One of the most popular classes at Northwestern doesn’t prepare students for grad school or a career; it teaches them to succeed at something much more important: marriage.
The class, titled Marriage 101: Building Loving and Lasting Relationships, is a for-credit course taught by Dr. Arthur C. Nielsen, a psychiatrist and associate professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
According to Nielsen, college is the perfect time to learn about marriage. Students are forming serious relationships, but they aren’t married yet.
Nielsen feels it’s crucial for partners to understand what makes a marriage work before they commit. In his practice, he sees couples with such longstanding patterns of negativity it’s difficult to regain trust. His own first marriage ended in divorce after only a few years, and he wants to help other people avoid making similar painful mistakes.
So what makes a marriage succeed? According to Nielsen, who has been happily married for over 30 years to wife Sheila, you’ve got to pick the right person and be willing to work at it.
“As Dad would say about tennis—to be a success in doubles, get a good partner,” says Nielsen, referring to his father A.C. Nielsen, Jr., also of Winnetka. “But you’ve also got to be a good partner.”
Teamwork is an important concept. You want to marry someone who holds up his or her end—who you can have fun with and who shows empathy—not someone who’s insecure or dependent. And you need to be able to work through the inevitable disagreements. Marriage 101 students learn how to listen to their mate, accept responsibility, fight fair and solve problems together.
Every marriage has its share of problems, which is why Nielsen says it’s important to have fun—including sex! Sex is cheap, enjoyable, collaborative, and something only the two of you can share.
“All of the dynamics of a relationship—power, play, control, trust, love—are active in the bedroom,” Nielsen says. “If the sex is good, you feel good about the marriage.” On the flip side, many of the couples he sees in therapy haven’t had sex in a long time.
“Couples need to spend time together doing meaningful things they enjoy, like they did when they were dating,” he says. “Find time that’s just for you, when you don’t talk about the kids or money.” Class dismissed.