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Marriage is a high potential relationship. With its high reward comes a high risk of making a mess of it. Even though an awesome relationship is hard work, there are a few skills that will help you succeed.
Marriage requires many skills but the three I want to share encompass them all. The three skills are developmental. Meaning, being skilled at #1 makes #2 easier, and being skilled at #2 makes #3 easier. These skills are overlapping in the sense it is possible to be working on all three skills at the same time.
Marriage Skill #1: Thriving As An Individual
The prerequisite for a healthy marriage is to be a healthy individual. This skill prepares a single person to be a married person.
When just beginning to learn this skill, two individuals are not mature enough to sustain a healthy relationship. After all, if you can’t manage yourself, how are you going to take care of someone else?
Each person needs to be able to function as a whole person even when their partner isn’t functioning well. If too much pressure (the expectation that needs will be met) is applied to a spouse, the resulting conflict can be explosive enough to destroy the relationship. This collision is set on a course when two people meet, fall in love instantly, only to find out later they didn’t know what they want in life.
The more you know who you are and what you want from life, the easier it is to be happily married. The one exception to this rule might be that you must want to be married more than you want to live like you are single.
When you are secure enough in who you are, you can be flexible enough to find a way to stay married and pursue something that fulfills you as an individual.
Marriage Skill #2: Cooperating As A Team
The prerequisite for fruitful marriage is to be a team player. This skill prepares a married person to accomplish more with their partner than they can accomplish alone.
When just beginning to learn this skill, a couple cannot work well together. To cooperate as a team requires developing a high level of intimacy. To build this skill, the couple must learn how to be close without losing all they gained as individuals. This involves knowing how to communicate and resolve conflict while maintaining individual boundaries.
Functioning as an individual is different than as a team. Teamwork requires knowing how to work together with different personalities and abilities. The overall marriage objective might not be clear. This will take time to define and negotiate.
Marriage Skill #3: Accomplishing A Mission
As you become proficient in skills #1 and #2, you are more ready to pursue objectives together. With less energy needed to be a healthy individual or couple, you can devote your energy reserves to pursue a purpose that requires two people.
While there are many ways to complete a mission together, a popular one suited for marriage is raising children. If you find your relationship struggling since you started having children, chances are you need to become more experienced at the first two skills.
By now you might have realized that all three skills compete for attention. To build a better marriage requires investing in the right skills, in the right balance, at the right time. Following are some examples to help you understand how this can be challenging, but not impossible.
Tom and Sarah are 16 years old. When they become pregnant, they must devote an enormous amount of energy to their child (#3). While a baby is a high priority, for their relationship to work, they must also build in time to continue growing into adults (#1) and time learning to manage stress and having fun as a couple (#2). At this young age, they experience tension between all three skills, which makes success less likely but still possible.
Steve and Amy are 29 years old. They both work and support themselves without help from their parents. They are used to spending large amounts of time socializing with friends (#1). They don’t have any children, but for their relationship to work, they must make time to learn how to be a couple apart from their friends (#2). Their need for developing couple skills applies pressure on their individual pursuits.
Mark and Mary are 35 years old. Mark wants to spend his free time going on adventures with his male friends (#1). Mary wants to spend time together exclusively with Mark at home (#2). They experience tension in their relationship because they desire different ways to focus their energies.
Becky is 40 years old. She has been divorced 2 times and has 2 children. She has been seriously dating a man for a year. She works and takes care of her children as a single mom. But most of her free time goes to her relationship. Her desire to not be alone, along with her responsibilities as a mom, gets in the way of her need to grow up (#1).
Bob and Lucy are 55 years old. They have spent the last 25 years raising their kids together (#3). Both have dreams to finally be able to put more effort into their careers. Their need to learn how to be a couple again applies pressure to their desire to feel fulfilled as individuals.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.