The Most Critical Shared Value In A Good Marriage

A good marriage fosters personal growth.

sad couple heartbroken NDAB Creativity | Shutterstock / iv-serg, kb group | Canva Pro

You hear it all the time from veterans of divorce. "We simply grew apart." It's enough to create a sense of fatalism about marriage itself. It may even inhibit your commitment to personal growth, as you reason, "If I don't pursue my Ph.D. or start the landscaping business I've always dreamed of, I can devote more time to my marriage." Growing apart is the No. 1 reason marriages fail. However, according to psychotherapist Morrie Shechtman, there are things you can do to decrease the likelihood of it happening to you and your partner — they just may not be the things you'd expect.


"What people usually mean when they say 'we grew apart' is that one partner changed and the other didn't," says Shechtman, co-author, with wife and business partner, Arleah, of Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage. "Quite simply, a good marriage fosters personal growth and vice versa. If your partner doesn't grow, then he becomes boring to you. If you don't grow, then you become boring to yourself." The Shechtmans insist that a fulfilling marriage, like a fulfilling life, is not about comfort zones and the status quo. To avoid growing apart, you and your partner must grow together. Not necessarily in the same direction, mind you, but grow you must. The Shechtmans offer the following tips.


RELATED: 5 Signs Of Disconnection In A Relationship & How To Bring The Connection Back

  • Make sure personal growth is a shared value for you and your partner. As the Shechtmans emphasize throughout their book, good marriages are those in which partners have identical values.

One of the most critical shared values in a good marriage is a commitment to growth. 

If you view yourself as a work in progress and want to take risks and explore opportunities until you draw your last breath, yet your partner wants to work the same job for 40 years and vegetate on the sofa every night, the marriage is probably doomed. Harsh, perhaps, but true. Commit to personal growth yourself, and challenge your partner to do the same.

  • Dedicate yourself to your life's purpose. Give it your all-out effort, making full use of your talents and values. "Marriage isn't your mission in life," say the Shechtmans. "Neither is raising children.

In a great marriage, each partner is deeply committed and actively involved in some endeavor outside the marriage. When one partner is dedicated to an outside purpose while the other is dedicated only to supporting his spouse, then the supporting spouse ends up living through his partner in the same way unfulfilled parents live through their children. The one who is fully engaged with the outside world soon grows bored with her devoted supporter."

  • Realize that selfless devotion is boring. Be interesting. In Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage, the authors tell a story about Bernard, a physician, and Stacy, his devoted, physically fit wife who kept the house immaculate, cooked gourmet meals and pushed her children to achieve.

RELATED: How To Fix A Broken Marriage, According To A Therapist

One day, Bernard left Stacy for an unkempt and outspoken photojournalist two years his senior. Why? Because the photojournalist was interesting. The Shechtmans point out that Stacy is a victim, not of Bernard, but of the myth that selfless devotion keeps marriages alive. "As we see it, Stacy had deserted Bernard long before he announced that he was deserting her," say the authors. "In living through Bernard instead of cultivating a life of her own, she had failed to become a full person and thereby deprived him of a full partner."

  • Assume personal responsibility for your own inner life. The Shechtmans believe that a person's emotional texture is, in large part, shaped by the way he or she felt in childhood.

Your moods or feelings, known as your familiars, can be positive or negative. It's your negative familiars that stand in the way of fully enjoying adult life with the partner you've chosen. Once you realize this truth, you're free to explore your feelings, grieve the unhappiness of your childhood, and move on. But the important point is that this is your responsibility and yours alone. "In a great marriage, both partners assume full responsibility for their own inner lives," says the Shechtmans. "This means that you don't view your partner as the cause of what you're feeling. Nor do you view yourself as the cause of what he's feeling. You don't blame your partner for your unhappiness, nor do you blame yourself for his."

  • Challenge your partner. Unconditional acceptance is for infants. The Shechtmans assert that caring for your partner means holding him accountable for living up to his best vision of himself and continuing to grow.

"Challenge is a vote of confidence, a sign of respect," they say. "Conversely, accepting people exactly as they are is a form of abandonment. The message you send when you unconditionally accept a partner's self-destructive or self-defeating behavior is that you believe she can't do better. Ultimately, this defeats the marriage itself. When you don't challenge your partner, you are essentially giving up on her."

RELATED: 12 Huge Red Flags You're Drifting Apart From Your Spouse

  • Don't confuse physical togetherness with intimacy. Many people fall into the trap of believing that they must spend "X" number of hours per week talking, sharing meals, or being intimate with their partner. But the Shechtmans insist that time spent together is no guarantee of intimacy. Real intimacy is based on the quality of communication.

If all you have is 10 minutes a day, make those 10 minutes count by sharing with your partner what's happening in your inner life and listening with full attention when your partner shares with you — rather than engaging in "information dumps." 

The truth is, if each partner is living a rich, full life, you probably won't have large amounts of time to spend basking in each other's company. You'll be too busy learning and growing as a person, which in turn will strengthen your marriage.


Finally, if you've read these tips (especially the first one) with the sinking feeling that your partner isn't committed to personal growth, take heart.

 Shechtman says that most people intuitively choose partners with a strong core value match. It's just that this truth is lost amidst the "should," marriage myths and psychological storms that are ruffling the surface of your relationship. "It's unlikely that your partner's fulfilled working a dead-end job and watching 3 hours of sitcoms every night," he says. "More likely, he's allowing himself to be crippled by his familiars. Or perhaps he's just succumbing to laziness. 

Either way, rather than abandoning him, you can and should, challenge him to confront his issues, grow as a person, and shape a worthwhile life — not for you, but for himself. That's the kind of courage that helps marriages grow stronger rather than growing apart. That's what marriage is. That's what love is."


RELATED: What Your Partner's "Annoying Behavior" Actually Says About You

Morrie Shechtman is a personal and corporate consultant with 45 years of experience. Arleah Shechtman is a psychotherapist with 40 years of experience counseling individuals in committed relationships. They both run a successful management consulting company, Fifth Wave Leadership.