Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.
There have been a lot of lists floating around the interweb lately- 10 Things about this, 15 things about that… Here’s my contribution to the mix:
Five Things I Didn’t Understand about Marriage until I got Divorced.
I used to say I wanted to come out the other side of my divorce and still recognize myself. Isn’t that adorable? I don’t. Not even close. Thank God. But the experience did help me distill what I know to be true about marriage. This is some hard won wisdom, y’all.
1. Some things are bigger on the inside.
Or smaller. Or more angry. Or more loving. Or weirder. Dr. Who fans get it. For non-Whovians, let me put it this way- nobody’s marriage is exactly as it appears on the outside. Nobody’s. I refer here not to couples intentionally putting on a dog and pony show for the outside world, though surely such people exist. I mean that marriage is hopelessly complicated at times, and everyone makes deals within their marriage. Everyone.
Maybe the deal is your marriage is essentially sexless- statistics say 20% of marriages today are- but you love each other, and value family and choose to stay together. Maybe your deal is the division of labor within your household. Maybe your deal is your spouse puts on a public face to support you in your career that he or she might not otherwise wear. Maybe your deal regards fidelity, or childrearing, or dealing with in-laws, or football season. Whatever.
When you get to thinking you know, from the outside, what someone else’s marriage truly is, examine your own. Aren’t there things about your relationship with your spouse that would surprise the other people in your life? Even if it is how you feel, deep down, about the deal you struck. A deal made in your twenties may not serve you so well in your forties.
When I got divorced, people were shocked. I had many people say they thought I had a perfect life, the perfect husband. I was pretty shocked by my divorce too, but not as nearly as stunned as I was to hear other people’s impression of my relationship.
2. Cooking with fresh herbs is no guarantee against infidelity.
I am so sorry to tell you this, friends. Perhaps I should have had you sit down first. This observational gem stems from a conversation I had with my best friend, Angela. After learning of my ex-husband’s cheating she said, “But he was coming home to meals cooked with FRESH HERBS!” S’true. He was.
Sadly, this monumental achievement in homemaking is not a failsafe against your spouse having an affair. That is because, at the end of the day, infidelity has exactly nothing to do with the spouse being cheated on. You could have the perfect body, keep the perfect house, greet your spouse at the door dressed in nothing but Saran Wrap (is that really a thing?) have sex twice a day and YES- cook with fresh herbs- and your partner still might cheat. This is because infidelity happens when someone tries to fix an inside problem with an outside thing. That outside thing might be alcohol, or gambling, or porn, or shopping, or having a relationship outside the marriage.
There are plenty of people who feel the sex life in their marriage is lacking, who never cheat. There are plenty of people who wish their spouse would lose twenty pounds, who never cheat. There are plenty of people who come home to messy houses and frozen dinners, who never cheat.
Do problems within a marriage leave you vulnerable to infidelity? Sure. There were some major issues in mine. But someone cheats- and brace yourself, because this is groundbreaking stuff here- because they decide to cheat. The reasons why they make the decision might be myriad, but it’s still a decision. Every time. And there is always another option.
3. Jerry Maguire had it wrong.
You cannot expect your spouse to be your Everything. Marriage used to be a largely practical arrangement. Either it was arranged by the two people’s parents based on what would serve both families best, or it was predicated on largely pragmatic reasons- he’d be a good provider, she had good childbearing hips… Sexy, right?
The thing is, those marriages tended to last. Now, some of that is because back then divorce was difficult to obtain and largely frowned upon by society. Some of that is because- as my friend Lisa and I were observing recently- marriage was invented back when life expectancy was about forty years. I’m just saying… look at when most divorces occur.
I think there’s something else at play. We have completely romanticized the notion of marriage. It’s why people seemingly spend more time planning the wedding than their actual life together. The pendulum has swung SO far in the other direction from Here is my daughter, two goats and a chicken, that I fear we are not being served well. I mean… the term soul mate. Does it make me heartless if I say it makes my skin crawl?
I do believe there are couples who are perfectly suited to one another. Those couples, in my experience, have rich lives outside of their marriages. Deep friendships, outside interests, passions and pursuits that are entirely their own. Because when that happens, you have two fulfilled people coming together, not so that they can complete each other, but because they enrich and enhance each other’s lives. They make each other- each WHOLE PERSON- better.
4. You cannot swing from the chandelier all the time, forever.
Romantic love and attraction ebb and flow over the course of a marriage. Who can keep up the pace you set for yourself as a couple in the beginning of your relationship, when everything is new and exciting? When the air is thick with pheromones, and your responsibilities are as few as they will ever be? When sex is still a discovery and feels like a secret only the two of you share?
Too many couples, when the initial romantic fever subsides, think it signifies the end of love. But love is a VERB, not a feeling. It isn’t ephemeral, it’s MUSCULAR. It’s what keeps you showing up for each other every day through the times when the passion wanes a bit. And showing up for each other every day is what will eventually bring the passion back.
5. My I Do can survive your I Don’t
Picture a wedding. Two fresh faced people, glowing. One in a dress, one in a suit. Or, one in a dress, the other in a dress. Or, one in a suit, the other in a suit- whatever. Because Love Wins. But I digress… They stand before the people who love them and they make their vows. They promise to love, honor and respect- in sickness and in health. For richer, for poorer. They promise to forsake all others, til death do they part.
Here’s what I know now, that I did NOT understand when I got married. Those vows you make? They are not promises to your intended spouse. And, while they may be promises you make before God, they are not promises to God. They are promises you make to yourself. They are your vow that, This is who I promise to be within this relationship. Forever. There is actually a REALLY BIG DIFFERENCE.
It’s why I can say with absolute certainty that infidelity is about the unfaithful partner. He or she is not breaking a promise to you, they are breaking a vow they made to themselves. That does NOT give them a free pass, or say they haven’t broken your trust, it just means the bigger betrayal lies within. They have broken trust with themselves, about who they’ve chosen to be in your relationship, and in this world.
That’s why, despite the rather spectacular demise of my marriage, I can honestly say I will love, honor, and respect my ex-husband forever. Because, at the end of the day, that is who I said I would be. I will do it from a distance, and, obviously, the nature of the love has completely changed- but when I deal with him, it’s the place I try and come from.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Keeping those vows isn’t a walk in the park within a marriage, so just imagine how difficult it is post-divorce. But it is absolutely worth it. My promises to myself aren’t contingent on you keeping yours. I get to be who I want to be, in that relationship and in this world.
Now, the ‘forsaking all others’ part? I’m gonna line item veto that sonofabitch. Some vows do have an expiration date.