published Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Baumgardner: Compatibility not the key to long marriage

By Julie Baumgardner

According to Michael and Amy Smalley, they could not have been more in love than they were when they walked down the aisle. Their relationship was filled with passion and romance. In their own words, "they were completely blinded by chemistry."

"I was her knight in shining armor," says Michael Smalley. "We had been friends for a very long time. It was only after a horrible breakup with another guy that we realized there might be something between us. We quickly fell head over heels in love. So you can imagine we were pretty shocked to find ourselves 18 hours into our marriage not speaking to each other. Both of us were thinking we had made a horrible mistake."

Amy and Michael dated for five months before they married. Both sets of parents were very excited about the marriage, but nobody mentioned that the couple might not be ready.

"So many couples, including us, mistakenly believe that a successful marriage is built on the foundation of chemistry and compatibility," said Michael. "We know based on research that chemistry has zero to do with long-term success in marriage. Chemistry goes up and down. Many couples actually base their commitment level in their marriage on how happy they are in the relationship, and that is dangerous."

Twenty years and three beautiful children later, the Smalleys will tell you that their marriage would not still be around if it was all about compatibility.

"To this day, our compatibility quotient is pretty low," said Michael. "Our cleaning styles, leisure activities and personalities are very different. However, six months into our marriage, we attended a workshop that taught us the skills that have been foundational to making the difference in our marriage."

So many couples justify not being able to make their marriage work by saying, "We just aren't compatible."

"Not being compatible does not mean you have to be miserable," he says. "My ability to love well has little to do with compatibility and everything to do with making a choice to love well. You make the decision to be happy."

He clarifies that he is not talking about marriages in which people are suffering from abuse. He is referring to the vast majority of marriages that end because people say they are disconnected and incompatible.

The Smalleys now spend their time helping couples learn how to get past their issues of unhappiness and incompatibility.

"Most divorces occur because one spouse looks at the other and says, 'You are the problem,'" Michael says. "The truth is, all of us are selfish. In many instances, while we are focused on the other person, we really need to look in the mirror and determine how we are contributing to the current condition of the marriage."

Michael Smalley will be in Chattanooga on Saturday, March 1, for a one-day seminar designed to teach couples simple concepts that are life-giving to a marriage including how to manage conflict using what he calls "Love" talk.

"Believe it or not, this will be a fun day," said Smalley. "People will laugh -- a lot. In addition to learning about 'Love' talk, one of the most takeaways of the day, couples will learn additional skills that will dramatically impact their marriage."

For more information about the seminar, visit firstthings.org.

Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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