By Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D., MSS, MA
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, MSS is a social worker based in Sarasota, FL. She has been a speaker for non-profit, corporate and university organizations. Dr. Wish offers sound, research-based relationship advice that makes sense — specializing in issues such as smart dating, women’s relationship advice, career coaching, healthy families, sexual dysfunction, and leadership training. Dr. Wish is a Columnist, “Relationship Realities” and Member of the Advisory Board of www.QualityHealth.com, a Top Ten Health site.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you reprint any of this material, please refer to Dr. Wish as a member of the National Association of Social Workers.
Another holiday, another stressor. Valentine’s Day. You can barely avoid it. Red-laced hearts atop lingerie displays, the sales women offer you the latest scent, the expensive watch ads for women and men are half a page long.
There’s ample warning—the merchandising starts earlier and earlier. Yet, if you walk into a CVS or Walgreen’s just after work on Valentine’s Day, you’d be amazed at the number of people scanning the nearly empty shelves for the right card. Really–with all that advanced notice?
Even for those of us who are jaded about these commercial holidays, there is still that little lump in the throat, that flutter of the chest that can make you wonder: Am I in love? With the right person? And how do I know if my sweetheart is marriage material?
Unfortunately, anyone can seem like a good match in the short run. Aim for knowing someone over time. People can—and do—keep up facades for months or even years. Pay attention to your instincts and don’t brush signs of trouble under the rug.
Of course, there is no magic answer to whether you and your partner should marry, but here is a quick guide. Perhaps these ideas will spark more items to add to the list. Please note that this list is not about the other person—it applies to both of you because a wisely-chosen partner will make you a good one, too.
- You treat each other with respect. For years, marital research has shown that mutual respect and kindness are central to long-lasting love. For example, caring and respectful partners do not criticize each other in public or belittle the other person’s interests or values. There is no physical, verbal or sexual abuse.
- You and your partner do not often use criticism as a form of communication. Thinly-veiled barbs and sarcasm erode love. Of course, no one is perfect, and we all misbehave from time to time. But almost all the time, your communication style should be warm and positive. Like plants, love needs caring in order to flower—and stay alive.
- You and your partner do not withhold love and caring behavior to “punish” or retaliate against the other person for hurtful behavior. It’s sad but true that we often hurt the one we love. We do this because we emotionally invest the most in intimate partners, and when this investment is high, so are our not-so-pleasant defenses. Look for a partner who is able to communicate his or her unhappiness in ways that don’t diminish or hurt the other person.
- Apologies are very powerful. They mean that someone is willing to own up to his or her missteps—and even be embarrassed by them—all in the name of love.
- You applaud each others’ accomplishments. Loving couples do not compete with each other. You help and cheer your partner’s successes.
- You share common life values and at least some interests. Make sure your partner feels the same way about marriage, commitment, and fidelity. You can’t “drag” someone into marriage or decent behavior. Observe how your partner treats his family, friends, colleagues—and exes!
- You also share a sense of humor. Life is tough and unpredictable. Make sure you can laugh. Go to funny movies. See the absurdity in life and roll with it together.
- You work well as a problem-solving team. Don’t get stuck in the repetitive and destructive behavior of blaming each other for a problem. Smart and caring couples “play it forward” and go directly to developing solutions—especially when you and your partner have differing views. In fact, differences in personality, background, and skills, for example, can enrich a relationship. Marital studies demonstrate that complementary styles teach and widen the other person’s abilities and flexibility.
- Love is supposed to bring out the best in each other. Do you like yourself in this relationship? Do you inspire the best in your partner?
- You don’t try to “fix” each other. You can’t love someone in the future. You might see the potential in someone, but you can’t drag your partner into his or her “potential.” Your relationship exists in the present. Besides, you can’t really fix someone else.
- You applaud and accept each other’s differences. You can’t change your partner either. If there are major differences in race or religion, for example, it’s best to resolve and address issues of beliefs, culture, and values now.
- You and your partner have “been there for each other” during rough times and good times. Some partners thrive on being supportive during crises—and then fall apart when the going is good because they don’t feel “needed.” The reverse is true, too. Some partners head for the hills during illness and other hard times. Make sure you and your partner are not fair-weather lovers.
I hope this list at least sparks an assessment of your Valentine!
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, D.C., is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world with nearly 150,000 members in 56 chapters throughout the United States and its territories. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.