Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Good Marriages

I talked with a friend recently who is divorced and said she doesn't know if she wants to be married again, as she knows very few people with good marriages. This statement struck me as sad, but also quite true, when I began thinking about the examples set for us by friends and family. With the exception of a few stellar marriages that I have been privileged to observe over the course of my life, most involve fighting and nitpicking and power plays which leave a lot to be desired.

Why is it so challenging to build strong marriages? When we see a marriage relationship which is supportive, and encouraging, and where the two people inside of it still love and respect each other after many years together, we can't help but be inspired. What have those people done to build up to such a healthy partnership? It certainly doesn't come without a high price, I know that for sure.

A pastor we had years ago used to say, "The first twenty years of marriage are the hardest. After that it gets a bit easier." Jason and I were engaged at the time, and thought that statement was ridiculous, but now that we are twelve years in I can see where he was going with this idea. It's no easy thing to merge two lifestyles and personalities into one functioning unit. It's critical to stay who you are as individuals, but also be granted the freedom and flexibility to change, and to sacrifice routinely for the other person without getting walked on.

When I type it out like that, it does look difficult indeed. I'm writing my novel about a good marriage because it's a topic that endlessly fascinates me and I wanted to explore it in more depth. I think I've learned more from watching a handful of good marriages than all of the hum-drum or horrible ones combined. Patterning after something is much easier than avoiding behaviours you don't want to replicate. One is made of a real substance, something you can point to and touch, and the other is an idea or emotion which is ethereal and not anchored in anything solid. It's the same for parenting - I've modeled a lot of what I do on what I've seen that works, not the opposite of what I don't want to happen.

Since I was a little girl, I've dreamed of having a stable and happy marriage. I believe with my whole heart that the best thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse and demonstrate that love on a regular basis. Jason and I both want the same thing in this regard, and in spite of our many low points, and stressful arguments, and a tightrope act concerning levels of neatness, ideas about money and status and other things I'll keep private, we have never doubted that we are building a marriage that will last.

I remember talking to a girl when I was first married, and she stated with a certain gleeful euphoria that she and her husband had never had a fight, and I said, "Well, someone is always getting screwed, and isn't saying anything." She was offended by this comment, but I still stand by it today. Learning how to fight respectfully is an important learning curve in marriage, and I know we haven't mastered it yet, but are significantly better at arguing now than we were at the beginning of our relationship. It's a skill, and must be honed, and being terrified of conflict is not a good way to get better at negotiating what you want and need in your marriage.

I wanted to tell my friend that there are still good marriages out there, and that it is possible to be supported and encouraged and loved inside of your partnership. I am learning how to be truly loved by Jason this year, and it's like falling in love with him all over again. Our kids can feel and see the difference in us now, and it's because we've both made some changes personally, and brought the results of those alterations to our relationship. I'm calmer and happier and less afraid all of the time, and he's more relaxed and confident and genuine with me as a result. It's good. And we are both committed to making it better, for good is the enemy of great, and I want to have a great marriage.


  1. In university, as I watched my parents' relationship finally falling apart completely, I started watching others' relationships for what was working. Trying to figure out how they had a great marriage. I still do that, though I've also blogged about what goes on behind closed doors. All we can see is what they let us see... so sometimes what looks like a great marriage on the outside (like my parents) is really hell on the inside. Marriage is tough, as you say, but it's also worth working on. Thanks for writing about it - maybe if more of us talked about marriage, honestly - the ups and the downs - it would help encourage others who are doubting.

  2. Great post - and great encouragement to work towards 'great'! (P.S. Great!) :-)

  3. People give you a lot of advice when you first get married, but the best thing anyone ever said to me was to learn to fight fair. I believe this is key...hard, but key. When I look at the worse marriages I know (or those that I have failed) either they fought ugly or they avoided fighting. Both are equally damaging.

    I also wonder if those in bad marriages tend to see the bad in the marriages around them more? I feel like I am surrounded by lots of good marriages, or maybe our generation (who largely comes from broken homes) is more sensitive to these things. Or maybe i am just niave and a lot of them are not as good as they seem.

  4. Thank you, ladies! It's true that so much goes on behind closed doors, KBW, that no one ever sees, and also an interesting observation, Cortney, that our generation is more sensitive because of the broken home thing. I wouldn't say you are naive - I think the generational differences is key to understanding some of how we see and experience marriage.