on.

If one of these elements seems to be weak or nonexistent in your marriage, don’t throw your entire relationship away in frustration. Instead, work through your concerns openly and honestly with your spouse. Every marriage needs improvement, and being patient during adjustment periods is essential. Also recognize and applaud what is going well in your marriage. Look for the ordinary, heartfelt moments in your marriage and thank your spouse for them. 

As Greg and I approach our 26th wedding anniversary, I’m content sitting with him and watching a Hallmark movie. Who knew that 26 years in, marriage moments like those would not only be “good enough,” but also precious. Or that keeping our friendship alive through laughter and joy in the moments of practical jokes would be so connecting and sweet. Or that having a vibrant sexual connection would continue to be a priority in our marriage. What we have learned, more than two decades later, is that yes, our marriage is good enough!

What does “good enough” look like in your marriage?

Erin Smalley serves as the marriage strategic spokesperson for Focus on the Family’s marriage ministry and develops content for the marriage department.

Did you know couples are 30 percent less likely to get a divorce if they get some sort of premarital training? If you or someone you know is planning to marry, check out Focus on the Family’s Ready to Wed curriculum, and then prepare for a marriage you’ll love!

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