Sometimes I think marriage is wasted on the young. The qualities that insure a happy marriage are those most of us only begin to master after going through many painful life lessons. I didn’t marry for the first time until I was 53 years old, and by that time I had been through so many rocky relationships that I was “forced” into learning how to be a better woman.
Pain was my greatest teacher. I finally stopped using it as an excuse to feel sorry for myself and began to pay attention to how it was asking me to change. The arrogance of youth kept me very self-centered and wanting relationships to go my way. For a long time I neglected to cultivate and nurture the qualities that I needed to have a healthy marriage.
Here are the five qualities I began to explore and develop within myself. I could write a book on each one, so I will touch on them only briefly. To me they are all necessary components of a healthy and happy marriage.
“Willing to consider new ideas; unprejudiced.” When you are used to running your own life in your own way, it can be very off-putting when you’re suddenly living with someone who has different interests and different opinions than you. You may find yourself thinking, “I can’t believe he thinks this is a good way to spend his time” or “why does he always react that way, it makes no sense.” These things are easier to tolerate before you get married; afterward you tend to take them more personally.
A major cause of conflict in couples is the belief that everyone should think and feel the same way about everything. It is difficult to accept or respect someone else’s point of view, especially when to you, it just seems wrong.
You may feel compelled to correct your partner, pointing out to them all the reasons why what they think wrong and why what you think is right. How easily can someone change your mind about something by telling you you’re wrong? This form of persuasion never works.
Open-mindedness implies not judging what is right for someone else based on what is right for you. It requires that you put the judgment of right and wrong aside and accept and appreciate a different point of view.
“A settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions.” If you have lived alone for a long period of time you can lose sight of what it feels like to not get your way. I lived by myself for 20 years before I got married, so you can imagine how comfortable I was making all my own decisions. With no one to answer to, I fell into a mindset that made me oblivious to how easy I had it. Even when I was in a relationship I still had the power of choice and lived on my own terms.
Whether you’ve been alone like me, or lived with a boyfriend, compromising on most decisions, if you are not used to it, can be a shock. When you’re married, virtually every decision you make affects another person. Not only do you have to come to an agreement on the big issues such as money, where you will live, or where you’ll vacation; but there are hundreds of smaller decisions that you now have to share like what time to eat or what to do Saturday night.
When you are open to compromise, you find that there are things you have to give up for the sake of the relationship, and it isn’t always easy.
If you are someone who has gotten used to always being in control, it is important to prepare for “not getting your way.” First, be honest with yourself and admit that you like to do things your way. Then begin to practice compromise in your life with your friends and family. You might even find that it is a big relief not always being in charge and actually let other people share the responsibility. It may be hard at first but there is a lot you can gain by letting someone else take the lead.
“The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” This is a big one! It requires not only patience towards your partner but patience towards yourself as well.
One of the biggest destroyers of marriages is anger, primarily when it is misused and misdirected. When you form an intimate bond with someone they can become a lightening rod for your anger and frustration just because they are there and accessible. It is easy to project your bad feelings onto them and start blaming and criticizing. It takes a lot of self-awareness to catch yourself when you behave this way.
The quality of patience allows you to create more peace in your life and therefore a more peaceful marriage. It helps you navigate problems and upsets with a clear head and prevents you from being an adversary to your husband.
There will be times when your husband will do things or say things that will “push your buttons” and make you want to lash out at him. But if you can cultivate patience, you will find it easier to take a breath and chose to react with love and kindness.
“To stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.” Forgiveness, like patience, involves defusing and replacing anger and blame with acceptance and love. Anger has many expressions but will show up most of the time in the form of resentment and grudges. If these are not acknowledged and forgiven they will fester and grow. Like a toothache, ignoring them will not make them go away and they will begin to truly poison your marriage.
Forgiveness does not condone bad behavior but it allows two people to remember that they are both flawed, and both deserving of being forgiven.
“Showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected.” If you marry the right person, your husband will value your happiness as much as his own and that is a great gift. As human beings we need to be taught early how to share with others and how to unselfishly put someone else’s interests above our own.
If you did not learn the lesson of being generous to others as a child, you can still cultivate it now. It requires being conscious of other people’s needs and giving your time and energy when appropriate.
We all want to feel we are special, that we are worth some extra effort and care. If you look back, the people who you remember with the most fondness are the ones who really extended themselves to you.
In my early 30’s one of my friends lent me money when I was really desperate. I was laid off from my job the day before I was set to go on an expensive two-week vacation. It was a stretch financially for her, but she took the risk of giving me the money not knowing whether or not I would be able to pay her back. But I did, and since then she has always had a special place in my heart.
The example she showed me of generosity without any benefit to herself left a deep impression on me. Cultivating a generous spirit brings a sense of safety and comfort to a marriage. It allows both people to go beyond themselves and create a union that is supportive and strong.
If you can master all of these qualities early in your life, you will be way ahead of the marriage game. But if you are like me, it may take the benefit of age to cultivate them, to finally become the woman who can have the marriage of her dreams.