“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” – Mignon McLaughlin
“You want to set a goal that is big enough that in the process of achieving it you become someone worth becoming.” – Jim Rohn
In previous times, divorce was unthinkable. While recognizing that this was probably too extreme a rule – there were certainly people trapped in relationships that had no hope of improvement, or were even dangerous – it is also important not to go too far the other way. After all, people can be in abusive or unhealthy relationships without being married and these can still last for many years. At the same time, we continue to see positive findings on marriage’s effect on our lives – married men earn more money, and married couples report greater happiness and fulfillment, and more frequent sex.
So I don’t propose going back to making divorce almost impossible, but I do think we should treat marriage as a sacred vow. First, I propose making a careful and mature decision about when and who to marry. Second, I propose that once married we continue to approach it with humility and lifelong effort.
We need to recognize that while it is a good thing, it’s not supposed to be easy all the time. If it were easy, it probably wouldn’t be a long-term good, and it definitely couldn’t bring fulfillment. While this does not mean staying in an abusive or hopeless relationship, it means staying together through the bad times as long as you are both trying. If you do there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Things will change
Your lives and circumstances will change, and you will change with them. That is as normal and inevitable as the turning of the seasons. You are not the same man you were in college, or at 25, or at 30, and it would be a failure if you were. The same applies to her. Your hopes and dreams will change and in addition you will both be buffeted by outside forces and events and your differing reactions to them.
This is where the practical aspects of marriage come in. Or as they say, love as a verb and not just a feeling. Loving your wife is more than your attraction and the caring for her that you felt in the beginning. To keep feeling that you have to admire her – which means you have to work to support her and understand her. And you should expect the same of
The sympathetic ear, the forgiving of foibles, the willingness to find compromise, to face difficult subjects. The willingness to change when your family’s needs change. The joy in each others’ growth. The practical matters of money and planning and career and family obligations. These things are the actions of long-term love. You build a bridge to each other, constantly, or you will see the other shore become lost in the fog.
And sometimes times will be bad
Even when two loving (as a verb) people are together, the relationship will hit its rocky patches. It may be a difficult impasse within the relationship or outside forces that sap your energy, but either way, couples can find themselves falling out of love or at least find that love obscured by exhaustion and frustration. This is when people start thinking about greener grass.
But you also made a vow to each other, and to yourselves, and in front of your friends and family. That vow wasn’t for the good times. It was for the bad. Putting your integrity and honor at stake – requiring you to finish what you started so publicly – is sometimes the little bit extra that keeps people going. The legal entanglements serve the same purpose of creating a barrier to separation. These things keep divorce from being the easy way out.
Commitment is the only real growth
Most relationships will go through one of these valleys if they last long enough. And the easier it is to leave, the more of them will end there and never make it to the other side. I know happy couples that have gone through times where they stayed together only because of their marriage commitment.
And they are glad they did. They learned that a satisfying and fulfilling relationship is about more than constant happiness, and sometimes happiness must take a back seat. The truth is, there is a difference between a 20-year relationship that has survived hard times, and four 5-yr relationships that ended when times got bad and the relationship hit a period of taking more than it gave.
That difference is personal growth that can’t be had any other way. It is the pride of doing something hard that was worth doing, and the mutual appreciation for having someone who stuck by you even at a cost to themselves. The depth of a long commitment can only be had by doing the time and making it a good marriage through effort. Nothing else can make you worthy in the same way.
When you started neither of you really knew what was going to happen or if you could trust the other person to stand by you for decades. Who can know that, even about themselves? We can’t really expect it so much as we can offer it of ourselves and hope for the same in return.
The only way to truly deserve the commitment is to fulfill it and by virtue of the effort to do so become someone worth becoming. Only by doing will you actually become the man your wife took a leap of faith on, and she the woman you entrusted with your heart.