Let’s talk about marriage

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Nicholas and Rafaela Ordaz, from California, had a double party last weekend to mark their 82nd wedding anniversary and Nicholas turning 102.

When we read about couples who have been married for a long time they are rarely investigative, in-depth articles. I wish these would be written as we would all benefit from learning the secrets of a long and successful marriage. Unfortunately stories like these tend to be summed  up with a flippant few words. In the case of the above couple, the  secret of their success was distilled down to…

respect, affection and not sweating the small stuff.

-stuff

In today’s throwaway society we need more of a guideline than that. Marriages have gone the way of food. No longer do we expect full course meals; we are happy to settle for takeaways.  When Cam and I got married he mentioned in his speech the statistics for marriage. The odds were not in our favour.  He stated his intention to beat those odds.

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We had both attended friends’ marriages before our own. What surprised both of us was the content of their vows. One line that stuck with me was the vow to ‘walk beside you in life’.  What did that mean? What kind of promise was that? I was only 23 but I knew that it would take a lot more than walking beside someone in life for a marriage to make it. In our vows we promised to turn every difficulty into a stepping stone to a deeper love. They were brave words but ones we never lost sight of, though we did forget them for many years and focused on just surviving instead.

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We both came from families with parents who were still married. So we both had a pretty good idea of what it takes to stay married. The challenge for us, and indeed for every married couple, was not just to stay married but to stay happy. It is one thing to endure despite the odds, but it is another thing entirely to still enjoy that person’s company 30 years later.

I have watched other people’s marriages from our generation over the years and made the following observations:

  • If both people are not committed to saving a marriage then the marriage cannot be saved, no matter how hard the other person tries.
  • If you marry someone who isn’t compatible with you that isn’t going to change after you marry them.
  •  It you marry someone who slept with you when you, or they, or you both, were married, you cannot expect that they will be faithful to you or treat marriage with respect.
  •  If you stop having sex, then you have a flatmate not a marriage and eventually the marriage will end.
  •  If you no longer enjoy sex with your partner because you are angry with them, or because you have unresolved issues, your  marriage is on a countdown to divorce.

The things that can help a marriage are:

  •  If you have a deep friendship.
  •  If you are loyal to each other.
  •  If you both forgive the other and don’t hold on to past hurts.
  •  If you are able to find a way to communicate with each other even when things are really bad.
  •  If you are both prepared to do what needs to be done to fix the problem, no matter how hard that may be.
  •  That neither of you want to settle for just surviving or tolerating the marriage but want a loving and happy relationship.
  •  That both of you are prepared to end the marriage rather than be bitterly unhappy.

That last point is a key one as often it isn’t until you are prepared to walk away that real change can take place. Often it isn’t until you separate or discuss divorce, that one or both of you realise that the relationship is worth fighting for.  Staying married isn’t an achievement just like getting a divorce isn’t a failure. We should measure success by the happiness of our relationships. If the relationship cannot be fixed then it is not a success to stay together.

A successful divorce is one where both partners act like adults, don’t use any children as pawns or try to hurt each other. I have a couple of friends who have had this kind of civilised divorce. I admire them as they put their children’s needs before their own and, in doing so, made their own lives easier. Have you ever noticed how miserable couples are who have had hostile and acrimonious divorces? The short-term pleasure from hitting out at each other emotionally and financially only makes their lives more difficult in the long run.

What are your experiences and observations of marriage?  I don’t claim to have all the answers, just to be a very interested student of the art of not only staying married but staying happy.

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