Marriages take a lot of work, primarily because of the power struggle that happens when two people try to meet their individual needs, and meet the needs of the other person. This power struggle, coupled with unrealistic expectations about marriage can contribute to instability in a marriage.
Today, we will be talking about the elements of a healthy marriage. Decide for yourself whether your marriage meets the criteria for what can be considered a well-adjusted marriage.
A healthy marriage places value on the needs of your partner and places their needs alongside yours, or at times ahead of, your own needs. This means that you have a healthy balance as a couple and mutually agree to take on tasks, activities, and duties. There will be some conflict in coordinating these tasks, but the general consensus of your partnership is that each person is considered and there is a healthy exchange of give and take. If one person is constantly giving in for the sake of the marriage, he or she will lose their individuality and sense of self.
In healthy marriages, both parties can communicate freely. Although their partner may disagree, there is still a basic understanding and acceptance of their differences. Both spouses accept that conflict is normal. They work together to bring it out, discuss it, remedy it, and most importantly, let go of it. They may get mad at each other, but they will be able to resolve it. Couples do not put each other down, either subtly or directly. The stored-up resentment that can accompany anger is toxic to a relationship and will slowly add to the deterioration of the partnership.
A sense of humor is imperative! Couples must be able to joke about their conflict, which de-escalates the intensity. Healthy partners are able to laugh at themselves after the fact.
In healthy marriages, there is respect for each other’s differences. There is encouragement for each partner to have his or her own interests and activities? There is a mutual respect for each partner’s independent thoughts about religion, politics, parenting, and money?
Healthy couples work well together. They keep their priorities straight and invest energy, time and effort into their relationship. They make time to go out with other couples, as well as go out by themselves. They participate in groups that support the infrastructure of marriage. It is important to regularly schedule time as a couple. The rigors of a stressful job or being a co-parent can leave you feeling drained and exhausted. “Couples time” should replenish you and the relationship. Baby-sitting may be expensive, but it’s well worth the investment in your marriage.
Partners need to feel appreciated. This component is often most lacking in a marriage because of all of the resentments from the past. I frequently ask clients to pretend for one day that they are totally satisfied with the relationship and act as if their marriage is working. It’s an incredibly difficult assignment, because people don’t want to let go of the years of anger, pain, and hurt, but when they practice it for a 24-hour period, they report that not only do they feel better about the relationship, but their own spirits pick up and they feel individually happier.
As with most interactions, the more positive energy that is expended, the better the result. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Chronic negativity can, and will, contaminate a marriage. You get to decide—would you rather contribute to a healthier marriage, or contaminate the relationship with anger, pain, and unmet expectations? As always, you have the choice to make a difference in your marriage—and your life.