Why is Marriage Different?

Why Marriage Is Different –¬†03/15/07 – 11:13:28 AM

Many years ago, a good friend was considering getting married for the third time. He asked me whether I thought he should. Having known him during his second marriage and being familiar with what had gone wrong, I told him that as long as he believed there was a difference between marriage behavior and courtship behavior, with marriage behavior coming out on the short end of the stick, he should remain single. You see he, like many people, assumed marriage is the endpoint of a relationship instead of the beginning of a new and deeper one. Couples plan for the wedding day without giving much thought to the marriage.

As I discussed in a previous article, Falling in Love, Staying in Love, (see my website www.balancedfamily.com) there is a need to move past infatuation into something deeper and more meaningful. In other words, marriage. When we are trying to win our partner, we put our best foot forward. Our focus is on the other person. We do things they like to do. We accentuate the areas where we are in agreement and play down, or camouflage, the differences. In other words, we engage in courtship behavior to win our partner?s love and hand in marriage. Once the big day is past we stop making such an effort because we have won the prize. We start focusing more on getting our needs met and less on meeting the needs of our partner. The transition to marriage behavior has begun. How this transition is managed sets the tone for the relationship.

Many people look at the wedding as the culmination of the relationship instead of the first step in a long journey. The focus moves off the development of the couple as a unit and back onto the individual and his or her goals. The idea is that once united, my goals will become your goals and you will meet my needs. Sounds good. Here?s the problem: your partner is thinking the same thing. All those differences that were put aside when you were dating suddenly move in and fill the room. The differences you didn?t talk about before seem to be the only things you are able to focus on now. You wonder why your partner seems unwilling to do things your way without realizing you are not willing to do things your partner?s way. The expectation of happily ever after seems like too much effort for too little return.

In working with my clients, I have discovered that many of their issues lie in the expectation of courtship behavior being better than marriage behavior. There is a common perception that marriage has to be worked at. This is an unproductive and disappointing way of looking at marriage. Marriage requires attention, intention, and commitment, not work. A strong marriage is formed by the continued focus on meeting your partner?s needs and an effort to make his/her happiness a priority. This involves building on the effort begun during courtship and continuing it at a deeper and more mature level. When the attention in a marriage is on one?s partner there is an increased chance of seeing things from that person?s perspective. This opens up possibilities that would be unavailable by staying focused on your own needs and desires. Marriage behavior embraces the differences of the couple and combines them in a way that makes the relationship stronger and more flexible. It is this strength and flexibility that enables marriage to grow and develop over time. This is what makes the difference.

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