A long time ago I sat down with a young troop that planned to ask his girlfriend to marry him, he was happy and enthusiastic about the whole thing and wanted some advice from somebody that had been married a while and I’ve been known to wax eloquently, or endlessly on any number of subjects and you might be surprised to hear that I really wasn’t short of ideas on this either. To me Shakespeare summed it up very well in Hamlet, specifically Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes.
“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Its not the longest sentiment, indeed its only a small part of a long string of advice—the Bard didn’t write small—but it is a telling statement and a keen observation in and of itself. To thine own self be true, because the first relationship you have to make sure is strong is the one with yourself.
First, people need to look at themselves honestly. Surprisingly not everyone wants to do this, but how can you presume to know another if you don’t know yourself? Dig deep into yourself, take a good look, not just at the good within you, but the not so good and even the bad. If you don’t know your whole heart then how can you offer it to another?
Every human ever born has flaws, and since we’re the sum total of all of our parts and attributes you’re taking all of the good and the bad within you into a relationship that on paper anyway lasts “until death do you part.” Being true to yourself means look at your flaws, how many of them are compatible with life as half of a married couple? How many things would you change about yourself if you could?
By change I mean really altering behavior, I’ve seen a lot of people “change” who they are for others and by and large it really doesn’t work. If you aren’t looking to improve yourself with the hope of making a better person of yourself then it won’t last. The longest I’ve seen people make a change for others last is about six months, then they revert back to who they really are. Its like promises as a kid that is you get a dog you’ll always walk it, you’ll knuckle down and get good grades, you’ll keep your room clean. Changes made to satisfy others don’t really last, you have to want to do something for it to really take.
Then talk about change, actually talk about everything and make sure its honest and productive conversation. “If you could change things about me, what would they be?” is a dangerous question, but it’s a necessary one. When two people get together there will be changes, they occur naturally over time as you polish the edges of the puzzle pieces to fit better together. Where things stop fitting is when a couple gets to the things that they overlooked because they figured they can get them to change later. We’re back to externally motivated changes, and those don’t work, well if you’re a probation officer you might be able to force somebody to modify their behavior, but only while you’re keeping an eye on them.
The reason I say to thine own self be true is because when you get right down to it, you’re the only person that can bring out the best in you. If its not your house you can paint and move the furniture, but if you find that you’ll need to do major renovations then its time to move. That’s what happens when people marry thinking they can change each other to become more compatible. Couples don’t change each other as individuals; they grow together, that whole polishing and smoothing process I mentioned earlier. He stops burping out the alphabet on the couch after dinner and she stops trying to dress them in matching outfits. It’s a process of cooperation and accommodation that if done right is unnoticeable.
The major things that break up marriages, in no particular order look something like this.
Commitment: or perhaps a lack of it would be more to the point. If you invest nothing into a relationship, that’s what you’ll get back out of it. If you don’t water a plant, it dies.
Communication: any relationship from business to friendship to love is only as solid as the communication that occurs within it. If you ain’t talking, the relationship ain’t surviving.
Falling short: if one person builds the other up into something they are not, the realization that they aren’t “Captain Awesome” can lead to a crash. If your partner expects you to stand up for them or help them out of a tight spot, and you fall short, you’re also looking at a crash. Like most things, this can be avoided with a little communication.
Infidelity: No surprise here, the reasons for it are many-fold, it can be the result of any of the items on this list, maybe somebody didn’t get everything out of their system after all, the “reasons” for it can be as diversified as the people cheating, some can recover from this, most can’t.
Money: Money can’t buy love or happiness, but it can put a strain on both and sometimes that strain is more than a relationship stand.
Priorities: Changes in priorities, and in life can throw even the most stable relationship into a cocked hat. Kids can cause a big stress, so can buying a house, changing jobs or getting fired. If you’re looking at major changes in your life, it might not be the time to get married, but most big changes can be settled by communication.
Sex: Sex is the physical embodiment of emotional attachment, a normally stable relationship can come apart over sexual incompatibility. One wants it more than the other, stress affecting performance, changes in physical capability, all of these things and more can lead to dissatisfaction.
To thine own self be true. Don’t ignore problems, face them as they come to you, deal with them honestly within yourself so you can deal with them within your relationship as well.
© 2009 – 2012, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.