Question: We’ve been married only a short time, but I’m already beginning to feel that I’ve made a mistake. As a matter of fact, I’m afraid I ended up with the wrong person. What do I do now?

Answer: Our response is simple. Marriage is not primarily about "finding the right person." It’s about being the right person.

Marriage is about being the right person

The opposite view – what we might call the "needle in a haystack" philosophy of choosing a mate – can lead to all kinds of emotional pain and restless disillusion. According to this perspective, there’s only one individual in the world with whom you can possibly achieve happiness. Your task is to find that Elusive Someone at all costs. If you end up with a partner who doesn’t quite seem to fit the bill, there’s just one thing to do: bail out and start searching again. This mindset has a lot to do with the epidemic of divorce we’re seeing in modern society. One of its most notable adherents, Mr. Glynn DeMoss Wolfe, once said that "Marriage is like stamp collecting. You keep looking to find that rare one." It’s no wonder that Wolfe was married twenty-six times.

What’s the solution to this dilemma? How can you avoid the Glynn DeMoss Wolfe syndrome and stay off the hopeless merry-go-round of endless serial polygamy? How do you stop looking for the right person and start becoming the right person – the kind of person who can follow through on his or her promise to love "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health?" We have a few suggestions.

Step one: Work on yourself

You can begin by working on yourself. If you entered marriage with the expectation that you were going to find happiness in your mate, you were probably disappointed. There’s a good reason for this. The broad range of emotions, from low to high, that we normally experience as unmarried individuals has the potential to become even wider in marriage. If you and your spouse were unhappy and unfulfilled as singles, it’s likely that your feelings of discontentment sank even lower after you tied the knot. If, on the other hand, you each possessed a sense of deep individual meaning and purpose and a desire to share your goals in a lifetime of mutual commitment, your satisfaction level probably increased when you came together. The object lesson should be obvious: if you want to be content living with another person, you have to learn how to be content on your own.

Step two: Get to you know who your spouse really is

Second, you can shake off the lingering influences of premarital romance and get down to the hard-scrabble business of appreciating your spouse for who he or she really is. During courtship, people often feel sure that they’ve found a "gold mine." Both spouses-to-be tend to get excited about this wonderful new relationship. As a result, they fill in any perceived gaps in their loved one’s personality. The woman assumes that since her fiancé is willing to sit and listen to her feelings about life during courtship, he’ll show the same concern after marriage. When he doesn’t, she decides she’s married the wrong person. In reality, he was probably never as wonderful as she thought he was. On the other hand, he’s probably not a terrible as she may now be thinking. He’s just a human being with the usual set of normal human flaws.

Step three: Understanding love as a decision

Third, you can remind yourself of the meaning of love. We’re speaking here, of course, about the agape love that Jesus exemplified on the cross and that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. In his classic work The Art of Loving Erich Fromm declares, "To love somebody is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were just a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever." Dr. James Dobson conveys a similar message in his book Romantic Love: "[A couple’s] love is not defined by the highs and lows, but is dependent on a commitment of their will. Stability comes from this irrepressible determination to make a success of marriage and to keep the flame aglow regardless of the circumstances." That’s what agape love is all about.

If you’re having trouble practicing this kind of love in your marriage, we’d like to invite you to call and discuss your situation with one of our staff counsellors. They’ll be happy to listen to your concerns and offer their perspective over the phone. They can also provide you with referrals to qualified counsellors in your area who specialize in marriage and family therapy. You can contact our counselling department Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT at 1.800.661.9800. We look forward to serving you in any way we can.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.

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