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What makes a “successful” marriage?

I love weddings. I love anticipating the special event, watching the family and friends gather, waiting in anticipation for the bride to process down the aisle, and seeing the glimmer of admiration as the couple first sees each other from across the aisle. There is hope that love will win, that these two people will find happiness for years to come, and that they will build a successful marriage.

What makes a “successful” marriage? There is no one set definition of a successful marriage. 

Whether a marriage is ultimately successful or not will depend upon …

The unique individuals in the marriage and whether it is a fulfilling experience. Does the marriage enrich their lives? Do they each feel that they are better together than they would be apart? Are they able to grow individually, and collectively? Do they find joy in sharing a life together?

One way to measure whether a marriage is successful is to look at whether the couple stays married. However, just because a couple “sticks it out” and avoids divorce, does not necessarily mean it is truly ‘successful” by many measures.

The definition of a successful marriage is important for a couple to contemplate with each other before getting married. Defining what that means, individually and together, will allow both of you to share the expectations you have about marriage. After all, if you are not able to meet each other’s expectations in a marriage, you will both be left feeling frustrated, unfilled, even lonely. And those feelings, when unresolved, are the fertile soil for contempt to take root and ultimately kill your relationship.

Here are some areas to explore in terms of marriage expectations:

  1. Financial Contribution – Is the expectation that both partners will work outside of the home during the marriage, and contribute equally? Or is one partner better suited to be the primary income earner? Does this apply throughout the marriage, even after children are born?
  2. Financial Decisions – Is the expectation that you will share in the decision making regarding financial expenditures, regardless of who earns the money? Or is the one who earns the money going to get to decide how the money will be spent? Will all of your money be pooled in joint accounts with equal access, or will you each keep separate accounts? 
  3. Debt – Do you expect to incur debt in the marriage for purchases and lifestyle expenses? If so, will the debt be incurred jointly? Does one person have better credit than the other? Is one of you a spender and one a saver?
  4. Sex – Physical intimacy is a definitely an area in which we have expectations. Can you talk about these expectations with your partner? Are you able to respect each other’s differences? 
  5. Social Activities – Will you be active in various organizations (such as church or synagogue, or other charitable organizations)? Will you attend events together? Do you have common friends? Are friend nights out or vacations ok? What are your expectations about your partner spending time with a member of the opposite sex? Are there any friendships that are problematic to your relationship? 
  6. Household Responsibilities – How will you allocate all the chores and day to day activities occur in a household? Who will do laundry, meal preparation, grocery shopping, yard work, cleaning out the gutters? Who will coordinate and attend the children’s activities, doctor appointments? Will one of you travel for work? How will that affect hourehold responsibilities?  
  7. Children – What are your expectations regarding children? How many? And when? How do you anticipate allocating responsibility for child rearing? How will that change as the children age? Do you want private school or public school? What about your child’s participation in religious activities? How you were raised? Do you want to raise your children the same way, and does this align with your partner? How would you address infertility?
  8. Conflict – How do you expect conflict to be resolved? Do you expect your partner to approach you when he or she is upset?  How do you want to be told that something you are doing is upsetting your partner? Do you tend to avoid conflict, or confront it head on?
  9. Extended Family – What role do you expect your families to play in your lives? Will you share in life celebrations with extended family? Or do you intend to keep your distance? Do you hope to go on family trips together? Will your spouse feel comfortable coming with your extended family? How do you feel about your spouse’s extended family?

Whether we talk about our expectations or not – we all have them. Discussing your expectations prior to marriage, and carving out time during your marriage, can help you and your partner build a foundation that is based on trust and mutual respect. Not discussing expectations leaves your fate up to assumptions, conclusions, and judgments about our partner and the marriage as a whole that may or not be based in truth.  

Also, for couples intending to get married, the idea of a premarital agreement may be something worth exploring. Pre-nups aren’t just for the wealthy. Working out the terms of a premarital agreement helps many couples negotiate agreements in advance that will help build them a solid foundation for a successful marriage.

If you or someone you know is getting married, and would like to learn more about how to AVOID DIVORCE and instead build a marriage on a foundation of trust, or are simply interested in learning more about premarital agreements, reach out to us. We would love to provide additional resources that our clients have found helpful when preparing to walk down that beautiful aisle and start their lives together.