Bob and I just celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary. Often, clients who are struggling in their relationships ask me, What’s your secret?
My answer is always the same: picking right.
I picked a great partner, who is smart, loving, generous, supportive, and so much more. One reason we are good together is because we share so many core values. I talk to my clients a lot about recognizing their own core values and where they align, or not, with those of their partner.
Core values are things like
- Family. Do you each value your own families, and do you each value and nurture your relationship and own children.
- Career. Are you on the same page about your careers (do you love what you do?) and career tracks (will you change jobs often?).
- Home life. Do you share a vision of a home and how it operates?
- Money. This is always a hard one, but it surely helps if you agree on how to spend and how to save.
- Religion. It’s helpful to share spiritual beliefs, but if not, it’s essential to respect your partner’s right to be different.
- Politics. OK, I confess that my husband and I cancel out each other’s vote for president every four years, but we don’t disparage each other for our differences.
Just as with the Politics item, you can have some difference in core values with your partner, but it’s surely easier if you align. When they don’t align, counseling can help you mediate how you will cope. A misalignment would be what Dr. John Gottman, the pre-eminent couples researcher and theorist, calls a “perpetual problem.” Marriages have a lot of perpetual problems, and the way you deal with them is what I call “around the edges.”
So if the problem is dueling in-laws who each want/demand you and the kids for Thanksgiving, working around the edges might be a solution in which you spend Thanksgiving in the Bahamas. Or take charge and get clear expectations for everyone on how a rotation will work for the next two years.
So the secret to a great marriage is, first, picking right, and second, respectful problem-solving. There you have it!