When couples fall in love they are certain they have much in common. If that certainty persists, they will go on to share a life together by getting married. No one tells their best friend that they have fallen in love with the most wonderful person in the world…but there’s nothing they have in common. All new lovers believe that they much in common. Otherwise, what’s the point?
If we’re in high school, we’ll think that something in common is that we like the same music. But if we are more mature, we realize that there’s much more to having something in common than music, books, and movies. But what things in common really matter?
The most important thing to have in common is spiritual, that is, what we believe life is about and what our values and character are. Spiritual values include whether we both believe in God, whether we share the same religion and attend services regularly, and whether we agree on what faith tradition our children should be raised in.
As obvious as these spiritual values are, there are others that run deeper with more serious effect. The most important spiritual value a couple can share is what they think really matters in life. Is it money and life style? Is it making something of yourself and becoming self-actualizing in whatever way that might be? Is it intelligence? Or wisdom? Or street smarts and savvy? Is it a strong work ethic or taking life as it comes with plenty of time for friends, laughter, and light-heartedness? Is it political involvement, social justice, and creating a better world?
And what about the more abstract values such as compassion and forgiveness, pragmatism and common sense, or self-reliance and personal responsibility, not to mention intimacy or independence.
Of course many would say that most of these values are important. But the essential question is which of the many reasons for getting up in the morning are the most important one or two for the husband and wife. The more the couple can say that they hold the same one or two most important values, the likely they are to have a great marriage.
I know of a married couple, an artist and a business man, who, at first, thought they had a marriage made in heaven. The husband was proud that his wife would spend much of her time painting in the home-studio that his money provided. The wife never felt freer to be creative now that the struggle for money was over. Later their grand bargain turned sour because the husband could no longer stand his wife’s bohemian friends, while the wife felt embarrassed by her husband’s plodding pragmatism and lack of sophistication. They finally divorced after realizing their terrible mismatch in what they thought really mattered in life.
But another couple were wiser. For both, a great family was most important for a meaningful life. They began to organize their lives around this central spiritual value. For awhile it meant that both parents worked and saved their money for a downpayment on a house. During this period both shared household responsibilities equally. When their first baby came, it was the father who continued to work while the mother stayed at home to raise their newborn. He converted to her faith and began to attend worship ceremonies together. Here there was no ongoing argument and resentment about what their marriage and lives should be about. Nor was there the sense that one or the other was living a life without great meaning.
A difference in spiritual values and in what the couple believes life is about almost always spells disaster down the road. If you’ve ever wondered why some married couples act like they are repulsed by each other, look at their spiritual values, look for what each seems to be living for, and you will almost always find that these values run in opposite directions with little chance for reconciliation. Conversely, whenever you see a great marriage you will notice that their spiritual values are closely aligned. The central organizing values of their lives are the same.
If you are recently fallen in love, make sure to have conversations about what your partner thinks is most important about life. Then watch to see that the actions match with what he or she said is most important. If you don’t agree with these values or notice a mismatch between values and actions, your relationship might be doomed from the start.
If you are already married and feel a tension as if you and your partner can’t agree on where to take the marriage, seek help from someone who is wise and experienced to help you find a more common path.
In our next blog, we’ll carry this conversation one step farther by talking about the other half of spiritual compatibility, strength of character and how this plays an equally important role in great marriages.