After over 10 years of being in the trenches with couples, I have realized that most people don't clearly understand what it means to be married or what is involved. You'd think people would at least know that if you're married you probably ought to respect and be nice to your mate, and even spend lots of time with the person, but from what I see in my office as a Marriage and Family Therapist, this isn't the case.
I can't tell you how many times I have asked a couple what they believe the purpose of marriage is and have received blank faces in return. It seems that people marry without ever giving much thought to what they're going to do after the vows are said. After the initial excitement-phase when giving your all comes naturally, they go back to work or start having kids, and soon find that they're unhappy in the relationship. When the misery becomes unbearable, they come to see me.
What I've learned is that most couples have remedial knowledge about how to be a good marriage partner, but I think that is understandable. As we all know, they teach us nothing about it in school, and most of our parents knew nothing about it, so that leaves people clueless and me having to enroll relational illiterates into kindergarten and educate them all the way to high school graduation. The graduation ceremony involves celebrating that they will not be getting divorced.
Think of it this way, when you buy a new car, we have certain expectations, such as it will have seats, a steering wheel, tires... and marriage is the same way. We all need to have a reasonable expectation and understanding about what is going to go down in the foreseeable future once you get married. Because people don't, I've taken the time to write them down. After this list is published there should be no surprises come wedding day. And, if you're already married, it's time to bring one another up to snuff -- wave this in your partner's face (lovingly) and start getting what you should have been getting all along, and start giving to them as well -- no excuses. If you or your partner refuses, or feel you can't do it, then visit your local Marriage and Family Therapist right away. Here goes ...
The Marriage Bill of Rights
We hold these truths to be self evident, that all partners in a marriage are created equally and are of equal importance, and each person who commits to another in marriage has:
1. The right to be loved. Each partner regularly receives words and actions from the other that are loving for them. *
2. The right to emotional intimacy. Walls kept down so that there is focused attention and sharing of deepest self to the other, including thoughts and feelings, knowing that what you share will be safely kept by the other person, in a tender fashion, and never turned or used against you.
3. The right to physical intimacy. The regular and mutual sharing of affectionate touching such as hugs, holding, kissing and closeness.
4. The right to exclusive sexual intimacy. The regular sharing of one's physical self for sexually erotic pleasure, and only between and for the married partners.
5. The right to know your partner will be there for you in times of need. When the going gets tough and you're on the downslide, your partner is a strong, uplifting and attentive support, and vice versa.
6. The right to be a priority. Each partner is put at the top of the attention totem pole, above biological family, friends and children. People work to provide for the family, but a significant part of each person's time is spent focusing on and nurturing the relationship.
7. The right to loyalty. Whether together or apart, your partner has your back and shows faithfulness and devotion to the relationship in body, mind, speech and action.
8. The right to a partner who exhibits self care and brings his or her best self to the relationship. If your partner is unhealthy or dysfunctional in mind, body or spirit, they work diligently to bring themselves into optimal health.
9. The right to be trusted. Truth, transparency and openness thrive, integrity is the norm, reassurance is readily available.**
10. The right to be yourself and to grow and explore your individuality. You maintain, grow and nurture along your life as an adult individual, your personal interests and friendships.
11. The right to respect and consideration. You are honored by your partner and it shows in their words and actions, your input and opinion matter, important choices and decisions are made together.
12. The right to be cherished. You are treated as someone valued by your partner through words and actions.
13. The right to be enhanced by the relationship. Your life is better off with your partner than if you were not in the relationship.
14. The right to focused engagement. You are paid attention to in such a way that shows your partner is intensely caring and interested in you.
* To do this you absolutely must become familiar with the concept of the Five Love Languages: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/
** Trust must be a given in a healthy marriage. If you don't trust your partner get therapy to see if you can change that. Don't marry or stay married to someone you can't trust.