We’ve all heard the jokes: The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.
I married Ms. Right. I just didn’t know that her first name was Always.
Marriage is talked about as if it’s a jail sentence, a ball and chain, the mistake of a lifetime.
Some have said that marriage is irrelevant and outdated. Others have called it a failed experiment.
I’ll be the first to admit that marriage can be difficult. Marriage asks us to grow and to stretch; it calls for flexibility and fortitude and a capacity to love — even (and especially) during really hard times. And anyone who’s been married for more than a month knows that hard times do come.
But there are also sweet times and easy times, times of deep love and affection, times when we’re glad that we’re married to the wonderful, annoying person we picked.
The “marriage is broken” folks seem to be saying that because some marriages are truly miserable, and because, even under the best of circumstances, marriage can be hard, we need to change the rules.
They say we need to stop expecting marriage to last a lifetime, to meet our needs for intimacy, to bring satisfaction and joy.
The trouble with the naysayers is that they talk about marriage as if it’s an entity — as if marriage is some sort of troublemaker; as if there’s something inherent in marriage that sets us up to fail.
To further bolster their argument, they trot out the inaccurate, “bad news” statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce.
Here’s the good news: when it comes to first marriages, 60-70% of them will be marriages that last. And yes, a lasting marriage isn’t necessarily a happy one, but the happiness part — that’s in our hands.
If you’re looking to prove the naysayers wrong:
1. Accept that marriage takes effort if we want to do it well. Many things in life are difficult, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing. Why should marriage be any different?
2. Relationships don’t just happen. They don’t succeed by magic and they don’t fail on their own. Marriage is something we build from the ground up. It requires care and attention. The more creative and committed we are, the better our marriage will be.
3. The best marriages are based on generosity. No, I’m not talking about over-giving and sacrifice. True generosity is a wholehearted desire to offer the best of what we have. Love, affection, not believing we need to have everything our way in order to be happy.
4. Some of the worst marriages I’ve seen have gotten as bad as they are because neither partner is willing to risk: to apologize, to reach out, to be vulnerable, to name what needs to be addressed. Remember, you have to step out of your comfort zone if you want your marriage to grow.
5. Pay less attention to what your partner is doing that gets in the way of having a satisfying relationship, and pay more attention to what you’re doing, which is the only thing you can control anyway.
6. Accept that sometimes you’re going to be disappointed by your partner, just as your partner will, at times, be disappointed by you. Disappointment is not a sign that something’s gone wrong. It’s simply a challenging fact of life that we, as partners, must learn to handle as gracefully as possible. Freaking out about your inevitable disappointments will make you unnecessarily unhappy, or discouraged, or both.
7. Don’t expect your spouse to be a mindreader. If something is important to you, it’s your job to speak up.
8. Accept that your partner won’t be thrilled about everything you do. Relationships are about being a twosome and about being two separate people who want different things. I don’t advocate behaving in ways that are harmful or inconsiderate, but there are times when we have to act alone — to confront something difficult, to make a bold move, to challenge the rules.
9. Don’t underestimate the importance of quality time. Show up. Make eye contact. Open your heart. And, for goodness sake, turn off your phone.
10. Never believe you’ve tried everything. Most of us do the same ineffective things over and over, and think we’ve given it our all. Yes, some relationship problems are complex and overwhelming, and we have no idea what to do to solve them. But before you think you’re out of options, ask yourself this: What one thing can I do that would make a significant, positive difference in my relationship? Before you give up, go ahead. Go all out.
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As usual, a great blog. Thank you. I would like to add that if the couple work together to throw the troublemaker out, in this case, the 3rd party entity called what they think the marriage should be like, rather than how it actually is, they will be together for a long time! Working with each other rather than against each other always works well!
Yes, I like that. Tossing out unrealistic expectations, beliefs. Nice addition. Thanks!
Winifred – Interesting as always.
What’s a “Naysayer”?
A naysayer is someone who says “nay,” which is another word for no. In this context what I’m referencing is people who say marriage is bad, say no to marriage, marriage is dead, etc.
As you probably have figured out, I’m somebody who encourages people to make their marriages work, to be successful and joyful.
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On the mark comments. Particularly liked the part about not being a mind reader.
I really look forward to getting a notification that you’ve posted a new blog. Love your solid, real world perspectives on this most significant relationship with our spouse.
Thanks so much, Karen.
I’m busy finishing a manuscript for my upcoming book so posts come less often. Always a pleasure to hear from readers that what I write is helpful!
Another insightful blog post, Winifred! I’m sending these to my “just married” niece. If she feels they don’t need it, so much the better!
Thanks, Jan. 🙂
Great points! I love your blog posts because they always make clear–with humor and compassion–how each of us has the power to improve our relationship.
I need to remember to make myself vulnerable and that it’s never as bad as I think. Thanks for your great insight into relationships.
Reblogged this on Broken: picking up the pieces.
“And yes, a lasting marriage isn’t necessarily a happy one, but the happiness part — that’s in our hands.” Thank you for saying this!! Right now, longevity is the only measure of a successful marriage, yet we’ve all seen marriages that are loveless, sexless and full of contempt. Why is that a success? I like what you outline here and, yes, ” The best marriages are based on generosity.” That makes for the best relationships, romantic or not. From my research, the happiest marriages are ones in which spouses have matched expectations.
My name is Stacie a different just read your 36yr marriage post. I whole heartedly believe that with a healthy marriage/relationship you can be successful and stand the test of time. But I’m in a marriage where we have children from other relationships and have come together to give our children and ourselves a big beautiful family. With many ups and downs to be expected. But what I didn’t expect was my new husband to resent my relationship with his children and take it out on my boys. He is a dictator with snacks, push ups if you say the wrong word, punished to room if you don’t finish all the food in front of you and if you don’t finish you have to keep eating that same food until it’s gone. Ugh! It’s like walking on eggshells with him. He has screamed to the point voice can’t get higher, at my boys calling my 10 yr old a liar, taking his stuffed animals and forcing him and his older brother to not be close. He has screamed at the 15 yr old awful things about his father. As you can series a very tough situation. Mind you b4 it got to this point I have suggested counseling, tell my husband he’s out of control and other things. He scares me. Threatens to end marriage all the time. Well this last time, about 5 weeks ago, he yelled at my boys for the last time. I walked out. My children asked me to leave bc they are scared of him. As their parent it is my job to protect. So, as you can see there are many reasons to end a marriage. I would have loved to be in my marriage till the test of time but unfortunately that isn’t the case.
Honestly I’m writing to you bc my soon to be ex husband is sending me your stuff, plus many other things, and I’m frustrated bc he will not listen to my requests of time and space. One min he’s sweet and the next “BAM” he’s evil with his words. If you have advice on my next step that would be awesome. Sorry I’m writing so early but he starts at 5am most days sending me messages.
Thank you for you time,