a long marriage

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Do you ever wonder why couples stay married? I have been married for 35 years and my generation would consider that a fairly long marriage.  If we were celebrities, it would be considered very rare and an eternity.  If we were my grandparents, it would have been considered very common unless one partner has passed.  So why don’t celebrities stay married for more than a few years, why have so many of our grandparents celebrated golden wedding anniversaries and why do couples, like my husband and myself, stay married for 35 years? Are there secrets to a long-lasting marriage?  I have to confess that I have not discovered any.  Staying married is hard work that requires tending to daily.  What I have learned from other long-term married couples, as well as experts on the subject of marriage and relationships, is that there are some proven theories that will predict whether couples stay together. 

Best-selling author Gary Chapman who wrote the book “Five Love Languages” tells us that couples require “physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and gifts” in order to be happy.  I would agree with most of the author’s insights, including his observation that intimacy is very important for a happy marriage.However, my husband and I are not big gift givers or receivers, and lack of gifts has never been a problem in our marriage. We both value experiences more than material things and we tend to go someplace special, when celebrating our special occasions and milestones.  Perhaps not all couples require everything on the author’s suggested love languages list or as long as both couples have similar desires, they can still survive.

John Gottman, a well-known expert on relationships and marriage, wrote the book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”.  In his best-selling book, he discusses essential principles that determine lasting relationships, such as knowing and continuing to learn relevant info about your partner, a lifetime friendship based on fondness and admiration, turning towards each other rather than walking away, sharing power, constructively solving problems, overcoming the same problematic issues, and creating a shared meaning. 

His insight on “overcoming gridlock”, as the author refers to what couples argue about over and over again, immediately caught my attention.  I can’t even count how many times that my husband and I have argued about the same things over and over again or how many times the same issues erupt when we are discussing something totally different. It took my husband and I a long time to finally implement a rule whereby we will only discuss the current issue at hand, and any past issues must remain in the past.  Over time, we have also gotten so much better at constructively solving problems in a more calm and rational manner and not walking away, as Gottman has suggested.  I wonder if it has taken most other long-term couples the same time to master problem-solving.

I found Gottman’s principle on intimately knowing our partners and continuing to learn about them very insightful.  As we all continue to grow and evolve (at least that is our hope), then we introduce new and different parts of our self to one another that the other must acquaint with and accept.  I believe this is the most important principle for a lasting marriage.  We are all on our own life journeys and we need to be encouragers and not critics of our partners and their growth.  Perhaps regular date nights where we focus on continuing to get to know one another is vital for marriage survival.

Most people who have been married a long time will tell you that their mate is their friend and quite often their best friends. My hubby has been my best friend since long before we even married.  Friendship is really the cornerstone of every healthy relationship.  We must like our mates in addition to loving them.  Passion and love affairs fizzle and rarely withstand the test of time, but genuine friendships last because they are based on trust, admiration, respect, common interests, and commitment.  Committed people know that one wrong choice, such as an indiscretion or an affair, will break the bonds of trust that may take a lifetime to repair or may never be repairable.  We all know that a common pathway to divorce is infidelity, as well as addictions and other non-treated mental health issues.  

I like Gottman’s principle that states that the sharing of power is essential.  How can a relationship possibly last if one person holds all the power?  A couple’s mutual life plans should be agreed to before marrying, such as whether they will have a family, who will work while raising their family, how to manage finances and the household budget, etc.  I think it is also instrumental to establish the division of power at the beginning of the relationship. Both partners need to concur on how the household chores will be divided and how to share other major responsibilities.  I have recently just watched an HBO special called “Scenes from a Marriage” that is heartbreaking to watch because it is so raw The couple has been married for over 10 years yet have been both living with resentments towards each other and their life because they have not communicated their needs to each other, nor have they accepted their division of power.  The audience is left watching one partner stray and their marriage completely breakdown.  I suspect that there are many unhappy marriages that will eventually collapse because of similar resentments and power struggles.

Communication and compromise are themes that most relationship experts list as being essential to lasting relationships. Marriages rarely last if one person always gets their way and won’t compromise or if one or both partners refuse to communicate with one another.  Compromise is difficult.  We all have our individual dreams, and after we marry, we realize that some of our aspirations will never be fulfilled.  Give and take is much easier to say than to do.  In her memoir “Hourglass”, best-selling author Dani Shapiro gives readers an intimate glimpse while reflecting on her long marriage, as she tries to understand and come to terms with what happens to love in the face of the unexpected, in the face of disappointment and compromise, and how to accept what we have rather than what we don’t have.  She shows readers that compromise is difficult but necessary for marriage survival.  Whenever I play the game at bridal showers where we give our best marriage advice to the future bride, my suggestion is always both partners must “compromise, compromise, compromise”. 

If we ask our grandparents why they stayed together, they will tell us that they have consciously chosen to grow old together. They have persevered through the many challenges and life struggles that we all experience.  They have good times and hard times, but when given a choice to stay or leave at the various difficult periods in their relationship, they have chosen to stay.  They may define themselves as two imperfect people who refuse to give up and may also tell us that they would rather be a forgiver than a collector of hurts.  They have accepted their partner throughout their marriage, especially as they have evolved, and they have made their marriage a shared partnership and their partner their good or best friend.  They have constructively solved problems, overcome gridlock, and not walked away from each other.  And they have created a shared meaning together, whether with just the two of them or with their family.  Their families may have expanded by welcoming sons-in-law or daughters-in-law and the blessings of grandchildren, and their rich history has granted them that joyful expansive family life. 

Most long-term couples will tell you that staying married is hard work.  It is a marathon and not a sprint.  But staying together is a choice.  They will tell you that choosing commitment over separation brings joy to their life more days than it doesn’t.  A quote I love is “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” How true.

 


Submitted: September 28, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Denise Svajlenko. All rights reserved.

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