The 4Cs of Marriage

The 4Cs of Marriage

Anyone who’s gotten engaged has heard of the 4Cs of diamonds: cut, carat, clarity, and color. However, I think there are 4Cs far more important to know around that time, the 4Cs of marriage: chemistry, compatibility, commitment, and communication.

While the 4Cs of diamonds present potential areas for trade off (a larger stone of lesser quality, for example, versus a smaller, flawless stone), I contend that all of the 4Cs of marriage are essential. Let’s talk them through:


I think of chemistry as both that snap of physical attraction you might feel instantly upon meeting someone as well as a subtler emotional and intellectual chemistry that may take some time to uncover.

I know that some people would disagree with me and say chemistry is all physical but, when you’ve been married more than a couple of years or are over the age of 25, you come to realize that physical attraction isn’t everything. Sure, sex is important—without it, you’re basically roommates—but having someone who “gets” you is just as, if not more, important.

My husband and I have always said that we didn’t experience a huge physical spark when we first met. But something in me recognized him as important. When I tried to break up with him a month or so later, I felt an unreasonable sense of loss and started crying instead.

Brian and I liked each other, respected each other, and came to understand each other. We were stimulated by each other’s personalities and intellects and, in our case, the physical attraction grew from there. Regardless of what your chemistry looks like or from where it comes, I consider it the first essential ingredient of the 4Cs of marriage.


The second of my 4Cs of marriage is compatibility. A lot of folks seem to use the word compatibility to define the emotional and intellectual chemistry between people. Instead, I define it as a commonality of life goals and interests.

You could have all of the physical, emotional, or intellectual chemistry in the world but, if your mate wants a dozen kids and you don’t want any, you have a compatibility problem.

If you want to live and work in Antarctica and your mate never wants to be more than 10 miles from his family in Michigan, you’ve got some compatibility conversations ahead.

If you and your partner share no common interests, your relationship might survive, but at what cost? Loneliness when one partner is left at home? Jealousy that the other is out with friends? You don’t have to agree on everything or spend all of your time together, but it helps if each partner is willing to compromise and find a shared interest or two.

We all compromise in relationships so the real question is how compatible are you and your mate on the deal breakers? And what are those deal breakers? It’s critical to have conversations like these before getting married to ensure long-term happiness and harmony.


By its very nature, marriage equals commitment. Marriage is a legal union recognized across the globe, regardless of culture, creed, or religion. In fact, according to, “anthropologists say that some type of marriage has been found in every known human society since ancient times.”

By listing commitment as one of the 4Cs of marriage, I’m not making a judgment call about whether humans are innately monogamous or polyamorous but whether you are willing to invest in your relationship and partner(s). defines commitment as a promise, which correlates well to your vows of marriage. Depending on your beliefs and relationship style, your pledge could be to uphold and support your partner and relationship, to remain faithful, or something else entirely.

Whatever your personal understanding of commitment, this is another issue best considered and discussed with your partner(s) before marriage. Your decisions and answers will be important for as long as your relationship lasts.


As you may have already noticed, communication keeps popping up among the 4Cs of marriage and thus must be #4.

Before Brian and I got married, my mom told me that king-size beds were relationship killers. I disagree: Poor communication is. After 10 years of marriage, I can safely say: If you can’t communicate effectively with your spouse, you’ll never make it. Marriage involves too many discussions, decisions, and compromises for partners with poor communication skills to survive.

If you’re now wondering about the health of your communication skills, this list of 10 characteristics of effective communicators is a good place to start. It’s more geared to professional interactions, but the fundamentals are there: making your message clear, practicing empathy and effective listening, asking for clarification when needed, and paying attention to body language.

Communication is ongoing work, for sure. After years together, a change in circumstances—a move, a new baby, or a new job—can change how and how much time you have to communicate with each other, as it did for us. Here are some of the things we did to improve our communication when that time came.

I hope these 4Cs of marriage prove helpful to you in determining how strong your relationship is and the areas you can continue to improve and develop over time. If you liked this post, please share the love.


Kate Watson

10 Rules for Fighting Fair

10 Rules for Fighting Fair

We all know that this isn’t the way to fight in a relationship, but what is? Keep reading…

On our walk the other morning, Brian and I got into a disagreement. It started when I expressed concern about an ongoing health issue—making a bid for emotional support—and Brian replied that he didn’t think my assessment of the situation was accurate, that I should consider another course of action. In other words, he attempted to solve the “problem.”

This seems to be a common interaction between the sexes. John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, writes, “Just as a man is fulfilled through working out the intricate details of solving a problem, a woman is fulfilled through talking about the details of her problems.”

I wouldn’t characterize it the way Gray does—that I was talking about the details of my problems—but I agree that men often hear problems to solve where women are asking for support. My husband, the exceedingly rational engineer, is no exception.

Although we’re about to celebrate our 10th anniversary, our relationship is by no means devoid of conflict. Every couple has disagreements. When we have ours, we do what we can to keep the discussion amicable, to make sure we’re fighting fair. Here’s how:

10 Rules for Fighting Fair

  1. Be honest. We share what’s really on our minds instead of hiding behind another issue. For example, if I’m frustrated that he’s late, I don’t pick a fight over the dishwasher needing to be emptied. Of course, we might not always fully understand what is bothering us and so we do the best we can. (Ask me sometime about how Brian used to make animal noises while I cooked.)
  2. Keep it personal. By mutual agreement, we don’t blame each other. We keep the focus on our individual thoughts and feelings. For example, I might say, “I feel unheard” versus “You never listen to me!”
  3. Keep it private. If there’s anything I’ve learned about fighting fair, it’s this: Don’t involve others, either during or after the disagreement. Take it to another room if you have kids or company and don’t call your parents or friends to debrief afterward. (Note: I made the latter mistake in my early 20s. My mom never respected that boyfriend again, even though I stayed with him for years.)
  4. Stick to the present. Although a disagreement may relate to prior events, there’s no point in continually bringing up the past. If you didn’t resolve the issue the first time you discussed it, work harder to resolve it. If you keep rehashing (or holding a grudge about) the same issues, you’ll never be able to move forward.
  5. Stick to the subject. When Brian and I disagree, we talk about the one issue at hand. We don’t bring up everything else we could possibly disagree about at any past or future moment in time. Resolutions are best found in specifics. When everything is wrong, nothing can be resolved.
  6. No name calling. This seems obvious, but name calling serves no purpose. It’s demeaning and hurtful, and avoiding it requires only a tiny bit of self control. Just don’t do it.
  7. Listen. You can’t understand what your partner is saying if you don’t listen. So listen, don’t just pause until it’s your turn to speak again. I know this can be difficult because you want to make sure you’re heard but it’s equally important to hear.
    Brian and I recently began practicing active listening, which involves paraphrasing and repeating back what you heard to demonstrate understanding. Active listening can really slow down a conversation but it can also help point out areas of miscommunication.
  8. Seek a resolution. Arguing in a relationship should be about finding agreement, not about keeping score or “winning.” In fact, I believe that, if anyone wins an argument in a marriage, both sides lose. Instead, accept when your partner is extending an olive branch and seek a resolution you can both live with.
  9. Take a pause. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a pause and ask, “Can we talk about this later?” If you and your partner have reached an impasse or you’re tired or hungry or need a break, take one. And let your partner have one if they ask. Doing so can provide each of you with the time and space to see the other’s side or find a better resolution.
  10. Take responsibility and move on. Whenever we reach a resolution, Brian and I end up apologizing for our part in the disagreement. This isn’t a rule for us—it just works out that way—but I think it helps if you can see how you contributed to the disagreement and take responsibility for your role. Doing so helps you put the issue to bed and move forward, back on the same page.

As you’ve no doubt seen by now, most of fighting fair stems from being kind (#4 on my list of marriage lessons) and practicing empathy for your partner even when you’re angry or annoyed. For more tips on fighting fair, check out the following from:

If you found this post enjoyable or helpful, please share the love.


Kate Watson

5 More Love + Marriage Lessons

Last week, I shared five love lessons I’d learned by my fifth wedding anniversary. Today I’m back with five more marriage lessons, from the perspective of (almost) 10 years of marriage.

5 More Love + Marriage Lessons on My 10th Anniversary

1. Relationships ebb and flow. They change over time and we must be willing to accept and flow with them. Somehow Brian and I knew this before we got married. At our wedding, our friend Connie read from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, which explains this phenomenon better than I can:

When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity, in freedom…
…Relationships must be like islands. One must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits—islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, continually visited and abandoned by the tides.

2. All marriages take work. In case you still believe in happily ever afters, let me disabuse you of that notion. After 10 years of marriage, I can safely say that there is no such thing. That’s not to say that you can’t have a happy, healthy, fulfilling marriage; I believe you can.

However, life requires constant learning and adaptation from us. In relationships, that growth and change is multiplied because there are two or more people involved.

A while ago, I wrote about fixed vs growth mindsets. One of the hallmarks of a fixed mindset is the belief that things should come easily and so folks with fixed mindsets may give up an imperfect relationship, thinking it or their partner is irreparably flawed, instead of working to solve any problems.

Five years ago I would have told you that nobody was perfect, but someone might be perfect for you. These days, I’m not sure I even buy the perfect-for-you ideal. We humans are imperfect beings and thus our relationships are imperfect as well. A better question is: Is your relationship worth the work?

3. You have to show up. Both parties to a relationship have to be willing to show up and do the work. Neither can make it—and in this case, I’m talking marriages, friendships, or any other kind of partnerships—work alone.

Showing up begins by making time for each other. Even when life becomes hectic or stressful, you can’t be on the same page if you’re not writing in the same book.

Just like the ebb and flow mentioned above, sometimes one partner may pull more weight (or in a different form) than the other. Maybe one is primarily in charge of the home life while the other is building a business but, for the relationship to work, both parties have to prioritize the relationship in the way they can at the time.

Another facet of “showing up” is that each of you is individually responsible for cultivating your own mental health so you can bring your best to the relationship. You are not responsible for your mate’s peace, happiness, or self-esteem, just showing up and contributing to the relationship in the best way you can.

4. Be kind. Of course, showing up is easier when you see the good in your partner. That, too, is a choice. All people have good and bad in them. It’s your choice whether you see your partner’s foibles as amusing quirks or annoying eccentricities.

When you chose your mate, you saw the good in him/her. Barring any enormous changes in character or the introduction of significant new information, that good is still there. If you want to be a marriage master, Psychologist John Gottman says kindness is one of two essential choices. Generosity is the other.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Dr. Gottman explains, “which is this: they are scanning the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

Other ways to practice kindness include:

  • Respecting your partner for who s/he is
  • Prioritizing your partner’s happiness equally to your own (even if you’re not responsible for it)
  • Forgoing game playing and mind trips
  • Refusing to push buttons
  • Trusting your partner and acting worthy of his/her trust
  • Assuming s/he has the best intentions
  • Fighting fairly

5. Learn their love language. After listing all of my hard-won marriage lessons above, I feel like this last one is almost a cheap trick because I got it from Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages. However, #5 wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think the message was important.

Dr. Chapman’s work outlines five ways that you might prefer to express or receive love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. While most of us appreciate all of these exchanges, we generally prefer one or two over the others. Brian and I took Dr. Chapman’s online quiz and it helped us better understand each other and our relationship needs.

Let me give you an example: My top two love languages are quality time and receiving gifts. If you know me well, you could probably guess that because I love quality time with my husband and close friends and I’m generally known as a good gift buyer among friends and family. However, until I took Dr. Chapman’s quiz and discussed the findings with Brian, I had trouble explaining why thoughtful gifts are important to me.

Brian sees stuff as stuff. He didn’t realize that I put such emphasis on the thought behind gifts and so, when he gave me something bought last minute or with little thought, my feelings were hurt.

By the same token, Brian’s top love languages are quality time—which works well for us—and a second-place tie between words of affirmation and physical touch. Thus I make sure to praise and touch him often. Although acts of service are less important to us both, we both still practice them by cooking meals and taking out the trash (him) and washing laundry and dishes (me).

So there you have it, five more love and marriage lessons I’ve learned from being married almost 10 years. If you like this post, please like it or share it.

For more love and marriage lessons, check out Marc and Angel’s 20 Habits Happy Couples Have (But Never Talk About.)


Kate Watson

10 Rules for Fighting Fair » - […] you’ve no doubt seen by now, most of fighting fair stems from being kind (#4 on my list of marriage lessons) and practicing empathy for your partner even when you’re angry or annoyed. For more tips on […]

Sally MacKinnon Rorer - Excellent and well thought out beneficial information for all.

5 Love Lessons from the Early Years

This is a repost from Watsons Unleashed, where I shared love lessons I’d learned by my husband’s and my fifth wedding anniversary in May 2010. At the end of this month, we celebrate our 10th anniversary and so I’ll be writing about love, marriage, and relationships for the next few weeks.

5 lessons I

I’ve learned a lot about myself and about love in Brian’s and my time together, both as husband and wife and in the three years we shared before marriage.  In celebration of our fifth anniversary, here are five love lessons I’ve learned:

  1. You can’t change your mate. You have to accept them as they are, in entirety. However, don’t be surprised when they change on you.  Growing and changing along with them is part of the fun!
  2. Chemistry changes over time.  It’s incredibly important to have compatibility and commitment, too.
  3. The disagreements you have before marriage will continue after you’re married unless you consciously do something to resolve them.  Open communication is essential.
  4. Sometimes you’ll have to choose between being “right” and being “happy.”  In relationships and in life, happy is almost always the best answer.
  5. “Thank you” goes a long way.  It’s a given that Brian is our family chef, but I still thank him every day for cooking for us.  He, in return, thanks me for being the family dishwasher and laundress.  We both feel appreciated and happier as a result.

Update 5/5/2015: Now that Brian and I are 10 years into our marriage, I’m happy to see that I can stand by all the love lessons I shared at year five. Here are a few more observations:

  1. On change: They say the only constant in life is change. I agree. When I met him, Brian was a pescetarian home brewer (and software engineer). Now he’s a omnivorous mid-distance runner (and software engineer) who appreciates craft beer but doesn’t brew. I’m sure I’ve changed, too, from his perspective.
  2. On chemistry: There’s nothing like those initial days of infatuation, is there? Chemistry isn’t all fireworks, though. Now that our love has settled into a nice, stable togetherness, I think of chemistry as “clicking.” We just “get” each other, serious to silly.
  3. On communication: While we’ve long since settled any disagreements we brought into our marriage, I still think communication is one of the most important components of any relationship. It can be so easy to make assumptions about what each other is thinking or to say, “never mind” and walk away. Staying on the same page takes vigilance and a willingness to show up.
  4. On being right versus happy. The longer I live and the more difficulties I face, the more I realize that my most challenging times have resulted from wanting to teach someone a lesson, from wanting to be right. This is true in marriage, among friends, or in business. Whenever I take on the challenge of meting out justice, I make the situation more stressful for myself and worse in general. It’s not worth it and so, the older I get, the more willing I am to live and let live.
  5. On saying thanks. Saying “thank you” has become so ingrained in our relationship that, when I first re-read this post, I wasn’t sure whether we even did it anymore. But, as I thought back over the past couple of days, I remember thanking Brian for making dinner and going to the grocery store and him thanking me for cleaning up and washing clothes. It works, even when it’s so natural you forget you’re doing it.

I’ll be back next week with more love lessons.
Until then,

Kate Watson

Photo Credit: Cassandra Deasy Lauters

5 More Love + Marriage Lessons » - […] week, I shared five love lessons I’d learned by my fifth wedding anniversary. Today I’m back with five more marriage lessons, […]

How We Become Who We Are

How We Become Who We Are

Do you ever think about how we become who we are? I do, all the time.

Whenever I meet a young person with big aspirations or an adult with interesting life experiences, I ask myself, “How did they know they could do that?”

Let me give you a few examples:

  • A few years ago, I met a 10-year-old girl who told me that she wanted to be a pediatric orthopedic surgeon one day. I remember replying, “Wow, do you know one?” Of course she did. She had been born with a skeletal condition that required multiple childhood surgeries, and she knew several.

  • My husband and I know a woman who, by her mid-20s, had amassed a small real estate empire. She had been born to multimillionaire parents and had learned to create positive cash flow via investments without needing a conventional job.

  • Another woman I know is a successful businesswoman and second-generation Mexican American, the daughter of immigrants. She was the first in her family to attend and graduate from a four-year college, and she did it contrary to the expectations and wishes of her family. She had always done well in school and, thus, she knew she could keep going.

We are all products of our upbringing—which can be empowering and limiting. What we learn and experience during childhood generally sets the tone for who we become.

And so I wonder:

  • What happens to children who grow up in communities where adults typically have high school educations or below?

  • If parents aren’t fluent in English, how do they know all of the options available to their children? How well do such children do in school and life?

  • How likely are children from low-income families to go to college or professional school?

  • How likely are children to aspire to become lawyers or doctors or software engineers if they don’t have appropriate role models for inspiration?

I could post statistical answers to the above questions, but statistics dehumanize my message.

It always frustrates me when I see a story about a young person who hoped to make it out of a lower income community by becoming a professional athlete or musician…and then she or he didn’t. Sure, some do, but music and athletics aren’t the only options to “make it.”

We say that our children can become anything they want to be, but is that true if they don’t know their options? More importantly, how will our children become their best selves without feeling confident that they belong where they want to go? Without culturally relevant role models?

Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri has said that he hopes his recent wins on the European Tour will help show his countrymen what is possible for them. Their responses are bearing that out.

How do we help millions of young Americans see their opportunities and believe in their futures? I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I don’t have all the answers. But I don’t need to. Many people are working on this issue. A wholly effective solution would be comprehensive, involving parents, schools, communities, nonprofits, and the government. But every little bit helps.

And so I’m choosing to help in the way I know how: By documenting the issues and sharing the success stories, not of celebrities but of everyday men and women through my new Project “What Will You Be?” Details are in the project outline below:

Project "What Will You Be?"

To learn more or to become involved, please contact me.


Kate Watson