Sunday, June 13, 2010

Getting Off to a Good Start

If adjustment is at the crux of the problem, as we assume, then our central task ought to be that of trying to understand how men and women can best get along with each other and with society. Wholesome mate adjustment is blocked by neurotic traits in husbands and wives, more, perhaps, than by anything else. Mental hygiene, when practiced, makes for mature and well-balanced personalities; it tends to prevent undue tension and conflict in the social situation; it is the only way around marital difficulties, the only road leading to genuine adjustment.

The start of any event is important to its outcome, and marriage is no exception. The intricacies and difficulties of modern living are many, and the person who gets off on the wrong foot or makes a poor start in any of life's episodes may find himself handicapped all the way through. Just as the first attitudes and habits acquired by the child are the ones that do most to shape his personality, so the earliest adjustments in marriage are the ones that set the stage and add color to the relationships that follow.

A large part of the start depends upon the nature of the premarital preparation that has gone before--how maturely each of the mates has developed, how well they are matched, how far their love involvement has progressed, how successful was the transition and the launching of their marriage. All of this is background and cannot be changed. Neither can the mates always alter or improve the immediate circumstances and environments that are to influence them. What they can do is to start marriage with the idea of improving upon their past and of rising above their present circumstances. It isn't enough to have made a good preparation. Successful marriage requires a "carry-over," or continuation, in terms of both attitude and effort.

Importance of the Right Attitude

Attitude is the driving force back of action. Of all the factors influencing marital adjustment, the one that is probably of greatest significance is the attitude of participants--the spirit of fair play, the willingness to do one's part, the determination to make it go. Where attitude is right, husband and wife can usually succeed in spite of personal weaknesses, or of being ill-matched, or of living under trying circumstances. But where wrong, even though other factors be favorable, attitude will drag men and women down, will result in conflict and failure. It is attitude, primarily, that makes one adaptable or unadaptable in marriage, that determines whether mates will adjust and cooperate or fight and separate.

One common mistake is to think and talk in terms of failure. The successful attitude is the one that expects success and is determined that there will be no failure. Once the marriage has taken place, there should be little thought of turning back, not, at least, until enough time for a fair trial has elapsed. There are many, just the same, who take marriage too lightly, entering it in a spirit of reckless excitement, or irresponsible self-interest, and leaving it whenever the going gets tough. "So what," they are sometimes inclined to say, "if it doesn't work out, we can get a divorce." It is better that the mates never even consider a breakup or admit that such is possible. Light talk, in the form of threats and defiances, often widens the gap and leads to deep sorrow. The first mention of one's leaving the other, the first suggestion of separation, may well be all that it takes to start the ball rolling in the direction of a breakup. For those who think and talk of divorce, divorce is imminent; but for others, because of a different mind-set, because of a hope and a determination, it need never come. It is the defeatist attitude that encourages failure. Married mates must learn--in the words of a once popular song--to "accentuate the positive."

Another error in attitude follows an extreme that is opposite to the one just discussed; instead of being sour and pessimistic, this one is simply naïve and overoptimistic. The successful attitude comes somewhere in between--it is hopeful yet realistic. Marriage is a job that needs to be approached earnestly and with eyes open; it is not without rewards, but it is a task requiring sacrifice and effort just the same. To those who have come into marriage somewhat unprepared and heavily freighted with romantic ideas unsupported by stern reality, the time immediately following the honeymoon is usually one of painful disillusionment. Their mistake has been the socalled "romantic fallacy" discussed in an earlier chapter. Marriage isn't entirely a "bed of roses," even for the successful.

Bride and groom need to expect imperfections in each other and problems in their marriage. No individual is perfect, nor no situation absolutely and unchangingly ideal. There will be discoveries, some disappointments, a few crises, all requiring adjustment. Some tension and conflict between the mates is only normal to the adjustment process and should be expected and accepted. Each of the mates needs to have an attitude of accepting the other for what he or she is, shortcomings and all, though with both striving for improvement as they move along. Each mate needs to be flexible enough to meet new problems as they arise, and philosophical enough to stand catastrophe should it come.

A third attitudinal handicap to marriage is that of selfishness. Authorities are agreed that whenever exploitation crowds out cooperation, the relationships of love and marriage become seriously impaired. This is just another way of saying that, in the associations of the sexes, self-interest must yield to group-interest. There are people who haven't become mature enough for the responsibility that adult love implies; they have failed to grow up emotionally and, like spoiled children, they expect the favors that come from being loved while lacking the capacity to really love others. For them the only hope is reeducation and re-motivation.

Marriage is a cooperative adventure that fails when family members become self-centered rather than group-centered, when they look toward "rights" and "privileges" rather than "obligations" and "contributions." Whether one looks at husband-wife relationships or those between parents and children, he will see that failure is almost invariably tied up with the selfishness of someone. There is too much individualism in family relationships today, too much emphasis on "I" and "Me" rather than "We" and "Us." Successful marriage is a process of give and take, but there are too many today who try to do all of the taking and none of the giving. In courtship this kind of people put all of their attention on finding a mate who fits their fancy and who will do all the adjusting in the contemplated marriage rather than developing traits of congeniality within themselves.

In marriage and family life they are quick to blame and to complain, but slow to cooperate or admit faults within themselves. Sometimes they cry or sulk in order to injure the other person or to get their own way. Sometimes they nag. Sometimes they quarrel. There is an urgent need today for more self-analysis and self-criticism which lead to greater cooperation in the marriage relationship. If people could only be made to face responsibilities a little more and expect favors a little less, if they could enter marriage with the spirit of making contributions rather than demanding rights, many of the heartaches now associated with family life could be avoided.

In short, married mates prove most adjustable when they have a spirit of mutually accepted responsibility and cooperation, when they are realistic about the task before them, and when they are determined that they shall not fail. Success here does not spring from romanticizing alone, nor from temporizing, nor from exploiting; rather, it comes first and foremost from the attitude of regarding marriage as a challenging job and accepting it as a partnership.

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