Alone Will Not Do
By Barrington H. Brennen, 2003
Question: Dear Sir: I was taught
from a child that once you love someone dearly, thatís all you need to have a
healthy marriage relationship. Iíve been married for eight
months now and I really love my husband, but things are not really working out.
Is love enough? Signed, Need Something More.
Answer: Dear Need Something More, Love is not enough. It is
a myth to believe that love alone will guarantee a successful marriage
relationship. Too many married couples in our country are experiencing a dearth
of true marital happiness because they thought that just saying "I love
you" would help them ride through the difficult times or to prevent
problems in marriage. I have quoted my Jamaican college professor, Kenneth G.
Vaz, several times with these words: "When hunger walks in the front door,
love jumps out the back window." Itís such a fitting statement on the
problem of what basic ingredients are lacking in many marriages today.
David Olson, professor of family social science, University of Minnesota, in
his book "Empowering Couples" clarifyís the point this way:
"Although love is indeed a powerful emotion, it is idealistic to think that
love is all you need. Love alone is not enough to make a marriage work. . . Love
is important, but love alone is not sufficient to maintain a healthy, vitalized,
and happy marital relationship. Relationship skills, particularly communication
and conflict resolution skills, are necessary, as is a strong commitment from
Over the years of my counseling career, I have worked with hundreds of
couples who love each other dearly but seem not to be able to move out of the
rut of habitual conflict-ridden behaviors. Research also verifies that the best
predictor of marital health is not how much a couple loves each other but how
well they handle conflicts. Therefore, it is imperative for marital health that
couples learn how to "fight" well.
I have also discovered that too many Christians are making the mistake of
getting married too quickly. Their excuse for the rushing into marriage is that
since they are both "born-again-believers" this would assure them that
they would have a wonderful relationship. They believe that if they have similar
beliefs, go to the same church, are excited about their relationship with Jesus,
have no conflicts as "brother and sister in Christ" then why wait.
"We can become friends after we get married" one partner said to his
wife-to-be. What a big mistake. Too many Christian couples are painfully
learning too late that similar beliefs in God do not guarantee compatibility in
the home or the marriage bed. It is so true that committed friends can be
seat-mates in church, cry and laugh together, share mutual interests, and
encourage one another when life becomes difficult, yet if they become married
partners they can become angry enemies. If they remain just friends, they may
both experience the joy of heaven together, but if they get married they may
lose their souls in hell.
It is most import that couples take the time to be friends before they even
think about getting married to each other. They must also learn that good
friendship does not automatically spell good marriage. Each individual
contemplating marriage must ask himself/herself questions like some of the
- Am I comfortable with the family culture of my friend? Would our
family habits and beliefs be a plus or negative to the relationship?
are the expectations my friend has of me when we get married? Do these conflict
with my own expectations in marriage?
- Are we giving ourselves sufficient
time to experience each otherís own cultural and ritualistic behaviors so we
can objectively evaluate how comfortable we are with them (For example,
birthday, public holidays, family occasions)?
These are only sample questions to help the couple understand that the
decision for marriage is serious and its preparation must be thorough. The
secret is to take the time (18 to 24 months) to become friends before you get
Barrington H. Brennen, MA, NCP, BCCP, is a
marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical
psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau,
The Bahamas, or visitwww.soencouragement.org
or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002.