On a recent flight, I sat next to a businessman in his late 30s. He wore a stylish suit and had a warm smile. I was busy working on my computer but from the corner of my eye, I could see him peering at the document I was writing. When lunch was served, he shifted uncomfortably in his seat and then pushed himself to speak. "I hope you don't mind me asking, but I couldn't help but see that you're writing about love. I myself am a wreck at relationships -- can't seem to get them right. Are you some kind of relationship expert?"
I explained that I had been working with singles and married couples for some 25-odd years (some odder than others) and had recently written a book about relationships.
"What's the title?" he asked.
"I Only Want to Get Married Once."
"Too late for me," he replied. "I already blew it."
I can't count the number of times people have made that comment to me. I've heard it so often that I sometimes wonder if the title of my next book should be, "I Only Want to Get Divorced Once."
First of all, it's never too late. Whether we're on a first -- or fourth -- marriage, we all want to get it right. And we can get it right. If there's one thing my 25 years of working as a marriage counselor and dating coach have taught me, it's that we're hard-wired for love and yes, marriage. If that's true, why do so many marriages fail?
Far too often, it's because people jump into marriage thinking that the only thing they need to make it work is "the click." Although infatuation does provide a great kick-start to a relationship, it's short lived. And when the infatuation dries up, which will happen, a marriage will crash if there isn't "lasting love potential." How do you know if your relationship has this essential ingredient? Ask yourself these four questions:
1. Do you and the person you're dating have shared values? When the infatuation wears off, values take center stage... each and every time. I know of a couple who were happily married for a few years until the topic of children came up. "I want to take our kids to church every Sunday," Mike said to his wife, Fran. He proceeded to tell Fran about the warm memories he had of his childhood, of the whole family going to church on Sunday. Fran was horrified. She grew up as an atheist and since her husband had never spoken about religion, she assumed he felt similarly -- that religion was something that didn't belong in their home. The massive arguments that resulted from that one discussion led to a standstill in their marriage and, eventually, to divorce.
Although personality differences can be worked through, a "values clash" is almost impossible to resolve. As in the case of Mike and Fran, it typically leads to serious marital conflict and, ultimately, divorce.
To check the "values factor" of your relationship, ask yourself these questions:
· What are my 5 top values?
· Does my potential spouse share at least 3 of these values?
· Does he/she at least respect the ones that are not shared?
2. Is there mutual respect? As opposed to "puppy admiration," true respect means accepting someone and honoring his or her thoughts and feelings. The word respect actually comes from the Latin word respicere, which means to look at. We can only respect a person if we are "looking at" and relating to who he or she is. And beware: infatuation blocks our ability to really "see."
To check the "respect factor" of your relationship, answer these questions:
· Can I see that the person I'm dating is different from me? If so, how?
· What are the benefits of marrying a person who has these traits?
· What are the strengths of the person I'm dating? Do I appreciate them?
· What are his or her weaknesses? Can I respect and accept him or her with these weaknesses?
3. Do you trust him/her? Without trust, love cannot grow. A young woman once came to speak with me because she was having trouble opening up to her boyfriend. She was frustrated and explained that she never had trouble opening up before. Suddenly a light bulb went on in her head and she said, "Oh, I know why I can't open up -- I don't trust him." She was shocked by the fact that she was crazy about a guy that she didn't trust. Yes, we can be obsessed with someone we don't trust... because infatuation actually thrives on mistrust.
To check the "trust factor" of your relationship, ask yourself these questions:
· Do I feel safe with the person I'm dating? Can I let my guard down around him or her?
· How does he/she treat people? Am I comfortable with this?
· What are my deepest, darkest secrets? Do I feel that he/she would eventually be able to handle these secrets and accept me with them?
4. Is there healthy communication? I remember an eye-opening discussion I had with Roy, who consulted with me regarding his ex-wife. When I asked him if they had argued a lot, he replied, "No, we didn't even have one major disagreement." I remember thinking to myself, "Maybe if they'd had it out, they would still be married." Avoidance of conflict is one of the main causes for divorce. However, too much conflict is equally as destructive.
While it's completely normal for a couple to argue, the question is, how much arguing is OK? Research shows that a healthy marriage has at least five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there is negative. The magic ratio is 5:1. The positive interaction can be big (giving your husband a hand-written love note) or small (smiling when your wife shares something about her day). But it has to be positive, not neutral.
To check the "communication factor" of your relationship, ask yourself these questions:
· Are you able to express conflict in your relationships in general?
· Are you able to express conflict with the person you're dating?
· How well do you express yourself? Are you aware of the areas you need to work on in your communication style (this includes both speaking and listening)?
During my last book tour, I was chatting with a divorcee named Tom. I mentioned the above four questions (as well as the six other questions outlined in my book) and asked him if he'd looked into any of these before marriage. His response was an immediate: "No." Tom went into marriage thinking that since he and his wife got along so well and they were so attracted to each other, this would be enough to carry them throughout life. But when they hit the different stages and challenges of life -- job stress, kids, parents passing away, and illness -- they didn't have a strong enough foundation to make it through. So much sadness could have been prevented if they had asked themselves some very basic questions about lasting love potential before they ever walked down the aisle.
It pays to take the time to ask ourselves these essential 'love potential' questions... they will pay off in the long run!