The Most Important
Thing in a Marriage
What is the most important thing in a marriage relationship? Communication? The ability to resolve conflict?
While communication is important, just as is resolving conflict, experience with thousands of couples taught me that the most important thing in a marriage is respect. That means giving esteem and honor as well as demonstrating regard and consideration to each other. Most of the couples we see in our workshop for marriages in crisis, (LovePath 911), offer little or no respect to each other (or at least one to the other). Healthy, happy couples, however, do. Much of our phenomenal success in saving marriages given up on by everyone else is due to our helping couples learn and put into practice this crucial truth.
So how does one respect another person, and communicate that respect in an effective manner?
It all has to do with acceptance. People tend to paint a picture that they believe others wish to see. You may paint one picture at work, another at home, and still another at church. You paint those pictures because you want others to accept you. However, like the rest of us, it is likely that what you really want – deep in your heart – is to be loved for the person you are rather than the picture you paint. God knows that about human beings and made a point of telling us that He loves us “while we were yet sinners.” (Rom 5:8)
Though you realize that no human can love as unconditionally as God, it’s extremely likely that deep within you you crave a mate with whom you can be your true self. The person who will know all your flaws, strengths, sins, and virtues, yet accepts and loves you anyway – even if he or she does not accept certain of your behaviors. Yet, when you fall in love, your beloved becomes the most frightening person to show yourself to openly. What if your mate rejects you after you bare your soul? There is no way to take it back, to pretend you did not share what you shared. Therefore, you, as do so many others, probably hide at least part of your true self from the one you love.
So how does a marriage grow to a level where each can love the other as the person instead of the picture they want that person to be? To have the deepest love possible with your spouse, you must learn to accept yourself as you are and your companion as he or she is.
Allow me to share one of the most important things I have learned in life: “The most crucial dimension for falling in love is acceptance. I will not love a person that I do not accept, even if that person is me.”
Jesus said it this way, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” It is a basic concept of life; if you do not love yourself properly, you will not love others well. The secret to falling in love and staying in love is to accept the imperfections and flaws that you have, even if you can do something about them. I call it satisfied dissatisfaction. Does it sound ridiculous, like some kind of double speak? Actually, it is based on a quote by the famous psychologist Carl Rogers, "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change…we cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come almost unnoticed.” When you learn to love yourself, flaws and all, you then can learn to deeply love another as they are, not as the picture you wish them to be.
That, of course, leads to a very important question: What do you do if you are hurt by or do not like what your spouse tells you about him- or herself? Accept that his or her actions or feelings as true – even if that hurts – and from that acceptance grow into a deeper, more loving relationship. How? The key is found in this quote from Carl Rogers, “When we accept others as they are, they change.” It again is satisfied dissatisfaction. Accept the person as he or she is – with all imperfections and flaws – and you will witness that person change for the better. Note that does not mean that you must accept all his/her behaviors (abuse, immorality, etc.) If you wish to see this type love demonstrated well, read the Gospels again and note how Jesus changed sinners by first accepting who they really were and then loving them into the people they could be.
If you feel accepted as you are, you feel loved. If you feel accepted only if you paint a picture that you believe your spouse wants you to be, you will doubt the depth of his or her love.
When you accept your mate as he or she is, that person feels loved. If your spouse feels accepted by you only when they paint the picture that you wish them to paint, they will doubt the depth of your love.
Learn to accept yourself as you are so that you can learn to accept the one you love as he or she is. This is the most important dimension of love. There is great research indicating that couples work out even the most difficult of problems when they learn to accept each other as they are – tolerance without resentment.
© Joe Beam. All rights reserved.
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