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Relationship Advice: Starter Marriages


A man walking through the woods near a river hears desperate screams for help. He runs to the river to see someone struggling as the river pulls him downstream. He jumps in and pulls the person to safety.

As soon as he gets to the shore, he hears another person coming downstream, screaming for help. He jumps back in and rescues that person. Sure enough, just as he gets the second person to shore, another person comes down the river, screaming for help. He rescues that person, and another and still another. As more and more people come down river and he begins to tire, he stops jumping in and heads upriver.

When asked where he is going, he replies: "I'm going upstream to find out who is throwing these people in and stop them!"

This story came to mind after reading an article featuring a new phrase in the world of marriage and the family: So many 20- and 30-somethings are getting married and within only a few years divorced, the people who track their numbers call them "starter marriages."

I'm struggling for the right words to comment on "starter marriages." The words that keep coming to me are "no, no, wrong, no, no, hell no!"

I'm familiar with starter cars, starter homes, starter jobs. But starter marriages? What's next, starter kids? As in, these are the kids we practice parenting on, and later we raise some kids to adulthood.

It frustrates me when sociologists or some other "ologist" finds a creative label for a painful phenomenon, as if a clever name takes care of it.

The guy in the above story was doing a worthy thing, trying to help people who were drowning, just as I hope that whoever came up with the starter marriage label is trying to do a worthy thing. At some point, however, you have to go upstream and deal with what is causing the problem in the first place.

How to create a successful marriage is a crucial thing we need to learn but one rarely taught in school. So the question becomes, what do we need to know before we get married in order to have a successful marriage?

Here are some suggestions:

1) Choose well

It's often easier said than done. Love can make you blind. It can make you temporarily stupid, too. One way to choose well is to be aware of your own relationship radar - how you go about becoming attracted to certain people. If this radar is faulty, you likely will be attracted to someone who may not be good for you. In order to choose wisely, you may have to choose differently as well.

2) Pre-marital counseling

It's a great way to identify and work out some bugs early on. Whether you see a minister or therapist, you can discover areas that might be challenging for your relationship and learn skills and techniques for handling them. Believing problem areas will automatically get better after marriage is a cruel myth. Without learning methods for managing differences, they almost are guaranteed to get worse, not better.

3) Have a teachable spirit

Being teachable is a hallmark of success. Many people enter into marriage thinking they know how to do it right. I know I did. I even had a license and degree on my wall that said I was a marriage and family expert. Fortunately, I was blessed to have someone who was willing to hang around while I learned.

So, learn all you can about marriage, relationships, communication, etc.

Columnist Sydney J. Harris said "Almost no one is foolish enough to imagine that he automatically deserves great success in any field of activity; yet almost everyone believes that he automatically deserves success in marriage."

Read books, go to seminars, get good coaching when and even before you need it. You also need to learn from each other. Teach each other how to be each other's own unique partner.

4) Become a good heart-tender

When we get married, we become the caretaker of someone else's heart. We can break it, ignore it, or take great care of it.

Visit SecretsofGreatRelationships.com for tips and tools for creating and growing a great relationship. You can also subscribe to our f*r*e*e 10 day e-program on how to enrich your relationship today, from relationship coach and expert Jeff Herring.


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