Marriage Is Like an Iceberg


I’ve often heard people say, “I wish I had a marriage like so-and-so’s.” What they really mean is that they want what appears to the marriage of the other couple. They fail to realize that marriage is like an iceberg—only 10-20% of it floats above the surface with 80-90% of it living hidden from view. What a married couple shows to the world about their marriage is usually just a small percentage of the relationship, and it’s usually the “good” stuff.

As a marriage coach I’ve seen both—great marriages that are consistent both inside and outside the home and those which appear ideal to the world and are “hot messes” at home. What are the differences between good marriages and ones that need improvement? What needs to reside beneath the surface for a truly successful marriage? In my practice, I find thriving marriages usually have one or both spouses intentionally adopting more of the “successful” attitudes and behaviors and shedding the “struggling” ones.

Successful Marriages Have… Struggling Marriages Have…
Self-sacrifice Selfishness
Optimism Negativity
Gratitude Ungratefulness
Shared core values Opposing core values
Trust Distrust
Vision and mission Lack of vision and purpose
Meeting spouse’s needs Ignoring spouse’s needs
Vulnerable Closed off
Shared goals Competing goals

If you’re married or engaged, I encourage you to review the list of “marriage haves” and rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 on how well you stand today on the “successful” side. Then take one small step by selecting 2 or 3 of these behaviors and attitudes to work on. Get specific on what this change would look like in action, so you can measure improvement.

I hope you won’t be envious of other marriages and focus only on your own. Refrain from comparing your marriage to others, just get to work on yours. You don’t need one more vacation, a new job, or more money to have a better marriage. You only need you, the right attitude, and the right behaviors.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and premarital/marriage coaching.  She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops.  She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves.  You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her website at

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