Ahhh, sweet Valentines! The popping of corks and the popping of “The Question.” Love is in the air.
Yes indeed, falling in love is as easy as falling off a log — and so much more fun.
But wait. If falling in love is so easy, and getting married is not too difficult, why is it so difficult to be happily married? Why do 50 percent of first marriages and over 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce? After all, being married isn’t rocket science, is it?
Actually, yes, staying happily married, really does approach or exceed the complexity of rocket science. But instead of years of rigorous astronaut training, most people just stumble into marriage in the happy fog or temporary insanity of falling in love. A happy marriage truly requires more complex skills than rocket science. Typically, couples think that once they’ve launched with a sweet courtship and a beautiful wedding they should soar off into the wild blue yonder of happily ever after.
To blast into orbit, most rockets need one or two booster bursts, and here couples can learn from rocket science. If courtship and wedding day are the blast-off, where are the booster rockets to achieve a happy marital orbit instead of flameout and crash?
Consider this three-stage ‘rocket science’ approach to marriage: To prevent flameout shortly after launch (many marriages crash in the first six months even if divorce comes more slowly) rocket science dictates careful preparation, that is, thorough premarital counseling.
Most couples don’t think they need this. “Love will carry us through,” they say. Like astronauts ascending into new realms, couples need skills for their unique relationship journey into uncharted territory, their new life together.
The honeymoon is like the second stage rocket burst — “honeymoon” being more than the week in Kauai but rather the (usually) joyful, playful, sexually lively first months, or even year or two. What’s the need for a third stage booster for the newly launched marriage?
Most couples, without skilled premarital counseling, are totally unprepared for what follows the honeymoon. Marital therapists often refer to this as the power struggle stage. Predictably the quirks and habits of each partner (who grew up in a different family system) suddenly no longer feel endearing. Irritations erupt over little things like clothes not hung up or the “wrong” way to load the dishwasher — you get the idea. Apart from larger differences, even trivia can generate surprising heat and hurt.
Normal though this stage is, it throws many a couple. “Maybe we don’t love each other after all ... maybe this is all a huge mistake.” Many potentially good marriages self-destruct as a result of the power struggle stage. Others stall in the power struggle and grind along unhappily for years, sapping marriage of its joys.
Many of these marriages could have been saved and transformed into joyfully creative partnerships, if only they’d gotten that third stage booster, which could be likened to a well-baby clinic. Just as couples take their precious new bundle in for a well-baby clinic to make sure it is developing in healthy ways, so should couples take their newly born marriage in for an early check up.
It’s called a well-marriage clinic. Since a marriage has more moving parts than a car, think “tune up.”
Enjoy the romance of Valentine’s Day, but don’t let the chocolate and champagne fog up your brain. Good relationships are more complicated than rocket science, and few of us get a complete map for successful marriage just by growing up in a family. So if your relationship isn’t purring, get a booster blast to get back in orbit.
Dr. Pete Sabey, Ed.D., MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical member of the California Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. For more information, call 530-908-6776.