Marriage relationships tend to move through fairly predictable stages. At first, in the rush and excitement of a new romance and of the wedding itself, differences seem charming and attractive. As a couple settles into life together, brain chemicals stimulated by the newness of their relationship wear off. Their differences may begin to cause tension and disagreement, which can lead to disappointment and disillusionment. With commitment, willingness to grow, and access to supportive information and experiences, husband and wife may renegotiate their relationship to accommodate and compensate for their differences and for their changing needs and perspectives. By focusing on their common goals and cultivating the positives in their relationship, they may arrive at a stage of deeper love and friendship.
Some couples, however, come into marriage with unreasonable expectations that they will simply live “happily ever after” – if they have married the right person. Brides and grooms, often unaware of the personal agendas and baggage they bring to marriage, may be surprised as they begin to unpack them. Harville Hendrix, in Getting the Love You Want (New York: Harper & Row, 1988, pp. 33-40), claims that we are drawn – often subconsciously — to persons who can help us grow. We might be attracted to someone who exhibits the positive traits of our parents or primary caregivers, believing that life with that partner will unfold smoothly. We might marry persons with the negative traits of our parents; the child of an alcoholic, for example, may marry an alcoholic, consciously or subconsciously expecting to cure the other’s addiction. Or we might choose mates with qualities we have suppressed in our selves, as in the case of the fun-loving individual who marries someone more serious and responsible. We may also replicate the relationship patterns and communication styles of our parents, even if we intended never to do so, acting out roles we learned in our family of origin.
Early quarrels begin to surface the issues a couple needs to deal with, but it may take time and skill to discover the deeper causes of their arguments. David and Vera Mace, early pioneers in the marriage education and enrichment movement, urged couples to “never waste a good conflict,” but to greet each one as an opportunity to grow. (How to Have a Happy Marriage, Nashville: Abingdon, 1977, pp. 99) Effective marriage education and enrichment experiences help individuals grow spiritually as they deepen their self-understanding, learn to share feelings without attacking, and listen to each other with empathy and understanding, even when disagreeing. Without marriage education and enrichment, couples may miss opportunities to grow either by denying that conflicts exist or by assuming they must have married the wrong person. Marriage education and enrichment can prevent and heal relationship breakdown by helping couples know what to expect and develop skills to manage both internal conflicts and external crises. Marriage education and enrichment must also encourage couples to affirm and build on their strengths in order to cultivate a deeply rewarding and lasting bond in which they experience God’s grace and the power of mature love.
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Why Marriage Education And Enrichment? by Jane Ives. This article used with permission of Better Marriages USA • www.BetterMarriages.org