How can our marriages become exceptional?

In this week’s book, The Exceptional Seven Percent: Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples by Gregory K. Popcak, MSW, the author discusses a continuum of marriage types from weakest to strongest.

Deadly Marriages:

In Chaotic marriages, both husband and wife are bent on self-destruction in an attempt to escape, either from their past or from the world as it is.

In Codependent marriages, one is bent on self destruction and the other is determined to save the partner.

 If either of these two deadly marriages lead the couple to learn to demand basic safety and financial security from their lives and relationships, they can grow to become more functional but will focus on survival rather than love as in the following group:

Shipwrecked marriages are all about staying afloat. They may be

Materialistic, where they value financial security above all else. In these the husband is often neglectful or controlling while the wife is dependent.

Or Safety marriages, where the wife with a traumatic past chooses a nice, quiet man to avoid conflict and pursue a stress-free life.

Or Rescue marriages where both spouses fled traumatic childhoods. They are happy to have survived, and don’t ask for more.


If they do learn to expect more from life,

find meaningful roles or work,

learn to meet their own needs, rather than rely on spouse,

learn to relate to their mate,

AND challenge their addiction to comfort in the relationship, they may move to:


Conventional Marriages which are built to support and maintain a couple’s place in world. In a conventional marriage:

  • Both spouses are relatively sure of their own ability to provide for at least basic needs.
  • Both have found personally meaningful work or social roles to play.
  • Both have at least a casual identification with or membership in some significant “values group,” for example churches or organizations. They use their membership to sharpen their self concept and clarify the values that are   important to them.
  • Both have negotiated at least the most basic communication differences between men and women.
  • Here  love is warm and comfortable but the number one threat is growing apart. Other problems include domestic scorekeeping (whose turn it is to do what and how much is fair) and marital chicken (you change first). Most marriages in this category are moderately stable and moderately satisfying. With work, they can become:


Exceptional Marriages

These marriages make up only 7 % of first time married couples and 7% of remarried couples. The first stage is:

Partnership Marriages which are primarily concerned with pursuing and increasing personal competence. This pursuit allows:

  • Egalitarianism. No job is off limits for either spouse. A 100/100 partnership keeps them from 50/50 mentality.
  • True intimacy, because no matter how much they give to the marriage they know they will not be taken for granted. They see each other as their best hope for becoming the people they want to be by the end of their lives, by helping each other grow in identity strength and move toward actualization of their shared spiritual values, moral ideals and emotional goals.
  • Rapport and negotiation. The intense interest in and sharing each other’s worlds tend to remove the last barriers to communication.


To move up, partnership marriages must develop a truly spiritual sexuality and exhibit a willingness to make financial sacrifices, setting serious limits on anything that distracts them from actualizing their value system. Then they may find themselves part of a

Spiritual Peer Marriage whose marital theme is the pursuit of intimacy, simplification, and actualization. These couples are a joyful, living breathing example of their particular value system. These couples hold common traits:

  • Simplification – they are off the fast track, having discovered deeper values.
  • Competence – both husband and wife are competent at all aspects of family life
  • Egalitarianism over equality – they know they are equal, they don’t have to prove it. In a “dance of competence,” they desire to never take other for granted so they accomplish what needs to be done without worrying about whose responsibility a task is.
  • Each other’s best friends, they have virtually no secrets from each other, and have achieved a level of spiritual sexuality that is truly enviable.
  • As in Maslow’s definition of self actualized – They are accepting of themselves and others, are at peace when life becomes unpredictable, are spontaneous and creative, have a good sense of humor, value their privacy, can take care of themselves, are capable of deeply intimate relationships, and have an open, positive attitude about life.


How can our marriages become exceptional?

1. Design a marital imperative – an internalized set of values, ideals, and goals which must guide and clarify every action and decision of your life. Then every interaction—pleasant or unpleasant—between you and your spouse becomes another opportunity to pursue those very principles and qualities you hold most dear.

Work to improve in the areas exceptional couples excel in:

2. Exceptional Fidelity, the promise to “forsake all others,” includes all those friendships, family-of-origin commitments, career opportunities, and community involvements that do not serve to increase either the physical and mental health of each spouse or the intimacy of the marriage.

3. Exceptional Love is a calling. They do loving things for their mate every day, whether or not they feel like it and whether or not their mate “deserves” it.

4. Exceptional Mutual service is valued more than “fairness” or sharply defined roles and responsibilities. Each actively looks for opportunities to serve and nurture their mate, creating a dance of competence that enables chores and other domestic responsibilities to be passed back and forth gracefully, and accomplished efficiently.

5. Exceptional Rapport becomes the result of overcoming both their basic gender and personality differences, allowing them to achieve an enviable level of understanding and in their relationships.

6. Exceptional Negotiation – All needs are respected and met—even when a partner’s need is not completely understood. That your need will be met is never called into question; the only topic of debate is, “What is the most efficient, respectful means by which your need can be met?”

7. Exceptional Gratitude – Every service—no matter how common or simple—is viewed as an active expression of love to be noted and appreciated.

8. Exceptional Joy – An ability to play and be joyful together. They look for new interests to share and work to share in the interests they already have. They make time to be together, work at being present to each other, and actively seek ways to ease each other’s burdens.

9. Exceptional Sexuality – They view sex as something they are. For them, lovemaking is not an activity or a performance; it is a total self-gift, a symbol and expression of all that is good about themselves and their relationship. It is a spiritually active way to connect with the Divine.

What more could we want than to connect with the Divine through our marriage? May your marriage continue to grow and bring you closer to God.

Blessings on your week!

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