What to Look for in the Person You Marry
By Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach
Keely is 30 and has been married for about 6 months. Last time we talked, she was expressing dissatisfaction with the man she'd married. They had disagreements over political issues that were influencing where they shopped, where he worked, and what TV shows they watched. She was wondering if she should've gotten married at all.
"Why did you marry him?" I asked her, and there was a long silence. Finally, "Because I was in love with him?" she replied, and it came out as a question. "I guess I never thought about that," she added.
Because I coach people, I hear the many different reasons why people marry the people they do, but it often comes out in terms of unmet expectations. When we aren't clear about what we want out of marriage, regardless of the person involved, and don't check things our beforehand, it can lead to heartbreak.
What we expect from marriage is deeply ingrained is us, from our families of origin, and from our culture. You may come from a background that assumes the man will be the provider, and the woman will take care of the house, and both spouses will take an active part in child-rearing -- not just wiping noses, but training, values and character development. If you marry someone whose expectations are the same, things will go fairly smoothly.
But what if you're a man with the above expectations, who marries a woman who comes from a family where the women all had active and successful careers, and also took major responsibility for the upbringing of the children, wanting only for the man to provide his portion of their upkeep, but to stay out of the training?
There are many expectations we have about marriage, and we might as well call them emotional needs, because if they aren't met we aren't going to be very happy. It can destroy the love we initially had for the person. The better you can define these assumed needs to yourself, and to the person you're considering marrying, the better the chances of finding someone who feels the same way.
Vocabulary is very important here. I hear many men, for instance, saying they want "companionship." Fred said that in his second wife he wanted "companionship," and he fell in love with Lisa. Lisa wanted companionship too. The trouble arose when it turned out companionship meant to Lisa someone to talk to, share ideas, feelings and thoughts with, and relate closely intellectually and emotionally, with lots of open conversation, and to Fred, it meant recreational companionship. He wanted someone to sail, bike ride and play tennis with him, and without a lot of talking. Lisa and Fred both wanted someone they could hang out with, but the nature of that hanging out was very different, and, ultimately unbridgeable.
In the meantime, there can be those stalemate fights that turn into imbroglios, where the man yells at the woman, "But I want companionship (play golf with me)" and the woman yells back, "But I'm giving you companionship. (I love to talk to you)" Or she says, "I wanted you to help raise the children" (teach them) and he replies, "Well I earn all the money, don't I?"
Some of things we expect from a marriage include: recreational companionship, intellectual companionship, physical affection, verbal affection, esteem, admiration, respect, financial support, domestic support, intense emotional relating (which is also called "companionship"), sexual fulfillment, working toward idealistic goals (such as political activism), fidelity, one who prefers to lead or to be led, good looks, athletic ability, a genetic parent for your children, and so forth. Define as well how you want these manifested. Admiration can be silent or vocalized. Affection can be physical or verbal.
As you read these, if you ASSUME that one or more of them is what everyone wants, you particularly need to pay attention, because in actuality it's amazing what people do want and expect that other people don't.
It's important to know what you want, and then to observe the person you're considering marrying. Tom, for instance, primarily wanted a homemaker and recreational playmate from a wife. Middle-aged, he fell in love with a woman in her mid-30s who had never been married. This should have been a red-flag that domestic life probably wasn't what she was interested in. Once married, she became ardently interested in a career, since he provided her the opportunity to get further education, and as she turned her focus there, all hopes of recreational companionship for Tom vanished. She, on the other hand, had expected emotionally oriented conversation from him (openness), and joint accelerating career and financial goals. To him, "she never cooked or cleaned house." To her, "he just wanted to play."
It is devastating when we love someone and find out too late they aren't interested in the same things. It is hard to trade off meeting needs that really aren't felt and enjoyed, and accommodation isn't always possible, i.e., you either are faithful or you aren't, you either want kids or you don't. If you want financial support from a man, it's best to find one who really loves to make money. If you want physical affection from a woman, it's best to find one who can't keep her hands off you. These things can't be faked, but, sometimes, when falling in love, we fool ourselves and therefore fool the other person.
Issues can become clouded during courtship, especially when there is sex too soon. [Editors note: please read Sex and the Single Mom] Physical intimacy causes those wonderful chemicals that cloud our thinking, and start the bonding process. We can start to need and want a person who ultimately may not be able to meet our marital needs.
Take some time to envision carefully what you want marriage to look like. Observe the person you have in mind in different situations. For instance, Tom might have noticed, if he hadn't been so "in love," that his partner didn't know how to cook and was never at home. She, on the other hand, might have noticed most of his time and enthusiasm went into his recreation, and that he was content with his job and financial situation the way they were.
Nothing is insurmountable, but you increase your chances by being mindful at the outset. Couples survive the infertility of one when they both wanted children, and a spouse can learn to verbalize, or make physical, the affection they feel, if they want to please, but the couch potato and amateur athlete who marry will can't accommodate, and the career-driven women won't be happy baking bread and being available for tennis games.