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The Essential Virtues
of Successful Love and Marriage

by Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz

This morning, a great friend of ours sent along an article that we were really taken with.  For those who have read our book, Golden Anniversaries:  The Seven Secrets of Successful Marriage (2008), you may recall a chapter entitled, “A Tribute to Lasting Love” (pp. 271-274).  In this chapter we highlighted the wonderful six-decade marriage of Sandy and Pris, whom we had interviewed for our book.

Over the years, Sandy and Pris have been advocates for “character education” for young people.  They have been very philanthropic when it comes to this passion of theirs. 

As we thought about the article by Dr. Tom Lickona based on his book entitled Character Matters:  How to Help our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues (Simon & Schuster, 2004), we were struck by the similarity of the “virtues” he believes essential for “strong character” and the virtues we have discovered in our research over the years about successful loving relationships.

The first essential virtue highlighted by Dr. Lickona is “wisdom.”  According to Tom, wisdom is the master virtue that directs all others.  Wisdom “tells us how to put the other virtues into practice – when to act, how to act, and how to balance different virtues when they conflict” such as “telling the honest truth” even when it “might hurt someone’s feelings.”  We refer to this notion often in our book when we speak of the importance of honesty in our relationships with those we love.

The second virtue is justice according to Dr. Lickona.  “Justice means respecting the rights of all persons.”  In our book, we refer to this virtue as the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The third virtue is “fortitude.”  According to Lickona, “fortitude enables us to do what is right in the face of difficulty.”  Or, more succinctly, doing the “hard right instead of the easy wrong.”  As we discuss in our book, all successful loving relationships have hard times, great challenges, and failures.  More importantly, however, those whose love lasts a lifetime have overcome the challenges in life and have been strengthened by them.  Overcoming these challenges together makes for a stronger and even more loving relationship.  Fortitude is the strength to carry on even when we find it hard in our relationships to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“Self-Control” is the fourth virtue.  In its simplest terms, “self-control is the ability and the strength to govern ourselves – to control our temper and to regulate our appetites and passions.”  It is as Lickona says, the “power to resist temptation.”  All marriages and loving relationships have their temptations.  Trust us on that.  Read our chapter entitled Character in Love and Marriage (pp. 21-24).  The successful ones don’t act on their temptations; hence, they survive and thrive.

The fifth virtue according to Lickona is “love” – “the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of another.”  Successful loving relationships quickly learn that their relationship is not about “you” or “me.”  It is about “we” and “us.”  We write about these notions extensively in our book.  Suffice it to say, people who are truly in love do not spend their time finding fault with each other – they do not spend their time putting down or belittling each other.  They find strength in the virtues of each other.  They love each other in the truest sense of the word.

As the purveyors of positive love, we really like Lickona’s sixth virtue – “positive attitude.”  We once heard a speaker say, “If you frown, you frown alone, but a smile is infectious!”  Maintaining a positive attitude is a great virtue.  Who wants to be around negative people?  Successful loving relationships work like this as well.  If your spouse or your lover is always in a negative mood you will work hard not to be around them.   The choice of being negative or positive is ours.  Choose positive!

Hard work is the “seventh indispensable virtue” according to Lickona.  If you want to be successful in love and life you must work hard.  Nothing worth having in a relationship comes easy.  You must earn it.  Love is something you earn.  As we say all the time, the simple things required to make love work take lots of hard work, day in and day out, throughout the life of the loving relationship.

Our favorite virtue is “integrity.”  As Lickona says, “Integrity is adhering to moral principle, being faithful to moral conscience, keeping your word, and standing up for what we believe.”  In love and marriage, you don’t cheat on the one you love!  You don’t lie to the one you love.  You are faithful to the one you love.  There are no exceptions to this basic virtue.  To truly love someone is to tell the truth to them and to yourself.

Dr. Lickona reminds us that “Gratitude is often described as the secret of a happy life.”  We would offer that gratitude is the secret of a successful loving relationship.  We must show gratitude for the one we purport to love.  We should always take the time to thank those we love for their support, their understanding, their sacrifice for us, and for their love.  Always show your gratitude to the one you love.  They will love you for it!

And finally, the tenth virtue according to Dr. Lickona is “humility.”  Humility “makes us aware of our imperfections and leads us to become a better person.”  And like in love and marriage, “humility enables us to take responsibility for our faults and failings (rather than blaming someone else), apologize for them, and seek to make amends.”  To be truly in love in our opinion requires us to recognize that we are not the center of the universe – that the world does not revolve around us.  People who are truly in love, learn from each other, they respect each other, they value each other, and they recognize that in the best loving relationships, personal humility allows us to understand the simple notion that trying to prove you are right when you are clearly wrong, is not a virtue.  Trying to win a senseless and pointless argument is not a virtue.  It is good to be humble!

We would encourage you to read more of Dr. Lickona’s work and you will see as we do that his “essential virtues” are, in many ways, a mirror of our “seven secrets of a successful marriage.”  These truths should be self-evident.

Love well!

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