Q: I'm single and have a deep faith and a wonderful family. My problem is that every time I find a wonderful guy and he wants to marry me, I want something more and break it off. What advice can you give me?
Juli: Your situation brings up a very important question about expectations and what constitutes "settling" in marriage. On the one hand, there are certain aspects of a relationship and a potential spouse on which you should never compromise. These include character issues, the quality of your communication and trust, and holding to a similar faith. Frankly, if you have concerns about any of these areas, you probably shouldn't be in a serious dating relationship with that person.
If, on the other hand, the guy you are dating has great character and shares your faith, you have a strong foundation to begin asking the question, "Am I ready to spend the rest of my life with this person?" That's an intimidating question that could cause you to be a little too myopic.
No guy is going to be perfect -- that knight in shining armor. Marriage is about growing and maturing together. Through the commitment of marriage, you learn to love beyond what you receive and embrace through the other's weakness. That's the wonderful beauty of a lifelong love, but it also may be what is keeping you from saying, "Yes." The intimacy of marriage will reveal not only your potential spouse's vulnerability, but yours as well.
You mentioned that you have a wonderful family. You may want to look to them, and to good friends, as sounding boards. Do they say things like, "Wow. He's a great guy. Why did you let that one go?" If so, maybe the problem lies in your own fear of commitment and what marriage may demand of you. If that's not the case, keep looking, growing and praying.
Q: My wife and I have been happily married for three years, but we do have some pretty good arguments. I think it often comes down to simple miscommunication. Other than getting a degree in interpersonal dynamics, is there any way to help diffuse these situations?
Jim: Even the most blissfully in-love couples are going to butt heads. No degree will help you avoid that. Men and women are just wired differently!
That said, Dr. Harold Arnold, a counselor and relationship coach, has developed a great tool to help couples overcome their communication challenges. It's called the G.R.A.C.E. model.
The "G" in G.R.A.C.E. means GIVE your spouse the benefit of the doubt. When conflict arises, keep calm and don't assume your spouse is trying to push your buttons.
"R" means RISK being honest. Dr. Arnold says that without trust, spouses tend to protect themselves by not being vulnerable. As husbands and wives, we need to take the risk of sharing our needs with one another.
The "A" is a reminder to ACCEPT your spouse's feelings at face value. Take time to listen. If your spouse is angry, try to understand why.
Believe it or not, the "C" stands for COMPLAIN. But in this case, it means complain without criticizing. Wives can and should be honest without tearing their husbands down in the process. Similarly, if a husband is frustrated with something his wife is doing, he should say so. But he should do it without resorting to personal attacks.
Finally, the "E" in G.R.A.C.E. stands for EMBRACING your differences. You and your wife will never see everything eye to eye, and that's OK! Opposing viewpoints can actually enhance marriage, rather than tear it down. The key is finding a way to meet in the middle.
The next time you and your wife feel an argument coming on, try employing a little G.R.A.C.E.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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