In a Stanford Business School talk, author Greg McKeown reflects on what holds capable, driven people from breaking through to the next level. He says that the answer to that question, surprisingly, is success.
According to Greg, when executive teams focus on a few things, it leads to success. But success breeds more opportunities and options and that causes the focus that lead to their success to become diffused. “And so, exaggerating the point in order to make it, I found success becomes a catalyst for failure because it leads to what Jim Collins called the “undisciplined pursuit of more.” The antidote to that problem is the disciplined pursuit of less, but better. That means exploring the very critical things you want to pursue and being willing to eliminate the rest.”
While the value of focus and prioritisation in business is not a new idea, it is a useful reminder to ask the question “how well do we apply this thinking to our marriages?” Our experience is that couples who make a success of their marriage (and by success, we’re talking about couples who not only avoid divorce but also thrive in their marriage), keep things focussed. Both spouses avoid getting too distracted by the many opportunities in their individual lives and instead stay attentive to their central task: loving their spouse. This does not mean you don’t grow and develop as individuals, but equally it does mean you don’t end up living a life as busy ‘married singles’.
In our ‘we want it all’ culture, this principle doesn’t sit well. While we are told that we can have it all, it’s simply not true; life is all about choice and trade-offs. The culture leads us to become a ‘mile wide and only an inch deep’. This is especially true when it comes to relationships; strong relationships are never shallow, they exist because of depth, of really knowing each other. With knowledge comes trust and confidence and from this intimacy and resilience.
So if want to enjoy our marriages as a deep, joyous intimate love affairs, we need to take the time to really know the other and so build trust and vulnerability between us. Just like ‘being a mile wide’ takes time, so does ‘being a mile deep’; just ask any expert. The secret is for us to consciously choose to be an ‘expert’ in our marriage. The good news for couples is that this involves both doing fun things together as well ‘working’ on some of the rougher edges. Every expert knows that, when they love their subject, it never feels much like work. It’s the same for marriage.
Keeping your marriage on track isn’t necessarily difficult if you keep life focussed on what matters most. Make loving your spouse your specialisation. Put them first in your life and focus on doing marriage better, rather than just doing more, and you’ll find you have a marriage that goes from strength to strength.