"I thought people treating each other badly is the way life is," said Rhonda as I watched her leg nervously shaking during her marriage therapy appointment, motioning toward husband, Jose. "Growing up, dating, and now being married, ugliness is all I've known. My parents were always screaming. I scream. I fight. I didn't know there was another way. You're kidding right?"
Uh no, Rhonda, I'm not.
Sometimes my job as a Marriage and Family Therapist involves explaining to clients like Rhonda what the characteristics of healthy marriages are. I do it when people tell me they've always thought that turmoil, mayhem, feeling insecure and walking on eggshells is just part of life and relationships. So let's be clear - in marriage and life, it is absolutely not acceptable, normal, or healthy to call each other names, blame, threaten, manipulate, make ugly hand gestures, talk bad about, seek revenge, make snide remarks, shut down or not talk for days. Only very screwed up individuals do that.
Dysfunctional relationships abound and the divorce rate is ridiculously high, mostly due to ignorance and immaturity, but on the other end of the spectrum, do you know how many married couples are truly happy? Not many, my friends. My guess is 12 percent and I'm being generous. That's why it is time for a Marriage Revolution, and we all know it's time. Because my life is dedicated to this possibility, I am declaring myself President and chief decider of how it will be done.
A Marriage Revolution will raise the marital happiness rate from 12 to 87 percent. We will begin in stage one by teaching every adult how to be happy as an individual. Before being released to date, singles will have to spend one year living alone and not in a relationship. After graduation, individuals will move into stage two where they will study extensively about how to have a healthy romantic relationship. Once education is completed, stage three will begin when a license is issued that will allow people to date and be in a committed relationship - no one may date without a license. Couples entering into relationships will check with highly-trained assessment officers every two months to see if the relationship is healthy and positive, and a decision will be made about whether it may continue. After three years couples who successfully complete the dating period may apply for a marriage license.
After this process, there will be a high possibility of having a healthy marriage. The goal will be to enter an exceedingly happy and satisfied group known as The Very Married.
So how do we find the motivation to change a society? Happiness and inner peace should be enticement enough, but it's not. Perhaps keeping in mind the horrific toll divorce takes on adults and their children mentally, emotionally and financially might do the trick. After all, most of us have been directly affected in a very bad way by divorce. Do we really want to continue this societal insanity?
So here is an overview of what we are shooting for, and don't scoff, it really is achievable. I know, because I have gone from being in the horrible kind of feeling trapped, life-sucking marriage to one that is actually a daily thrill and joy to be in:
Definition of The Very Married (TVM). Emotionally mature people** who enjoy a rock-solid union that hurricane winds could not destroy. The Very Married stand strongly together through the inevitable ups and downs of life. They are true best friends. They understand and take to heart the wedding vows, "to love, honor and cherish."
Qualities of The Very Married:
1. Marriage is the major priority. The relationship is the most important thing. Yes TVM must work and pay the bills, and at times will be distracted for school or other issues and projects, but the focus always returns to the relationship.
2. Spouse before children and biological family. If you can't do this, you can't be The Very Married.
3. Think we, us, and our; not I, me and mine. Listen to the language The Very Married Use - "I can't wait to tell Cyndi!" "Before we leave, let me call Bob and see if he would like me to bring him something to eat." "We love to do things like that!"
4. They are friendly people socially, but exhibit an "I'm not available" attitude when away from their partner. The Very Married are not going to engage in dangerous, inappropriately personal or anti-marriage conversations with anyone, especially people they might be emotionally or physically attracted to.
5. Are loyal. They speak well of and defend their spouse when not together. They remain on one another's side, even when it's hard.
6. Interested in their partner's interests. If he loves golf TVM at least might take a lesson or occasionally talk to him about it. If she loves collecting antiques he'll start getting to know some things about it.
7. Appreciate one other when together, miss each other when apart.
8. Graciously support and encourage their partner the space to pursue their interests.
9. Trust. Once in, TVM partner trusts completely unless someone proves that it isn't deserved.
10. Have a fundamental feeling that their relationship foundation is extremely solid. Both partners feel a rock-solid sense that the other is committed to the relationship.
11. Know that if they need their partner he or she will be there.
12. Are thoughtful. Need anything from the drugstore? I brought you that sushi you love. I recorded the golf tournament for you while you were gone.
13. Transparent. Nothing to hide and what you see is what you get.
14. Inappropriate encounters are reported immediately. "The guy who works in the vegetable department tried to give me his number, yesterday." "I got a message on Facebook from my old high school girlfriend, would you like to see it?" "Nancy Jones told me that if I am ever single she wants to be the first to know."
15. Exhibit decency, kindness, honesty and integrity.
One of the greatest things about being very married is that devoted couples report that the more they put into the relationship, the more they get out of it. That is just another reason why The Very Married divorce rate stands at a solid zero percent.
*The following article contributed to the content in this blog: http://psychcentral.com/lib/how-to-beat-the-odds-tips-from-the-very-married/
** Emotionally mature people are not boring by any stretch of the imagination. They have tons of fun, only their type of fun is not harmful to themselves and others.