Beyond the First Dance
The Roles of Values and Respect in Your Marriage
Certain scientific studies on marriage could be referred to as “grandmother research.” This is because science has spent thousands of dollars to declare findings "evidence based," when your grandmother could have confirmed the results for free. We might call it common sense, but we all know that common sense isn’t always that common. I think this applies to the research that shows the more attributes a couple has in common, the fewer conflicts they will have in their marriage. Our grandmothers knew that. We had only to ask.
My husband and I were fortunate to have a lot in common when we started dating. We met in college. I was majoring in nursing and Patrick in history, planning on a career as a special education teacher. We are both extroverts, Caucasian, Catholic, similar age, alike in our political views and were raised in middle class families by parents with long and healthy marriages. Sharing so many similarities has certainly lessened the areas for potential conflict in our relationship. That is not how it is for many couples who often must work through dissimilarities, sometimes in several areas. While it is important to acknowledge differences and the potential conflicts they might provoke, couples should also embrace them for the enrichment they can offer their marriage.
When couples come from different races or cultures, there are practices and traditions that can be shared with one another and with children which offer exposure to worlds that they may never otherwise have known. What a wonderful opportunity to teach cultural and linguistic awareness and tolerance for those who look and live differently from us! When couples have pursued different courses of study or have varied career choices, these, too, can offer exposure to subjects that a spouse may not otherwise experience.
There also can be personality and temperament differences. One spouse may be very outgoing and thrive on socializing, while the other’s ideal evening consists of curling up with a good book or watching a movie at home. These differences will require, at the very least, good communication skills and compromise from both partners. Since these traits are part of who a person is, melding them into a strong and satisfying marriage requires some other attributes as well, like common values and respect.
While some differences can be challenging, they need not be deal breakers for a marriage. One of the critical factors is the basic value system that each partner possesses. Values, when they are in alignment, provide a firm foundation upon which a couple can base decisions that are agreeable to each of them. When you share the same priorities, you can work together toward your goals with greater ease. Similar values add a strength to your partnership that is not readily disrupted.
Another attribute that underscores strong marriages is mutual respect. You will not always agree. In fact, there are times where you will not understand your partner’s thinking at all! Remember the book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? Well, besides being different genders, couples also have different personalities, different families of origin, different life experiences and opinions, just to name a few potential obstacles. Therefore, trying to understand why your spouse is feeling a certain way may be futile. What is vitally important however, is to respect your partner’s views. Listen, clarify to make sure you are hearing correctly and consider the issue from your spouse’s perspective. While you may not agree, you can, at least, empathize with the feelings your partner is expressing. Remember, respect will always rule over understanding.
Dr. John Gottman, Ph.D., is often considered the guru of marriage research and has written extensively on relationships. One ingredient he found that greatly enhances a marriage is the degree to which a husband considers his wife’s opinion and counsel. Now while that may hit some readers as a sexist statement, consider that Dr. Gottman is a man and has done decades of research with couples in his Seattle-based lab. He notes that women are usually more emotionally intelligent than men due to their experience with friendships and ability to connect on a more intimate level. This experience and the skills it develops can offer insights that men can use to receive input from their wives. Men who show such respect and appreciation toward their wives significantly enrich their marriages. A wife’s ability to respect and complement her husband results in increased marital happiness as well.
Values and respect will underscore how well a couple manages when there is a difference in religion. If you share a similar belief in God and the role that faith plays in your life, you will likely respect how your spouse chooses to live his or her religion. A willingness to share in each other’s religious celebrations can result in a strong emotional intimacy. When your relationship is built with love, respect, kindness and generosity of spirit, there exists the foundation on which a long, satisfying and happy marriage will reside, no matter the differences.
Susan McKeown is currently a Family Support Coordinator with Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative. Susan’s first book, Beyond the First Dance, was published in 2015.