Why Should a Good Marriage be Hard Work?

So many people say, “A good marriage requires hard work and compromise.” Or, “The secret of our relationship is sacrifice.” Blah, blah. Well, I beg to differ: Life as a couple certainly does involve some negotiation from time to time, but it shouldn’t be a daily ordeal. It seems to me that if you’re fortunate enough to find a good romantic match, everyday give-and-take shouldn’t require sacrifice.

For a mentally healthy person, the feeling of love is a deeply positive response to what is seen as the good qualities in another person. If you really admire and respond favorably to someone else’s personal qualities (in other words, if they make you happy) it seems reasonable to assume that you’re not going to feel the need to demand constant compromise. In my experience, people who make a big deal about the virtue of compromising with their partner actually made a big compromise in the beginning — by choosing that partner in the first place.

One major consequence of a loving relationship that doesn’t require daily compromise is respect. When you genuinely love someone, you also respect him. You respect him because he has good qualities. Maybe you respect those qualities because you lack them. Or maybe you respect those qualities because you possess them, and you’re glad someone else does too. If your spouse is good at something that you’re not so good at, then you don’t struggle with her. You leave her free to be good at what she’s good at. And both parties benefit.

Occasionally you see telltale signs of this struggle in the home of a married couple. A kitchen that doesn’t quite make sense, or a couch that doesn’t fit with the rest of the room, or a bathroom design that seems contradictory. When you scratch the surface, you often find that the warring couple made a compromise; each giving up something important so that the whole package ended up being a metaphor for what’s wrong in that relationship. Instead of one spouse leaving the other to do what she’s BETTER at (or enjoys more), he interferes and insists on leaving his mark on the project. Money’s spent, and nobody’s happy.

If you choose to live your life with someone who is both similar and different in certain ways, that is no threat to your individuality, so long as those differences are what you want. Let’s say you’re not handy around the house, and your spouse is. He likes to do the work; it makes him feel competent and in control and you don’t like to do it anyway. This is a difference that benefits you both. It would make no sense to try and change him into someone who isn’t handy around the house or to interfere in something he obviously knows how to do.

Obviously, much of the solution here is to know who you’re marrying. But it goes even further: If you leave it all to feelings, you’ll get married to someone if it feels good enough. The problem is, as the months and years go by, you’ll probably discover that “good enough” isn’t quite so good. You’ll feel like you want something more, resulting in efforts to demand compromise where it’s really not realistic to do so.

A loving give-and-take, not sacrifice and anxiety, should be part of everyday life. For example, you want Chinese for dinner and I want pizza. Well, we did have pizza two days ago and I always like Chinese. So let’s do it your way. But I’m not sacrificing anything: If I truly love and value you, it makes ME happy to see you get what you want. It doesn’t compromise my individuality to please you. And it works both ways.

Sadly, many marriages lack this attitude. The answer doesn’t reside in sacrificing yourself and your desires. The answer lies in remembering that you cherish this person with whom you chose to spend your life. Taking pleasure in his or her happiness pays off in both the short and the long term.