Creating a Marriage That Works

I decided to write this at the suggestion of a patient who came into a session with an interesting thought. She asked, "When you buy a car, you get a manual. When you get a new dishwasher, you get a manual. Why aren't there manuals for making a marriage work?"

I pondered this question for awhile and decided to present my views of what it takes to create and foster a healthy, growing marriage.

Unfortunately, most people, I feel, are clueless about what it takes to really love someone. If you've read my article on The Love Illusion, you are aware of my belief that we cannot really love another person until we get over our fantasy vision of them (based on our own idealized love image) and get to know the real person we plan to spend most of our life with. After we've become disillusioned (lost the fantasy illusion) and start to fall in love with the real person, we need the awareness and skills necessary to make the marriage grow.

Marriage is not a fantasy land where two people in love ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. Actually, if you recall the fairy tales, this is followed by the predictable closing: "The End".

After the "I do's", however, the last thing most couples want is "The End." To see this as the beginning of something that will last, couples have to be aware that marriages, like most relationships, require work. The work takes skills, awareness and effort. Above all, it takes commitment. The marriage vows only begin to say what couples promise each other. Basically, the promise needs to be to do all that is necessary to create a strong bond with your mate.

For those who choose to commit to this, I have developed a program or, as my patient requested, an outline of the Marriage Manual.

Good fighting

is a prime requirement for a healthy marriage to develop. Simply defined, good fighting is the ability to present your truths to your partner, hear theirs and negotiate the difference. Entering the marriage with those skills in place is essential because, no matter how much we love someone, it is inevitable that there will be disagreements and differences, often on a daily basis. The issue is not why we disagree, but, rather, how we handle the disagreements. Couples must learn to fight well or there can be no…


Contrary to popular belief, trust is not merely related to sexual fidelity. It is the freedom and ability to open ones truths to another person. This trust comes from the security that is the result of knowing we can protect ourselves should our partner hurt us (either consciously or unconsciously). This ability to protect ourselves ("good fighting") allows us to trust our mate with our deepest feelings. It comes from knowing it is okay to expose our core to our mate without fear of criticism, judgment or rejection. Our partner, similarly, must be equally capable of expressing truths to us. This skill of "good fighting" leads to total openness and trust, especially if there are…

No insurmountable "Bird and Fish" issues. (see The Love Illusion)

Since good fighting requires negotiating differences, there has to be room for compromise. When couples encounter major issues, they must be recognized and dealt with early in their relationship. For many couples, issues such as religion, whether to have children or not, whether to live in the city or the suburbs, financial aspirations, and family attachments can be insurmountable. Conflicts about these issues may be non-negotiable and cause increasing resentment, sadness and the eventual dissolution of the marriage. In order to avoid this, there must be…

Common goals and values.

The more similar the attitudes and expectations of the partners are, the greater the chance for marital growth. Although there will be differences, these will be easier to negotiate than bird and fish issues. Having similar personalities often allows for greater compatibility in terms of sex, child rearing styles, financial goals, friendships and family relationships. That doesn't mean that they can't relate if one person is outgoing and the other a bit more reserved. Clearly if they appreciate their differences and negotiate well they are showing that they are…

Getting to know and appreciate the real person.

As a couple's Love Illusion breaks down and, if they are able to engage in "good fighting", they can truly begin to enjoy and appreciate the person they married. When two healthy individuals with good self esteem come together and are open to sharing their thoughts, feelings and interests, they start to feel closer and more connected. Even when they don't agree on something, they are able to talk about it and work out their differences. In this way, their behavior continues to…

Demonstrate ones partner's significance.

Let's take a look at the current use of the expression "significant other." I believe that people want to feel significant, especially to the person who professes to love them.

There is quite a difference between what it means when someone says, "I want you to meet my spouse" and when he says, "This is Joanne" or "This is my girlfriend."

The act of asking someone to marry you is a statement of significance. You are about to enter into a legal, domestic and economic partnership. This sign of significance is just the opening act.

The challenge of making a marriage work is in no small part related to continuing to treat each other with significance. The statement, "I asked you to marry me. Isn't that enough?" doesn't cut it.

In order to demonstrate your partner's significance, you need to be thoughtful, respectful and worthy of their trust.

You show them that they are important by respecting their opinions, doing the little things that show you know what they like and what will make them smile… that you think of them when you aren't together… that you give them what is important to them whether it is important to you or not … that you turn to them when you are hurting or in an emergency or in time of crisis…that you express genuine interest in their life away from you … that you ask for their input on things that are important to you… and that you are willing to accept their family and friends.

There is a reciprocity in this giving and receiving evidence of significance that goes a long way toward a true blending of your lives and…

Becoming a "we".

When two people are able to love and respect each other and have the skills described above, they can begin to find out "what's best for both of us." They are able to plan both long and short term goals. To do this, they are both completely aware of their financial situation. With all of the information available, they can plan together not only for the day-to-day expenditures, but for larger purchases (like cars or homes), long term priorities (college expenses, retirement plans), and the "fun stuff" like weekend activities and vacations.

Being a "we" does not mean being joined at the hip. Nor does it mean that individuality disappears. There is a balance in the relationship that comes with being respectful and aware that talking about something one might want to do is very different from asking permission to do it. The reciprocity of a "we" relationship assures that neither has to worry about losing himself as the partner's needs have to be considered.

In a true "we" relationship, both partners are included in decision making. The negotiations that occur during this process are non-confrontational. They are collegial and will lead to a feeling that there are no secrets and that you are…

Becoming best friends and partners.

Friendship between married couples may come to be the real glue that keeps them together and keeps the marriage growing. As friends, you can talk about the big life decisions and the small ones. As friends, you can develop common interests as well as a willingness to try something your partner enjoys. Just as close friends believe they can tell each other anything, so couples need to be willing to hear even the most mundane or fanciful aspects that their partner feels the need to share. They make time for each other and listen without the need to give advice or fix things for their partner unless it is requested. As you expose your partner to your interests and trust their judgment, you begin to…

Help your partner grow.

Hopefully, as you grow, so will your partner. It makes marriage more interesting. Partners can help each other grow by being available to be a sounding board when they need to sort out their thoughts. When they are attempting to try something new, you offer encouragement. As they attempt to overcome personal obstacles, you are there, being their cheerleader and expressing your confidence in their ability to handle challenges. Do not underestimate the impact of your expression of faith in them. In helping your partner to grow, you will always be…

Learning more about your mate.

As much as you might feel you know your mate inside and out, there is always more to learn. In their own process of self discovery, your mate may find memories and connections from the past which they hadn't been consciously aware of earlier. Revelations are common in people who are introspective and who want to understand more about themselves. Often, because they can trust their mate, they will discuss their awareness and welcome feedback and insights which might help them to continue to grow. Couples who are comfortable enough with each other to include their mate on their path to self discovery are truly fortunate. With each revelation, there is the opportunity for the couple to gain an intensified feeling of true intimacy. This bond will inevitably lead to…

A willingness to give.

When you truly love somebody, you want to make them happy. As a result of the openness between you, you have come to know their tastes and habits. You are aware of their likes and dislikes. Knowing what excites them, you try to bring that into their life. The art of giving is much like the art of good lovemaking. You give your partner as much pleasure as you can with the awareness that they are equally willing to do the same for you.

When couples who really enjoy each other are open to learning and growing, they are willing to…

Introduce new experiences.

I feel there are two general approaches to life. For people who are fearful and guarded, the need to protect themselves from the unknown makes them feel threatened by the prospect of trying something new. They are quick to ask "Why should I?" In contrast to these people are those who are secure enough to go through life approaching new experiences with a "Why not?" attitude.

For couples who are secure, both individually and as partners, the world is out there waiting for them. They are willing to reach out and experience new things. They are willing to set their curiosity free to explore, to sample, to learn and, in this way, to continue to grow.

When couples are free enough to approach life with a "Why not?" attitude, they will expand their horizons by meeting new people, trying new foods, experiencing new cultures and truly living a full life.

In other words, couples who are free are able to walk down new streets and experience whatever that street has to offer. Together, as friends, lovers, partners, companions, teachers, students, they create a synergy where one-plus-one is greater than the sum of its parts. One-plus-one creates not just two, but the "we", another entity with all of the characteristics of the individuals, enhanced and strengthened by their commitment to experiencing life together.

copyright 2007 - Dr. Gerard Bomse - All Rights Reserved - duplication and re-publishing prohibited without consent from Dr. Bomse (