The really important things in life are few in number. Marriage is one of them. Marriage is one of the most important things—and one of the most life-changing endeavors—any of us will undertake in life. Marriages frequently fail: the divorce rate in the United States has remained relatively steady at 50% for many years. The emotional pain, the financial expense, and the economic loss of divorce—for both parents and children—are so significant that engaged persons may want to increase the probability of entering into a successful marriage by discussing candidly and forthrightly ten subjects that can make or break a marriage. This, however, is the most extreme situation. Far more common is ambivalence.
One may argue about what exactly are the top ten issues on which couples should have reached an accord before getting married, but I think that contemporary Americans would agree that for a marriage to survive beyond a few years—or put more dramatically—for a marriage not to terminate by divorce—a middle-class couple contemplating marriage must have discussed and reached substantial agreement on these issues:
- Do You Want Children? When? How Many?
- Can We Talk about Sex?
- Is Fidelity in Marriage Important to You?
- How Do You See Us Spending Our Free Time?
- How Frequently Will We See Our Respective In-Laws? What Is Their Role in Our Marriage? What are Our Boundaries?
- Can We Talk about Money? Can We Manage Our Money Together? Separately?
- How Much and How Often Do You Drink? Do You Do Drugs?
- Will You Clean the House? The Kitchen? The Bathroom?
- Do You See Us Being Married for Forty Years?
- Have You Ever Hit Anyone?
No marriage will thrive, nor perhaps will any marriage survive, in which one spouse wants children and the other rejects any notion of children. This is truly an irreconcilable difference. In all likelyhood, couples with such divergent views, really should not marry, for neither is likely to be happy, and each will be almost certainly come to feel dissatisfied with his or herlot in life in such an unhappy marriage.
If one person definately wants children, and the other is ambivalent, then what? Well, then that is when talking may be very helpful, talking amoung yourselves and, perhaps, talking with a counselor. In today’s society, there are many reasons couples may want to defer having children: maturation; education, and a job or a career—for one or both spouses. Conversely, women who are aware of their biological clock may want their pregnancy or pregnancies to occur when they are in their twenties or early thirties, but certainly, well before the onset of menopause.
Sexual activity is one form of intimacy. Many Americans are reluctant to either express or reveal intimacy, perhaps equating intimacy with vulnerability. Many persons in contemporary American society still shy away from candid discussions of intimacy, including sex, an intimate physical activity with emotional connotations. Tara Parker-Pope limns this phenomenon in her blog post, When Sex Leaves the Marriage. Engaged couples who want to discuss either a sexual relationship or a sexual condition but experience difficulty doing so may find helpful information at: Couples Therapy for Sexual Health; http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/default.htm; http://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/default.htm.
Fidelity obviously includes sexual fidelity, but its true importance in a marriage is greater than that. Fidelity in marriage encompasses both restraint and respect: restraint from sexual activity except with one’s spouse, and respect for one’s spouse, both in private and in public, especially in public.
This is the creative time for each of us, both for ourselves as individuals and as married couples. Why should a marriage be anything less than a pleasure? Can any marriage be a pleasure without relaxation or joy? Seize the day (or carpe diemas the Romans said), and strenghthen your marriage.
Boundaries is the operative word here. A rising tide may raise all boats, but a rising tide of in-law interference may swamp a marriage.
Debt can destroy a marriage, as can disunityover money or budgeting.
Drink and Drugs.
Wine and food are two of life’s enduring pleasures. The issue here generally is one of moderation; however, addiction to alcholol or drugs or food or sex or any other unrestrained behavior will, at the least, cause great stress and suffering in a marriage.
Sharing is the essence of modern marriages.
Safety and Security.
Do you really want to live in want, uncertainty, or turmoil. In a sense, safety and security is a residual notion, in that fear for one’s safety and security may occur when one feels threatened by a spouse’s drinking, infidelity, debt, or pornography.
Anger and Violence.
Anger is dangerous; violence is intolerable.
“There is such pleasure in long-term marriage that I really would hate to be my age and not have had a long-term marriage. Remember, sustaining a pleasurable, long-term marriage takes effort, deliberateness and an intention to learn about one another. In other words, marriage is for grown-ups. Cokie Roberts, From This Day Forward.