Everybody does nothing but screw up in their relationships…until they finally get it right. (And then 50% of those get screwed up too.)
Why would I lead with something so negative? Because it’s not negative at all! Let me explain…
Everybody does nothing but screw up in their relationships..
When things are going badly, when one relationship ends, then another, then another, remember that you’re not alone. You’re learning how to do something the way we all have to learn–through trial and error. And sometimes the error isn’t even yours…someone else’s error becomes your trial. Then you have to try again. And again. As hard as it may be to wait and to not know, don’t rush your journey. Some people need more trials than others.
…until they finally get it right. (And then 50% of those get screwed up too.)
And if you ever find someone you decide you want to spend the rest of your life with, be sure you can tell yourself “I have tried, I have failed, and I know what kind of partner I want in my corner. I know what works, and I know how to work at this.” And then…one panicked night when you’re worrying that it will all end in divorce someday, you can tell yourself “all we need is to do better than half the population.” Better than 50%.! That’s not a steep curve at all! That’s a grade of F. You need to do better than an F.
But, as we say in show business…it’s all in the casting. Your choice of spouse will probably play the biggest role in the success of your hypothetical marriage, because you could be doing A+ work, but if you choose the wrong partner, it may still lead to failure. So….If it matters what the old man thinks…Here’s what (I believe) you want in a forever partner.
You want to marry (in no particular order)…
- #1. Someone who’s good at taking care of the little things. Marriage is a ridiculously practical institution. Think of it like owning, say, your own coffee shop. After the excitement over your new business cards and the cool name above the door wears off, running that business is simply a lot of pouring coffee. It’s not romantic. It’s the food service industry. When you get married, there’s all sorts of excitement, maybe even a new name, a new house, and then…it’s a lot of paying bills. Going to work and coming home. Fixing stuff that breaks. Running errands. Mowing lawns. And if you plan to have kids, quadruple the number of things that have to get done. Marry the kind of person you’d be relieved to partner with on a science fair project, or the person you’d never hesitate to ask a complicated favor of–the kind of person you’d hand a check to and say “can you please hand-deliver this by 5pm or else I’ll get fined,” and never once hesitate that this person would get it done.
- #2. Someone who doesn’t keep you guessing. You want mystery? Go to the Concord Cheese Shop and order the meatloaf. You should know your partner and your partner should know you. Yes, of course, some things are forever-private and I still learn new things about mom after a dozen years of marriage, but for the most part…you should feel like you and your partner know each other better than anyone else. You probably have a best friend. And I could probably ask you…what would your friend think about XYZ? And you’d know. You’d probably be able to predict what they would say and how they would say it, too. This is what you’re looking for. Someone who’s mysterious is someone who’s shut you out. There’s a lack of trust and/or commitment there, or a lack of a true bond, and it’s a worrisome sign.
- #3. Someone whose values aren’t radically different from yours. You should know how they feel about having kids, about money, about spending time with in-laws, etc. In many ways this goes back to point #1. And point #2. If one of you decides you want to live in a tiny home in the mountains, you don’t want to get divorced over that. You want to know that your spouse will think that’s an awesome idea, too. Statistically speaking, the most common fights in marriages (and reasons for divorce) are over money, in-laws, and choices over raising kids. You want to be on the same page about those things.
- #4. Someone who can and will work with you, on the marriage, and never stop working. Let this sink in if you haven’t already: you must be ready to be wrong, and be with a partner to whom you can admit you’re wrong. And find someone who will do the same. And you have to both believe that the work on a good marriage never ends. You should trust that this person won’t stop working, and that you won’t stop working. This is one of those values I mentioned in point #3, but it’s perhaps the most important value to share! A strong marriage is a never-ending series of talks and compromises. Do not–under any circumstance–let your anger fester and grow. And don’t let your partner’s grow, either. You have to bring your darkness into the light of the marriage. THIS IS THE KEY: There is no such thing as a problem in a marriage that is anything other than a team problem. Money troubles? Team problem. Disagreement over chores? Team problem. You’re being a jerk? Team problem–not just your problem. It’s hard because every time someone pisses us off–even our spouse–we react by blaming. It’s human instinct. But once you blame, the other party defends. It’s pointless. Mom and I both still work on this but every time we fight, we get nothing accomplished until we stop, pull our egos out of it and remind each other…”this is a team problem.” If you’ve ever heard it said that communication is the most important ingredient to marriage–that’s what point #4 is all about. But I like to go a step further because communication is more like the method of work that needs to be done to keep your team strong. But the real strength comes from a TEAM willingness to never stop working.
- #5. Someone you trust. You may have noticed that “trust” is a strong theme running through everything above. There isn’t much to say about it, but you know it when you feel it–and even the people you trust the most can and will disappoint you from time to time. (And then you need to be able to forgive…see point #4.) But a spouse you should trust with the little things. You should trust that you know them and they know you and therefore you don’t expect they’ll cheat on you when they’re out of town or do something else that’s unsavory. You should trust that they won’t suddenly become a benedictine monk or join the French Foreign Legion, (or hit your kids if you have any). And above all, you should trust that they won’t quit on you, that they’ll keep working, keep talking.
That’s the core, if you ask me. Yes, you should like the person you’re going to marry; you should love them; be attracted to them; find them interesting. These things are important, but these things also fall into a category of feelings that can shift and fluctuate over time. You can literally fall out of love with your spouse, and it’s actually OK. Because if the above five things are in place, you’ll hang in there, bring the darkness into the light, and then come back home. It may not sound terribly romantic, but that’s how good marriages work.