People Who Stay Married … Stay Married

On it’s face that makes no sense, but let me explain.

Recently, I met a happily married friend for lunch. We were sitting at a communal table in a café when we struck up a conversation with a friendly woman. At some point the conversation turned to marriage and she revealed that she was in the midst of divorce. We exchanged war stories and regrets and eventually, I blurted out, “Look, people who stay married … stay married.” She guffawed, indicating that she knew what I meant.

Most people don’t know what I mean.

Here’s the deal. I give a lot of credit to people who stay married. I wish my ex and I had had the wherewithal to do that, but there’s a misconception that married couples have some elusive method that ensures their love will endure. In reality, what they usually have is one thing — a relentless resolve to keep their commitment to stay married. While it’s only one thing, it’s the whole kit and kaboodle. They go through shitty stages, disappointments, sometimes infidelities and betrayals. They let each other down but inevitably pick each other up, or pick themselves up. Whatever they do, they don’t get divorced. They may separate and they may second-guess. Sometimes they take each other for granted or even abuse one another.

The only thing “successful” marriages all have in common is that they stay together. Of course by “successful,” I mean simply staying together.

Most of us want more than that, more than just enduring years of misery just to be able to say, “we made it, we are a success story.”

I’m torn, I think these days, we are collectively, sorely lacking in loyalty and endurance. This is reflected in our high divorce rates and I think it is to the detriment of our kids and society.

But, there is also the pesky issue of entitlement. While that’s become a dirty word (for good reason), we must have some standards for what we are entitled to in a relationship. Certainly, fidelity and safety are reasonable expectations in a marriage.

There’s a vast grey area in which discontented married couples ruminate, sometimes for years and sometimes for the entirety of their marriages. Do I deserve more? Or better? Did “for better or worse” mean “for worse and even worse”?

I will always admire those who “stay married.” My mother and step-father (turned real dad) have stayed married for 35 years and have been together for 40! Knowing what they went through to keep it together, I think they deserve a giant trophy filled with cash and a lifetime supply of massages.

Still, I think it is important not to romanticize what those “successful” married couples have, and also not beat ourselves up for not having it. A husband or wife cannot determine for the other when the level of dissatisfaction outweighs the benefits of staying together. Obviously, if a partner wants out, they have the right to do so. Does that make him/her a failure? Does it make the left behind spouse a failure?

I do perceive divorce as a failure. It’s a failure to keep the commitment to stay married. That’s it. It is not automatically a failure of character or a reflection of some inherent flaws. It is simply a failure to do one thing- stay together.

This may seem obvious, but it is a revelation to me. It is so easy to feel like a total failure when a marriage falls apart. The toll it takes on everyone, especially the kids, makes self-forgiveness especially challenging.  The distinction alone of being a “single mom” makes my skin crawl; can’t I shake that off and just be me? When I recognize that there are many people who stay together who are worse partners than I or my ex was—that there are people who cheat and lie and abuse each other—who stay together, I can ease up on the personal condemnations.

My ex and I did not fail each other in every way. I will never pass the buck though, I’ve told our kids that their dad and I failed to stay together, and for that I will always be deeply sorry.

While kindness, compassion, romance and spontaneity can make for a more satisfying relationship, the best advice I have for those couples that want to stay married is, you guessed it… stay married.

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7 thoughts on “People Who Stay Married … Stay Married

  1. I agree.

    Despite doing everything I could to stay married, it takes two. That it didn’t happen still counts as my personal failure. My friends, most of whom have never married, try to tell me it’s not my fault, but that’s not the point. My friends who have stayed married tell me about the years they’ve gone through where they simply hated their spouse, but they got through it. I was getting through it, but my wife not so much. It was one of the reasons we had problems: when times got tough, she quit, even in little things.

    • No one can tell you what the next action is. Certainly I don’t know enough about your marriage to tell you. I will say that when there are children involved, I think people should go to great lengths to stay together. This often requires looking back at why you loved the person in the first place and making it a priority to find the space and time to fall in love with each other again. When one person has checked out that’s hard and sometime’s partner’s take turns investing in and checking out of the marriage. I recommend a book called Divorce Busting by Michele Weiner-Davis; it really delves into how to save a marriage even if one person is not putting the effort in. Lastly, marriages can go through long hard dips and still recover. Staying or leaving always comes down to the unique variables in a situation. I wish it were simpler. And I wish you the best.

  2. Pingback: Term Limits | Lessons From the End of a Marriage

  3. Pingback: What was my part? And why it matters … | Surviving Limbo

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