Upside Down, Goofy Thinking Doesn’t Make Your Marriage Work Better. 

Here’s what I mean: If you told a potential boss you would not embezzle  money from them if they hired you, do you think they would hire you?  Or, if the person at the daycare where you leave your kids every day said to you, “I’m a good daycare person because I do not molest your children in your absence,” would that alone make you feel comfortable leaving them with that person?

I bet your answer to my two questions above is one word – “No.” Or maybe it’s two words: “Absolutely not!” So here’s what I don’t get: why do we do this to each other and then wonder why the marriage or relationship is not working?

We promise each other we won’t cheat, abuse, or be otherwise untrustworthy of them. How is that different than an employee expecting to be hired because they agree not to do a bunch of bad things? Marital vows, in effect, are statements of what spouses intend not to do.  What do they intend to do that will feed the marriage and keep it healthy?

In their marriage ceremonies, couples forget to tell each other what they plan to do that’s of a positive nature. A good potential employee tells the boss all the things positive that they intend to bring to the new job. The daycare worker who wants your business will tell you all the good and enriching things they will do for your child.

Likewise, wouldn’t it make more sense if spouses would commit to each other their intention to do the things that nurture and make the relationship grow? I would rather hear spouses vow to each other that they will listen without criticism to each other’s deepest most vulnerable concerns on a regular basis than to state, “I will be with you ‘till we die.” Just because the spouses are hanging around until each other die doesn’t mean they bring anything positive and nutritious to the relationship.

Give me a spouse who will say upon marrying, “I will learn conflict management skills and use them until we decide to part.” I’d rather a potential spouse say to his or her betrothed, “I intend to develop and use with you good dialogue skills on a regular basis,” than, “I will be faithful to you and not cheat on you.” What good is a faithful non-cheating husband or wife who doesn’t understand the importance of regularly attending emotionally to their partner?

It will be a much more healthy marriage if spouses pledge to each other they will regularly make themselves physically available to each other even when the excitement is gone from their sex life than to say, “I love you and I vow to love you ‘till death do us part.” What good is love unless it’s put into action?

Loving action is attentive, steadfast, and regular. Behavior that can be called “loving” does what it’s supposed to do even if the beloved does not. The most loving thing spouses can do to be good partners is to do nurturing and feeding things for each other and not blame each other if they make mistakes.

It is goofy and nonproductive thinking to believe love is enough.  A commitment to stay together no matter what is worthless unless the couple does the things that relationships need to be healthy. Make a commitment to each other to do, not to not do. There are always things that take away from the quality of a relationship. But if you put enough good into the marriage, you’ll make up for a mountain of crappy behavior.

Paul W. Anderson, Ph.D.

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