Today’s marriages are more complicated than ever before. A half century ago, the American marriage was simpler in its expectations and roles. It was a male-female union to which the overwhelming majority of adults committed. Divorce was not a chosen option, because it was penalized with societal ostracism. Young adults would routinely marry their high school sweethearts, or those who were university bound would marry their college steady. Marriage was the assumed relationship institution which led to the saying that girls went to college primarily to get their MRS degree—signified by a marriage proposal from a well-educated gentleman before graduation.
A successful marriage was defined by key behaviors and milestones such as a husband securing a well-paying job, buying a new family car, taking a home mortgage in the burbs, having children and grandchildren. Both husband and wife had predetermined roles to play. Husbands strived to work for the big company, measured success by promotions, brought home a paycheck to support his stay-at-home wife who cooked, tended to the children, and volunteered at the PTA. Women could be teachers and nurses but were expected to give up their careers when their first child was born.
Fast forward to today, where the definition of marriage and its gender composition have challenged the mid-twentieth century design. Marriage today is more complex and requires increased skills in communication, conflict management, and negotiation (Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 2010). Why? Because less is automatically assumed and accepted, and more needs to be decided.
Spouses are entering marriage with higher expectations of what marriage should be and what their partner will provide toward their happiness. Many couples expect their spouse to be both best friend and soul mate. For those couples who can successfully fulfill those roles for each other, they should consider volunteering as marriage mentors to other couples who are struggling to achieve that status.
What can couples do to improve the strength and vitality of their marriage? My initial answer would be to consider marriage coaching! Ideally a couple should seek coaching before they say, “I do,” although it is never too late to invest in your marriage. Marriage coaching can help with managing expectations as well as developing strategies for building and maintaining friendship, commitment, fun, and intimacy. Although coaching can provide tools, success will be mostly influenced by the motivation to apply them.
In my marriage coaching practice, I had several couples who came with an expectation that if they could only learn some tools and skills, their marriage would improve. What happened? One couple voluntarily dropped coaching after 3-4 sessions, because as the husband said, “Although the tools are really useful, we just aren’t committed to put them to work in our marriage.” I applauded his honest answer. If either spouse is not willing to do the hard work to achieve the vision for the marriage, success will be limited or elude them all together.
Marriage is a partnership, requiring spouses to die to their selfishness in order to uplift their spouse and marriage. As I like to ask,” What are you doing that is contributing to a marriage issue?” Many spouses are surprised by the question, and as they consider their answer, they usually come to the realization that they try to argue their position with the hope of convincing their spouse to their way of thinking. When my husband and I disagree, if I do not remind myself, we remind each other of a powerful Scripture: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3-5, NIV). When you take the time to think about how you contributed or are contributing to an issue, you may surprise yourself how much more humble you engage in conflict resolution.
In marriage coaching, I work with couples to develop a vision, mission, and goals for their marriage that excited them. Couples who bring optimism, a willingness to develop a plan, and commitment to take action usually see their marriages thrive. Marriage coaching holds a couple accountable to develop the goals they want to work on together and move forward. It is that simple! Although the definition of marriage has been redefined in this modern age, it does not have to be complicated. Skills, tools, and coaching can take what appears complicated and make it uncomplicated.
Markham, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S. (2010). Fighting for your marriage. (3rd. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in leadership and ministry, which provides her with the experience and relational skills to move individuals and couples to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement. She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, marriage, and finances.