Professionally today we know more about what makes or breaks marriages than ever before. While some divorce statistics can be misleading, in short, about 25% of marriages are successful. Almost everyone in America gets married at some point, and only about 5% remain single for life.

Unfortunately, many problems start before a marriage begins, often because people get married for the wrong reason. As Neil Clark Warren points out, some men have only one rule: “I’m taller than her.”

The truth is that we need to go much deeper in our search to make the right decision regarding who we will spend the rest of our lives with. A good place to start is to make a list of ten things you can’t stand and ten things you must have. For example, if being around someone who smokes is non-negotiable, then put them on the “can’t stand” list. If honesty is a given, put it on your top ten “must have” list.

This is a simple yet powerful exercise that can save you a lot of pain and heartache. If someone registers high on your list of “can’t stand it” qualities, then you have a number of objective red flags from which to assess your relationship, and vice versa.

The next thing you need to know is that marriage will not erase baggage from your life. In fact, many people get married hoping that the new relationship will “fix” things, when in fact it makes everything more complicated. As Les Parrot shares, “Get healthy before you get married.” We all have baggage, but we need to do the hard work of dealing with it and being honest about it with our partner before saying “I do.”

And lastly, consider where you are quantifying the love you share with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. As Anthony Robbins sums it up, there are four levels of love, and you owe it to yourself and your partner to meet their needs on level three or four to give your relationship the best chance.

Level one love is simply where a person selfishly takes and gives nothing in return. This is the sickest relationship to be in and needs immediate correction for it to survive and flourish.

Level two love is give and take, commonly called haggling. At this stage the partners give if they are given and no more. Once again, this is a very unhealthy and immature place to be. Although you cannot change your partner, you can determine that you will not live here.

Level three love is where things flourish because on this level each partner gives freely, expecting nothing in return. They give at this level because this is who they are. When two people meet each other’s needs on this level, their relationship will provide the trust and satisfaction that they both desire.

While the previous three levels talk about our intimate relationships, level four of love is what Jesus was talking about when he said to love your enemies. At this level, a person loves even those who seek to harm him. This love defines how you relate to the entire world. I don’t think many people can stay on this level for very long, especially without regular immersion in God’s grace.

Until next time, a great resource for further help is Dr. John Gottman’s book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.

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