“What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.”—Leo Tolstoy
My husband and I recently celebrated our 14th anniversary. As some like to joke, “It’s been the best seven years of our life.” It is no secret that marriage requires hard work, probably even more so than parenting.
Who of us hasn’t wanted to call it quits from time to time—or worse? Ruth Bell Graham, wife of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, when asked if she had ever considered divorce, famously quipped, “Divorce? No. Murder? Yes.” If marriage is challenging even for those who are often mentioned in the same breath as Mother Theresa, then how can we expect it to be easy for mere mortals like us?
More importantly, if it is so difficult, why bother trying to make marriage work? For starters, it is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. Research consistently shows that children tend to fare better in married, two-parent households. The investment you make in your marriage not only rewards you and your spouse, the dividends spill over to your children as well
Secondly, the effort often pays off. A study found that unhappily married people who divorced were no happier, five years later, than unhappily married people who stayed married. Not only that, but the same study found that five years later, almost two-thirds of the self-described unhappily married couples who stayed together said they were happily married and could not explain why! In essence, most couples were able to change the climate of their relationship just by riding out the storm.
Obviously, I am not addressing those who are in abusive relationships, nor am I condemning single parents. I am speaking to those of us who are in typical marriages with ups and downs, some with more downs than ups. Our marriages struggle under the weight of socially acquired unrealistic expectations, a cultural message that monogamy is an impossibility, in addition to the everyday stressors of daily life and parenting. Here are some things I keep reminding myself of as I fight to stave off these pressures.
Take time for your marriage
It’s been said, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Someone once told me in regards to marriage, “If someone else’s grass is greener, then it’s time to start watering your own lawn.”
Many of us are devoted parents, but negligent spouses. Between 2 a.m. feedings, household chores and bringing home the bacon, we are often too exhausted to nurture the relationship that is most central to the family unit. Even minor steps such as eating a meal together, a weekly date night or a daily check-in can begin to bring you back together.
Realize that things are not always as they seem
The grass that seems greener may turn out to be Astroturf. Early on in our marriage, I had a dear friend who seemed to have it all, including a rock-solid marriage. When my friends announced their divorce, it ravaged my faith in my own marriage. If my friends with the amazing marriage could not stay married, how were my husband and I, fresh out of our honeymoon phase and fighting all the time ever going to make it?
I learned the important lesson that comparison is futile. Not only will it inevitably lead to discontent, most of the time what you are comparing yourself or your marriage to does not even exist.
As in parenting, surviving solely on instinct in marriage can only get you so far (and sometimes only gets you in trouble). There are some excellent marriage resources available. “The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman is based on his research at the University of Washington. The Smart Marriages website lists even more resources.
Finding a good (the key word here is good) therapist or counselor can be helpful. Many faith-based organizations offer support and education for marriages and families. But I have found the most wisdom and support in mentor couples and peer couples. These couples share our desire to preserve marriages and are willing to be honest with us about their marriages, the trials they face and how they overcome them. Knowing that my husband and I are not alone in our struggles is sometimes enough to give us the strength to outlast them.
Support is even more crucial if you are widowed or divorced. GriefShare is an international network of bereavement support groups. For those going through divorce, there is a Divorce Recovery support group that meets at Glenkirk Church in Glendora. For more information, call 626-914-4833.
Just remember, it can be done. Marriage can be fulfilling and satisfying—just beware of expecting it to be so all of the time. However, if you consider your kids worth fighting for, then consider your marriage worth fighting for too.