A good marriage is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things a person can have in life. When fostered, it can help you become the best version of yourself, and lead to a life that brings nothing but success and increase. A productive marriage can build far greater things than any individual.
However, an incredible amount of marriages are not like this. They’re either completely broken, dysfunctional, or purely functional. For a lot of couples there’s no reason to be together other than to have sex and raise kids. Or, one partner could be stuck merely out of financial dependence. It’s unfortunate, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ll be outlining some simple, fundamental ideas that can help reframe what marriage is and turn it into something that is working for you, not against you.
I’m not a marriage counselor, and I don’t have any expertise in this area other than my own marriage. Every marriage is different, and what works for me might not work for you. I’m not telling you what to do, or judging anyone, but if you find the ideas helpful then consider applying them in your own life.
The pillars of a productive marriage
Behind the functions of a marriage, such as delegating responsibilities, raising a family, and building wealth, there’s something more fundamental. The pillars of a productive marriage.
The pillars are accountability, integrity, acceptance, and selflessness.
Every marriage has secrets, and every person has flaws. Because of this, every marriage is flawed in its own way. Because every marriage is flawed, there are always problems to be solved.
Every marriage problem stems from a personal problem. Each partner brings learned behavior, preconceived notions, bad habits, and unproductive thinking to the marriage.
A marriage (and especially parenting) is like a mirror. It makes you face your fundamental flaws. You can’t ignore them, because now they are directly impacting someone else. And because your flaws are impacting someone else, they need to be addressed and resolved.
The core premise of a productive marriage is this: if you fix yourself, you can fix your marriage issues. This leads to progress. If there’s no progress, there’s little chance a marriage will make it.
But, fixing yourself is not easy. Actually, it’s nearly impossible to fix yourself without some outside influence and guidance.
And so, the game becomes building a system in your marriage of feedback and guidance that helps you fix yourself, which in turn fixes your marriage.
These pillars help establish and execute that system.
Pillar #1: Selflessness
Selflessness is incredibly unintuitive. It feels unnatural, because you’re used to thinking about yourself. If you’re hungry, you eat. If you’re tired, you sleep.
But, if you only focus on yourself, you will only do what’s in your best interest. What’s in your best interest is not always what’s in your partner’s best interest.
When you think about your partner, and what they would like and what they need before yourself, then you are living selflessly. And if you help your partner and focus on what they need, they will help you in return. It’s a productive cycle.
By focusing on helping and loving your partner, you are also helping yourself. It’s technically unselfish, but at the core it’s actually selfish. You help them, so they help you. If you only work to help yourself, then you’re not contributing to the marriage, and it will fall apart.
And so, selflessness is crucial to a productive marriage.
If you’re waiting for your partner to start helping, don’t. It starts with you. When you contribute in abundance, it will be given back to you. This is the law of reciprocity.
If you are expecting someone to do things for your best interest, there’s a small chance it could happen, but it generally doesn’t. You’ll need to do it first, if you want it for yourself.
When you start living selflessly for your partner, your partner will begin selflessly living for you. It’s a beautiful thing.
Pillar #2: Acceptance
As mentioned earlier, every person is flawed. No person is perfect, and everyone has different flaws.
Because of this, it’s easy to fall into a cycle of condemnation and judgement. You can’t believe someone would behave the way your partner does, and your partner can’t believe some of the behaviors you have in your life.
Because this is true for every relationship, and every marriage, then it is completely unproductive to expect or assume that your partner is perfect and can do nothing wrong. Putting down your partner for being flawed will only bring resentment.
Instead, you should assume that your partner is very capable of doing something wrong. And instead of condemning it, it should be accepted and dealt with accordingly.
Now, I don’t mean accepted as in “this behavior is acceptable”, but accepted as in “having flaws is acceptable”.
If the partners in the marriage are reasonable, these wrong-doings are kept secret. These secrets are in every marriage. And because they are exclusive to the marriage, the marriage is the only system that can help fix them.
Opposites attract, and that is what makes a relationship more perfect than the individual. Because we all have different flaws and different strengths, we can work together to mitigate the shortcomings and weaknesses of an individual.
This is quite literally why a productive marriage can save your life. When left to our own devices, there’s generally a single pitfall that is so detrimental that it can kill you when taken to the extreme. It generally comes in the form of an addiction, such as alcohol, food, gambling, sex, etc.
And if opposites didn’t attract, then people with the same addictions would be attracted to each other. If two people with the same addiction are together, then that addiction will never be resolved, and it will ultimately destroy the marriage and the individuals.
Because you are married, there’s an opportunity to help your partner overcome their pitfalls, or at least compensate enough for them so it does not destroy them. And because you’re married, your partner can help you overcome your own shortcomings.
It’s a win-win, and it’s what makes a marriage work.
Pillar #3: Accountability
Accountability is fundamental to making progress and improving. When there’s no accountability, there’s no framework for progress and reporting. Things get left undone. There’s no markers for success.
It’s your job to keep your partner accountable to improving their flaws.
Now, this can be taken the wrong way. It’s not your job to fix your partner, and it’s not your job to judge your partner.
It’s your job to help your partner figure out a way for building a system that helps them overcome their shortcomings, and then hold them accountable to that system.
If you simply expect your partner to get better without a system for improvement, you will be very disappointed when they keep doing the things you don’t want them to do. This is unproductive thinking, and it affects so many marriages.
Instead, you should expect your partner to stick to the system and rules you designed together. If they stick to the system, then their behavior should improve. If they don’t stick to the system, then they are not committed to the marriage (and then you have some bigger problems).
And vice versa, there are some systems and rules that you will need to stick to so you can overcome some of your own shortcomings. These should be communicated effectively with your partner so you can be clear about what is success and what is failure.
These flaws will not go away immediately. Some of them go away simply by making decisions to never do something again (or to always do something under every circumstance), but generally they will be fixed gradually and with much focus and determination.
Because of your selflessness, you’re helping your partner with their shortcomings. Because of your acceptance, your partner knows they are loved even when they mess up, and there’s room in the marriage to fail and try again. Because of your accountability, your partner is given a tool that will help them be able to help themselves.
And as I mentioned earlier, that’s the game: Building a system in your marriage of feedback and guidance that helps you fix yourself, which in turn fixes your marriage.
Pillar #4: Integrity
Integrity is the one thing you have complete control over in your marriage. You can’t control your partner, you can’t force them to improve their flaws or be selfless, and you can’t force them to help you get better.
But, you can stick to your word. And if your word is to improve, then you are in control of improving.
As with most things in life, with your integrity it’s important to under-promise and over-deliver.
You don’t want to under-promise too much, because then your partner doesn’t think you will ever change. But you don’t want to over-promise, because they will be disappointed when you don’t follow through on what you said you would do because it was unsustainable.
You want to create a plan that is sustainable and achievable, but also challenging enough that it brings real change over time. You should be committing to some amount of work, and that work needs to be done.
Because this is the one thing you can control in a marriage, it’s important to get it right.
A person who is not true to their word is completely untrustworthy. If you can’t be trusted, then no one can expect anything of you. And if no one can expect anything of you, there’s no relationship.
By establishing good integrity, your partner can trust you’ll do what you say you’re going to do. This is so healthy for a marriage, and it helps it thrive. It creates paths for effective and efficient communication, and it allows you to truly build a relationship that can accomplish more than any individual.
When you have integrity, you’re bringing everything you can to the marriage. And with most marriages, the bare minimum you are on the hook for doing can be found in your wedding vows.
To continually improve over time, you should be committing to doing things that will take you to new levels of success in all areas of life. If you don’t commit to improvement, things will stay the same.
Marriage is complex and messy, and these pillars don’t address every marriage issue. However, these pillars can take a marriage to new levels and help it become something that is wonderful and productive.
I believe if you live selflessly, can accept your partner as they are, build systems for improvement, and stick to those systems, then you will build a thriving and productive marriage. Not only will your marriage thrive, but you will thrive as an individual.