Just this week, my husband and I learned that friends of ours—married ten years—have separated and put their house on the market. There might have been a time, long ago, when this would have been a juicy piece of gossip. Or maybe at some point we might have secretly felt a little smug and maybe a bit proud of ourselves because we were succeeding at the very thing someone else had failed at.
But now, years down the road, every time we hear about a divorce we just feel really sad (even when we know the couple in question might be glad to get away from each other!).
And I think we feel somewhat afraid. Could it happen to us too, even after all these years? Listen, I will never claim to be the expert on happy, successful marriage. All I can do is share what has worked so far (twenty years) and hope that it continues working for us, as well as for you.
• Refuse to have divorce in your mind as an option. Even this advice is not for everybody, because some of you will find yourselves married to someone you never should have married. But when you are bonded to your partner, when you know he’s right for you, don’t let the issues that come up in life convince you to give up on the marriage. We’ve had MAJOR issues—for instance my husband and daughter didn’t get along for oh, sixteen years. There was also that time when one of us fell in love with someone else. At times my heart has been shattered, but I still never reached to point of thinking that I’d be happier if I we never saw each other again. So we persevered until we reached the point where we can look back on that madness, and it feels like looking at the mangled wreck of a car that we somehow miraculously escaped from with only minor bruises.
• Function as a couple instead of two individuals. This is not always easy. In our case, we’re BOTH “only” children so I think it’s even harder to always think of “us” instead of just “me.” It involves a lot of compromise. I spend a lot of time doing things I don’t particularly care to do, just because my husband likes to have me around. But which is better, for me to selfishly insist on running off to live my individual life, doing only what I want, or to be willing to share my life, even if it means I spend some time involved in things that only he cares about? I choose the latter. If I cared that much about my freedom, I’d be single.
• Consider your own imperfection. I doubt many marriages split apart when only one partner is unhappy. If you are dissatisfied with things are going and have developed the habit of dwelling on all your partner’s failing, gosh, I wonder how he’s feeling about YOU? And don’t be so quick to believe that your complaints about him are legitimate and important while his about you are petty and unfair. If he’s willing to live with your shortcomings, return the favor. And remember: on the entire earth there is only one kind of person to marry: an imperfect one, so maybe you’d do just as well to stick with the imperfect person you already married. Think back to the love you felt when everything was new and easy, and hold on tight.