Did you ever wonder why some people find the perfect person to marry, do so, and enjoy a love affair that lasts a lifetime? On the other hand, some marry a person that is wrong for them now, wrong for them tomorrow, and wrong for them for a lifetime? What’s the difference? Why do some succeed at love and marriage where others fail?
One of our mentors, Don Clifton, the former CEO of the world renowned Gallup Organization (rest his soul), often reminded us of the power of “pervasive personality characteristics.” Don defined “pervasive” as “a recurring pattern of thought and behavior.” In other words, these are the personality characteristics that a human being develops within the first two decades of life that, for the most part, defines who they are for a lifetime. Don believed that you are what you are by the time you become an adult. Changing who and what you are becomes nearly impossible after that.
So what is the lesson in all this? Simple really. The people you meet in life are, by the time they reach adulthood, pretty much what they are. They won’t change much, if at all. The hard truth is, they can’t change who they really are, even if they wanted to. Oh, sure, people as adults can make you believe from time to time that they are something different than what they really are, but in the end, they are, well, they are what they are. Make no mistake about that.
When it comes to love and marriage, there is a truism that trumps all truisms. It goes like this – pay close and careful attention to the words, deeds, and actions of the person you think you are falling in love with. And in the end, pay most of your attention to their actions, first and foremost! The truth is a person’s actions speak so much louder than their words. Never lose sight of this truism for to do so is put your heart, your health, and your happiness at peril.
One of the questions we are most often ask as we travel the world discussing our work and conducting our marriage interviews is this: “What are the secrets of a successful marriage?” Our immediate answer is always the same – marry the right person!
On the surface this may seem like a flippant answer to such a serious question, but it isn’t really. If people who think they are falling in love with someone would pay more attention to their actions and not the words, they wouldn’t miss the telltale signs.
Here’s how it works. You think you love a guy. He tells you all of the right things. But over time you begin to notice that his actions belie his words. He tells you he respects you but dismisses your opinions. He waxes on about how he puts you on a pedestal but never opens the door for you when he gets to it first. He tells you how he wants the relationship between the two of you a shared relationship, and then he makes all the decisions. You get the idea. We could go on.
The point is this – if you fail to notice and question the actions of the one you purport to love in the early stages of your relationship then you are deluding yourself into thinking he/she will change later on. They rarely do. And so often, those that ignore the signs and the warnings end up getting married, only to discover later on that the person they married is not who they thought he/she was.
So, back to the earlier question – the best secret to a successful marriage is marrying the right person in the first place! Taking the time to carefully observe the actions of another person over a period of time tells you a lot more about them than their words ever could. All too often we hear one or both people in a marriage lament to us that if they had only paid attention to the telltale signs, they would not have married the person they married. Many of these relationships end in divorce.
We don’t mean to suggest that it is always easy to tell if the one you think you love is one you can have a successful marriage with. We do, however, believe strongly that paying close and careful attention to the one you are thinking about marrying in the early stages of your relationship can save a lot of failed marriages from happening in the first place. This is the ultimate key to a successful marriage.
If you consciously and rationally believe that the words, deeds, and actions of the one you are thinking of marrying all jive and are consistent, then your marriage has half a chance at being successful.
In the end, a marriage built on this foundation has a reasonable chance of success. And while we often say that a successful marriage is an accumulation of the simple things, and that a good marriage is simple to understand, we always remind people that you have to do the simple things each and every day of your lives together to make it work.
Making a marriage a success requires hard work. If you base your marriage on a lie – you ignored the actions you were observing in the person you were falling in love with – then all of the simple things required to make a marriage work will more than likely not be enough to carry the day.
Pervasive characteristics in people are very real. They define who they are and they almost never change. As we always say, keep your eyes wide open when you are falling in love. You won’t regret it later.
One final note – never enter a marriage thinking you can ignore the behaviors now and change them later. Too many have fallen prey to this notion. It rarely ever works.
Simple things matter in love and marriage. Love well!
By Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz