A variation of an old adage is well-spoken: happy wife equals happy life. But, no relationship is perfect, and marriages are not one-dimensional. What about marital relationships that are lukewarm? BYU FHSS psychology professor Wendy Birmingham and four of her colleagues published a study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine that suggests that ambivalence plays a role in both the health of a marriage and the physical health of those in marital relationships. What should young adults seeking a good marriage or a good marriage partner do?
1: Realize That Marriage Isn’t a Cure-All
Marriage is not necessarily a cure-all to pre-existing problems. Brigham Young University student Caroline Belnap met her future husband in New York City after he moved there for work. They married in July of 2014. For her, marriage came when she least expected it–when she wasn’t seeking it out. She observed that issues one might have before marriage, whether it is regarding body image or self-confidence, don’t necessarily go away after one is married.
“Even though marriage might seem like a fantasy,” she says, “prior issues don’t disappear. I’ve told girlfriends on more than one occasion that if they have ever had body image issues, marriage is nice because there is someone who cares about you and thinks the world of you. However, she explains that those issues must be dealt with personally. “Your husband can’t fix that for you.”
2: Have realistic expectations
Lauren Johnston, an Arizona native who married in December of 2014 says she tells her friends—married and unmarried—that they should be realistic about wanting to change another individual. “You want to love your significant other as they are right now, knowing that you both are going to grow,” Johnston says. ”If he’s awesome before, he will stay awesome.”
Johnston performs as a Cougarette for BYU and her husband is preparing for medical school. She says that marriage means being willing to accept people as they are. “If you are going to get married on the stipulation that they are going to change, they won’t. If anything, marriage will magnify the problems you already have.”
A Cinderella-style courtship does not guarantee an automatic happily-ever-after. Whether you anticipate marriage or are newly-married, you might be riddled with emotions and feelings ranging from doubt to confidence, exhaustion to elation and even bliss to anxiety. Mark Butler, Professor in the School of Family Life at BYU says that emotions play a central role in the strength of relationships.
“Emotion is, among other things, our social signaling system. It first tells us how things are going in our relationship generally and in any interaction specifically. Emotion next prompts us to act, to share with others what our experience is, and where needed, make things better.”
Emotional communication contributes to the health of our relationships-whether spouse-to-spouse, boyfriend-to-girlfriend or parent-to-child. Butler explains that “when emotions are positively shared and underlying threats resolved, differences, disagreements, or problems are much more manageable, and sometimes simply disappear.”
He adds that:
“Relationships are shaped toward health as we express what we are feeling—our emotions—and together uncover and resolve any self-concept or attachment threats occurring in our interaction or relationship.”
3: Develop Your Self-Confidence and Personal Goals
Looking back on her engagement period before marriage, Johnston said she maintained her self-confidence and brought her personal goals to the marriage, and that made for a healthy start to her new adventure. “The stronger your self-confidence and the direction you want to go in your life, the more you will feel that you are able to grow in your marriage.”
Belnap said she focused on herself during the months before getting married and that led to a more dynamic relationship. She suggests that, “you want to be your best self, academically, spiritually, and especially emotionally. Work on who you are as a person because that will bring a stronger you to the table.”
Doctor Butler adds: “After emotion gets our attention, it next becomes a motivating influence getting us to act to make things better.”
In terms of making things better, Johnston says her emotions become a motivating influence to keep impressing her husband. ”Treat each date likes it your very first date‑minus the awkwardness!”
How do you prepare for a good marriage?