- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 15, 2009

In the past several weeks, I have spoken to more than 300 young adults on the topic of healthy dating relationships. It was interesting to hear all of the misinformation or assumptions they had about dating, divorce, living together, sex and how they felt their choices probably would not impact their future.

Clearly these young people want to have successful relationships and most of them plan to marry, but they are scared to death about messing up, marrying the wrong person, not being able to make a good choice and various other things.

Listening to their concerns, I thought about my own marriage and what has contributed to its success up to this point. My husband and I just recently celebrated our 20th anniversary. It was a very big deal to us because we both come from homes of divorce so we recognize we are in the “at risk” category.

What I ended up sharing with them was that in spite of everything you hear, you can’t do marriage in a silo and do it well. As my husband and I celebrated, we thought about all of the people who have walked this road with us. Both of our families have been there, but so have a lot of other people young and old. Some of them were actually at our wedding and are still actively in relationships with us today. Others have come along more recently, but they all have played a very significant role in helping us build a healthy, long-lasting marriage.

I watched the different reactions to my comments. Some people were nodding their heads as if they totally understood while others were looking at me with suspicion or disbelief. As the discussion unfolded, many of them shared that they didn’t think they needed their family or other people to help them be successful in marriage. What really mattered was that they found someone who truly loved them. Love would carry them through.

That made me think about what one of our wise mentors, who was in his 90s, once said, “If you are driving along a country road and you see a turtle on a fence post, you know it didn’t get there by itself.” With all my years of marriage experience, both personally and professionally, I believe that statement rings true. Most successful people will tell you they didn’t get where they are by themselves; there were people along the way who took them under their wing.

Perhaps you are planning to ask someone to marry you over the holidays. Maybe you’re engaged or are a newlywed. If you were my friend, here are some words of wisdom I would pass along based on what I have learned:

• Get off to a great start by participating in premarital preparation. If you are already married, make plans to attend a marriage enrichment class. I would be a wealthy women if I had a dime for every time a couple has told me, “If we had known how helpful this would be, we would have taken the class a long time ago.”

• Hang out with people who believe in you and in your marriage. It is not usually a good idea to spend time with people who don’t share your values; when the going gets tough, they are usually the first ones to tell you to throw in the towel instead of encouraging you to work it out.

• Look for couples at your place of worship, in your neighborhood and in your community who have been married for a long time and make it a point to get to know them and learn from their experience. We found couples who had been married for many years and clearly had a great relationship. They encouraged us, offered wisdom, prayed for us and held us accountable through the good and the tough times. And they continue to do so.

A marriage relationship isn’t just about you, it is about the people you choose to surround yourself with who are willing to tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it!

Julie Baumgardner is the executive director of First Things First, an organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at [email protected]

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