Next week, Max and I will have been married for 30 years. That’s about half my life! I have been thinking over the past few weeks about those 30 years and all the things that have gone with them. We have moved, welcomed new family members, lost family members through both death and divorce, worked on our house together, both had careers, raised a daughter, and the list goes on. Most of my thinking, though, has had to do with the idea of marriage, and why some marriages work and some don’t.
Willard Scott celebrates people’s 100th birthdays and long-lived marriages on NBC’s “The Today Show,” and when he mentions people who have been married for 75 or so years, he reports those people’s supposed secrets to a long, happy marriage. I always listen intently to find out if I am doing what those people say works, but I think, after hearing marriage and divorce stories from hundreds of clients over the years, it comes down to this: some make it and some don’t. Those marriages that do make it seem to do so because of not only skill and determination, but also because of some plain old good luck — and the spouses’ sharing the same idea about being happy.
One thing that we find out after we are married is that active “happiness” doesn’t follow us around all the time. Ergo, if we think we are going to live “happily ever after,” we will most certainly be disappointed and maybe even disillusioned.
Through the years, some days are good and some are bad. Each of us goes through ups and downs in all sections of our lives, and that includes our marriages. But I think we see that only through a lens looking backward over our lives or with wisdom and patience as we go through it.
In other words, after we have reached a certain age and, we hope, level of wisdom, we are able to see that during a certain period of our lives, we just kind of chugged along contentedly every day, cleaning the house, mowing the yard, going to work, making dinner, and the other mundane things that comprise life. We can also see that a different period was more difficult, made so by challenges at work, illness or death of a family member, dissension in the family, or the unexpected upheaval of bad luck. Some fortunate people, though, have the sense to see this truth as they move through life, recognizing immediately what most people take a lifetime to learn.
They seem to know that really, actively “happy” times are fewer and farther between and last a much shorter time: for instance, receiving that “perfect” gift; being accepted to the “dream” college; accomplishing a shared goal; celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and some holidays; a Saturday with nothing to do; or the times when things just go right.
I think that Snow White and Cinderella have given us the silly notion, though, that we should experience that kind of happiness every day rather than just on some days, making us think that something is wrong if we don’t experience those kinds of “highs” much more frequently than they actually occur. Then discontentment can sneak in.
Sometimes, though, a marriage’s staying together is because the two people involved simply want to continue the marriage as opposed to ending it. I’m not talking about marriages in which one partner exerts a great imbalance of power over the other; I’m talking about people who remember why they married each other in the first place and decide to concentrate on the good qualities as opposed to the flaws of each, and recognize that a particular bad time will not last forever.
Regardless of all this thought and pontificating, I think that so far, Max and I have been some of the lucky ones, and my plan is to do what I can to continue that luck for the next 30 or so years. Max reminds me that my great-great-great grandmother outlived five husbands, and that he is probably just the first in a long line. But I’m content with the one I have and will keep him for the duration.