Unrealistically high expectations threaten new marriages

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dear Dr. Dobson: My son and his girlfriend have been talking about getting engaged, but he's worried about the high divorce rate that threatens every new marriage and asked me how he could lower the risk. What advice would you have given?

Dear Reader: The answer to that question could go 600 different ways, but I'll be content to offer just one suggestion. You need to explain to your son how women are different from men and how that uniqueness will affect his own marriage. It concerns what might be called "differing assumptions."

Many men come into marriage laboring under the mistaken idea that their wives are going to be their cheerleaders who will take care of the children and expect nothing in return. They believe their greatest and perhaps only responsibility is to make money and to succeed professionally, even if it requires 12 hours a day to do it.

The assumption of women, on the other hand, is that their marriage will be a wonderfully romantic affair. They anticipate candlelit dinners and walks in the rain and evenings of soul-to-soul conversations.

Both of these expectations are illusions that bump along for a few years until they finally collide. Workaholic men and Cinderella women often destroy each other.

I strongly urge fathers to tell their adolescent and college-age boys that girls are incurable romantics and that it will not be enough for them as husbands to be successful in their professional pursuits. That would have been sufficient in decades past. Today, something more is expected. If they are going to have strong marriages and families, they must reserve time and energy for the marital relationship, talking together and treating each other as sweethearts.

A simple understanding of these "differing assumptions" could prevent many painful divorces.

Dear Dr. Dobson: It has always been my understanding that marriage was supposed to be based on unconditional love. That is, the commitment to one another should be independent of behavior, no matter how offensive or unfaithful. But your concept of accountability seems to be, "I will love you as long as you do what I want."

Dear Reader: You've misunderstood my point. The limitations of language make it difficult to express this concept adequately, but let me try. I certainly believe in the validity of unconditional love, and in fact, the mutual accountability I have recommended is an expression of that love!

For example, if a husband or wife is behaving in ways that will harm himself, his children, his marriage and the family of the "other woman," then confrontation with him becomes an act of love. There is an obligation to create a crisis in response to destructive behavior. Love demands it.

I'm trying to say that unconditional love is not synonymous with permissiveness, passivity, weakness and appeasement. Sometimes it requires toughness, discipline and accountability.

Send your questions to Dr. James Dobson, c/o Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903. Dobson is the chairman of the board for Focus on the Family.

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