Marriages that Thrive

How is it that so many people experience the very common feeling that “I LOVE him/her, but I don’t LIKE them"?

Why do some marriages thrive, even through difficult times, while others spiral downward no matter the effort to save the marriage? How is it that so many people experience the very common feeling that “I love him/her, but I don’t like them"? The answer to both questions is relatively simple. Marriages built upon a friendship thrive, while others do not.

Is your marriage built on a friendship foundation? Many people think their marriage is based on friendship but it is not. How can you tell?

The alternative to a friendship relationship is one built on hope. There are many entry points to a hope-based relationship. For example, the person who marries to get away from parents, the one who marries to get out of another marriage, the one who marries to feel secure because they are insecure in themselves. In each case, the marriage is based on getting something or away from something and hoping the other person will “come through.”

Those in hope-based relationships believe they can make it work and the feelings of “love” seem to indicate they will. “She will be the perfect wife.” “He will be there for me.” The reason this will not produce a successful relationship is that the relationship is based on hope not trust, and the hope is that the other person will live up to your expectations.

In a hope-based relationship each person takes on the responsibility to be a good mate. Our responsibility is to fulfill the role of a husband or wife. Both are committed, so it “should” work. She has an image of the good husband, and he of the good wife. But the measure of a successful marriage is embedded in each other’s expectations. Expectations drive hope. Each person is now responsible to live up to the expectation of the other.

The table below shows the characteristics of such a marriage. Since the marriage is based on expectations, the success of the relationship depends on how well we perform our role, so each becomes obligated to meet those expectations. When our expectations are unmet, we respond according to the way it affects us. Example, if a person expects the other to prepare the meal but comes home to a burnt dinner they are likely to respond with a comment like, “Why aren’t you more careful? You wasted good food.” Their response is to “their own unmet expectation.” At the same time the other person expected that you would understand they didn’t mean to burn dinner, and now responds to the other’s dissatisfaction by feeling angry and hurt. Now they share a mutual sense of resentment to the other. When they try to talk it out, they fail because each come from a different set of expectations and the argument starts the spiral downward. Eventually, the spiral will end in divorce.

HOPE Based Relationship
Basis of relationship Role responsibility
Rules of engagement Performance
Motivation Obligation
Measure of success How well we meet expectations
Focus of response to unmet expectations How it affects me (You should have ...)
Emotional reaction to unmet expectations Hurt, resentment for being hurt
Style of conflict resolution One of us is right! (win - lose)
Produces Tracking negative behavior (to confirm other’s failure)
Result Relational dissatisfaction

Then there are the people who get married because they are best friends

Even marriages based on friendship can experience times that look like the hope-based marriage. This happens when one person in the relationship becomes deeply wounded or feels betrayed and “trust” is broken. Trust is the foundation of the friendship, so when it is broken we withdraw to the alternative basis for a relationship. It will stay that way until trust has been re-established in the marriage. In a friendship marriage it is possible to re-establish trust. While in a hope-based relationship such marital offenses are usually the “nail in the coffin” to the marriage.

HOPE Based Relationship TRUST Based Relationship
Basis of relationship Role responsibility Friendship
Rules of engagement Performance Respect
Motivation Obligation Gratitude
Measure of success How well we meet expectations Mutual agreement
Focus of response to unmet expectations How it affects me (You should have ...) How it affects the other person
Emotional reaction to unmet expectations Hurt, resentment for being hurt Sorrow, concern for the other person
Style of conflict resolution One of us is right! (win - lose) Seek a win - win solution
Produces Tracking negative behavior (to confirm other’s failure) Tracking positive behavior
Result Relational dissatisfaction Relational satisfaction

How do we get out of the role-based relationship cycle and into the friendship cycle?

It is possible to save the marriage by changing the foundation. Just looking at the table helps us see some strategies we can use.

Step 1 – Begin treating the other person with respect. Respect is a very powerful tool in creating a relationship atmosphere for open communication. This may seem difficult because it may feel like you’re just excusing the bad behavior of the other, or that you can’t overlook the unfairness of the situation. Yet, it is possible to act respectful while disagreeing with the other person.

Step 2 - As we stay in a state of mutual respect, we have the ability to talk out our hurts and wounds. And as we are honest with each other, our trust in the other will likewise grow. Truth spoken with respect is the most likely way to resolve our conflicts and recreate a trusting relationship. Speaking the truth respectfully is the highest form of communication, which is why it is so difficult.

Step 3 – As truth is spoken seek to find a win-win solution. Our natural way of resolving conflict is to convince the other to see our point of view. It is as if they will change their mind if they could see it from your point of view – but that hardly ever works because it creates a win-lose situation. One person or the other is right! Win-lose solutions are the only option in a hope-based relationship, because anything less is a loss to the expectations of one or the other. A win-win solution can come about from a trust relationship because trust allows each part to give some. When there is a win-win solution both parties and the marriage wins.