When we marry, few of us anticipate changes in our personalities or in the relationship itself, yet these changes are inevitable. Successful relationships are those where partners learn not only to accommodate change but to support healthy change and growth in one another and the relationship.

Obviously, it’s easier to say it than it is to do it, but the following keys can help.

Respect — for both yourself and your partner. There are several billion people on this planet, all with a different point of view. To think that there is only one way of viewing the world is ignorant. Respectful listening and openness to other views can lead to understanding and better communication; the alternative leads to tension and hostility.
Compromise — you can’t have a relationship without it. Many men and women struggle with this because they feel they have a right to be right, but they need to decide which is more important: being right or having a successful relationship. Marriage is no place for fragile egos. It takes courage to accept influence and strength to be willing to compromise.
Flexibility — accept that change is inevitable. As much as we struggle to control each other and our futures, the fact is that the universe and everything in it is in a constant state of movement and change. Learning to live and relate with flexibility and grace means giving up the struggle that can never be won.
Orientation — try turning toward each other rather than away. When we are hurt or angry or frustrated, many of us stonewall the relationship or turn away from it. We can only support the health and strength of the relationship by turning toward each other — in respect for the other’s viewpoint and our own. In the process, look for the positive and good things in each other and in the relationship.
Non-negotiables — everyone has a right to these. These are uncompromising expectations we have of each other or of the relationship. The question is not whether you have a right to expect a certain behavior but whether you can live in health and integrity without that expectation satisfied.
The mission statement — have or develop one. Based on your shared commitment and shared values, develop a written mission statement describing what your relationship is about. Missions are bigger than any one individual and yours should reflect who you are together. Your mission may be seeing through the responsibility of raising children, working together to advance the well-being of society or a cause or sailing around the world seven times visiting every country on the globe. The idea is to base the point of your relationship on some shared values — keeping in mind that these values and missions may change and be renegotiated over time.
Get help — if a relationship is an island, it will sink. It’s easy to lose perspective when your relationship struggles. Your church, your community, your counselor may help you sort out your non-negotiables from your potential mission. Where possible, call on professional, or at least non-biased, support.
As you work to support healthy changes in yourself, your partner and your relationship, remember the definition of a healthy marriage is not necessarily one that remains intact at any cost. Relationships are about working together. When you do, you’ll find it’s worth the effort.

As published in the August 2007 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.