In my early 20s as I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill I was in a slew of weddings. Many of my friends had found “the one” and were on their way to married life.
I thought to myself, “Wow, they have found the one they are compatible with and it will be fun for them as they enter married life.” As you know, married life is not always easy and conflicts can bring in questions like, “Have I made the right decision in marrying this person?!”
The truth is, I had the idea of compatibility all wrong. I had bought into the fairytale story and what much of Hollywood romance movies depict. You find that one you are compatible with and that is it… you are good to go. Well, that all changed as I entered graduate school and the field of Marriage and Family Therapy.
What I discovered through the teaching of my dear supervisor Dr. Sidney Bradley is that compatibility is something couples grow into year after year and season after season. This only continued to be proven right through the research and my years of work with couples.
“Compatibility is something you continue to grow in throughout your years of marriage.”
When a couple gets married, their wedding day represents a transition in their identity as a couple from engaged to husband and wife. While this is the natural progression, it changes part of the identity of the individuals.
Now they are “husband” or “wife” which come with expectations and assumptions that we may not be aware of. Now they will have to learn to grow into compatibility within these new roles.
These progressions only continue as each individual grows, matures, and has new experiences such as having a child, being transformed by a faith experience, growing in their career or education, among other things. These influences may leave a spouse feeling like they are married to someone totally new.
Well, that is true to a degree. Life circumstances, events, and experiences change us which makes the pursuit of your spouse even more important as you grow in marriage.
What do I mean by this pursuit? Continue being intentional about getting to know your spouse. Be curious about what they are learning or their changing interests. Join them in their passions by participation and/or support. This intentionality will not only be what helps maintain a connection, but also an adventure in your marriage.
Now, these changes and this curious pursuit is not always easy. Miscommunication and conflict still happen which can get in the way of growing together. The key to walking through these hard seasons is to have what Sue Johnson in her book Hold Me Tight describes as A.R.E conversations. She defines these three parts as the following (Hold Me Tight, p. 49-50):
- Accessible: Can I reach you?
- Responsive: Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?
- Engagement: Do I know you will value me and stay close?
So what does this look like in conversation? It looks like turning towards your spouse when they are sharing with your body and your attention, showing understanding and empathy, and expressing value with your words as you remain present as they speak. This is a hard task at times.
The key to having these conversations go well is to slow down. Without this, it becomes like a ping-pong game. I toss something at you that is potentially attacking and then you toss something back at me in like manner. Both people are not being heard or understood.
Once the couple can call out that they are beginning to escalate and slow down, then they can express their feelings, choose to remain present with their spouse, and then discuss the content of the conversation.
In summary, compatibility is something you continue to grow in throughout your years of marriage and having A.R.E conversations helps you remain connected. As cliché as it sounds, continue dating your spouse. Be intentional with checking in with each other and finding ways to join each other in the paths each of you is taking in life.