You've heard the bad news: Almost 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. But there is good news. Success in marriage, as in the rest of life, has little to do with statistics about what’s going on out there and everything to do with what’s going on in your life and in your home. The reality is it doesn’t matter what the polls report. The determining factors in your marital success are personal.
“Even though divorce is prevalent in our culture today, we don’t want to just walk out,” says relationship expert Gary Chapman. “There is a deep, deep bonding unique to the marriage relationship—a physical and emotional bond. And because of that, we want to make it work despite our differences.”
In Hope of Happily Ever After
Every year, almost 4 million people pledge to love, honor and cherish each other in ceremonies across the United States. “Almost all of these couples anticipate ‘living happily ever after,’ ” Chapman writes in his latest book, Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married. “No one gets married hoping to be miserable or to make their spouse miserable. … People do not get married planning to divorce.”
Chapman believes divorce is often the effect of poor planning and lack of understanding about what marriage means. Individuals plan for their careers, families, finances and vacations, but rarely do they have a plan for marriage. Perhaps that’s because they wander into this life-altering arrangement while intoxicated by the effects of what Chapman calls “euphoric love.” You know the feeling: Your stomach does a flip of excitement every time you see your true love, your heart beats wildly when you hold hands, you feel an electric jolt when you kiss. It’s often while in this he/ she-can-do-no-wrong phase that people pledge undying love to one another. The trouble is that the effects of euphoric love are temporary.
“The euphoric experience we typically call falling in love has an average lifespan of two years,” Chapman says. When the feeling of euphoria wears off, you suddenly have a little more clarity about the person with whom you’ve committed to spending your life. “Before, you saw them as a perfect person. Now you see them as a real person, a human with strengths and weakness. Most couples are not prepared for that,” he says.
First things first. If you’re not yet married, come to grips with the fact that the euphoria won’t last forever…and that’s OK. Enjoy it while it lasts, but realize that something better could be around the corner—if you plan for it. Having spent the past 35 years counseling couples who were blindsided by the realities of housework, conflicting work schedules, debt, parenting and in-laws, Chapman says, “It is my conviction that many of these struggles could have been avoided had the couple taken the time to prepare more thoroughly for marriage.”
How, exactly, does one prepare for marriage? It sounds like a no-brainer, but the place to start is in getting to know the other person. Find out what your sweetheart thinks about politics, debt, religion and faith, charitable giving, whether they want children or pets or pizza every Wednesday night for the rest of their lives. What was their childhood like? What does success mean to them? Do they like sports, movies, going out with friends, or staying in and enjoying a quiet evening at home? Talk about your likes and dislikes. Share your thoughts about how the details of housework, financial planning, child-rearing and caring for elderly parents should be handled. And, by the way, if you’re already married and you don’t know the answer to any of the previous questions, there’s no time like the present to learn about your mate. Creating a plan for life together will put you on the right track.