My thoughts on marriage have bounced back and forth over the years. Most recently, I’ve wanted to get married as further insurance against the dissolution of a relationship. But the reality is, whether in divorce or death, a married partner will still leave you and it’s going to suck.
Now that the blunt truth is out of the way, let’s remind ourselves why a long-lasting love commitment still has value.
I don’t believe that churches or the government make a partnership more ‘real’ or valid. However, the additional legal commitment on top of the emotional one means that we have to work harder to stay together.
1. The Basis of a Healthy Relationship is Friendship
The reality is that a long-lasting love waxes and wanes like the tide. A strong friendship and partnership can keep people together when the robust romantic connection falters.
The friendship within the relationship fosters resistance against temptation to stray into the rush of heady infatuation with someone else.
Of course, divorce has its place. We are human and we commit to the wrong people for the wrong reasons that society often tells us are the right ones. Or we commit to the right people at the wrong time, before we can handle the challenges of life on our own.
2. The Only Constant in a Relationship is Change
When I read about couples who have remained together (happily more or less) for decades, they say that people inevitably change.
And if you want to stay with your partner, you must be able to accommodate these evolutions, as you yourself will evolve in your interests and dispositions.
And these wrinkled, frail lovebirds also say that love will falter. You will one day look at your partner and no longer feel passion. But choosing to commit to them means you trust that the headiness of romantic love will return with time and some degree of effort.
In the meantime, you will float together on the flat sea of companionship, even when this drift through life feels boring or uncomfortable.
This is a deeper kind of love, they say. One without euphoria. Instead of butterflies in your stomach, there is a sense of peace.
3. Choose a person with the same values, not the same interests
The key is to choose a person with similar core values. But how many of us know how to do that? We choose to date and marry people who are sexy and who like the same activities that we like. We’re attracted to those who give implicit or explicit promises of what we are taught to want from life: money, power, stability, predictability. And of course, unconditional love.
Interests change, values do not. Some of the activities that interested me 15 years ago (like drinking peach schnapps with ginger ale, feel free to judge) no longer appeal to me. While others, such as writing for others, now do. I drank back then to ease my social anxiety because it made it easier to engage with other people, especially groups or people I didn’t like. Now I share my writing with others. Both are an attempt to connect and understand, but one is much less distasteful than the other.
It’s impossible to choose a suitable partner with similar values if you don’t know what your own are. Until recently, I didn’t know how much I valued freedom, authenticity, connection, and understanding. International, slow, and often solo travel is not a core value of mine; it is one of the ways I currently experience freedom, but it may not always be. And it is certainly not the only way to practice feeling free.
And not everyone who loves to travel has the core value of freedom. Until recently, I traveled to escape a soul-sucking life. And escapism is the opposite of a life filled with freedom.
When I am 90, I will still value my freedom although its practice may be following the wild and simple meanderings of my thoughts, a practice I adore.
4. Accept that the day-to-day of life and relationships is boring
It’s not to say that marriage or a long-term partnership of resonant, deep love must be boring. But if you are afraid that a life without the emotional to-and-fro of infatuation-type “love” will be boring, then you are not ready for a long-term partnership.
Or perhaps you haven’t accepted one of the secrets of life, that it is actually quite mundane. I mean, we sleep for 1/3rd of it after all. Even though we change (another secret of life), we often change slowly. And such changes are often more exciting in retrospect.
Or maybe adventure is one of your core values, and you must seek a partner who has this value also.
5. “You don’t own me . . .”
Marriage doesn’t equal possession, either. Sounds like common sense, right? When we get into a relationship, we refer to the person as MY girlfriend, husband, etc.
‘My’ indicates ‘belonging to’ but people can’t belong to other people, outside of slavery.
Accepting that we don’t own our lover’s thoughts or behaviors is helpful when those behaviors get annoying as shit or even violate the terms of the relationship contract (married or not).
6. A Life Partner is a luxury not a necessity
You are also not responsible for your partner’s happiness nor at fault for their imperfections. And you can’t expect them to be the sole source of your happiness.
Because you can survive life on your own or should be working towards that, anyway. It’s just that having the right partner can make it easier to thrive. It can make the good times more joyous because they are shared. And the bad times can be more tolerable with the support and deep love from the right person.
Marriage isn’t two people becoming one either, as romantic as that sounds. It’s two people who are choosing to share a life together, and this in and of itself is beautiful, and enough. But you remain two separate people, each with a unique prism through which you see the world.
Hopefully, we choose a partner through whose prism we shine, reflecting our beautiful colors back on to them and the world. However, your partner isn’t responsible for creating or cultivating the beauty in you; only for seeing it in you, particularly when you cannot see it yourself.
This is why they say you should create your own happiness, instead of depending on others to do it for you.
This is also what people mean when they say you can’t expect your person to be everything -financial provider, lover, friend, confidant, therapist, co-parent, travel partner, emotional crutch, mentor, hero, chef, healer, and housekeeper. We’ve got to outsource some of these roles. It’s too damn much for any human to be all these things most of the time, for one other person, for the rest of your lives.
It’s difficult to disentangle ourselves from this sociocultural programming. Our childhood fairytales, movies, books, and the photos and hashtags we like and follow on social media all reinforce this paradigm.
The Bottom Line
We search for an everlasting, heart-pounding romance from a person who is choosing us to be everything for them. We will never find this because it is a fallacy.
Instead, we should ask ourselves, who is the person for which I am willing to play some of these roles, and who is willing to do so for me? Especially when life makes it difficult to do so.
We don’t need our partners to be everything for us at one time. We must be enough for ourselves. When necessary, our partners need to be able to step up and shine when we stumble as the financial provider or when we cannot be our own heroes.
And when they stumble through some challenge in self-esteem, we step up to remind them of the beauty that we see within them.
In short, marriage is not a guarantee that love will endure. But it may be an extra barricade against giving up on a life partnership that gets boring, difficult, or unstable.
*From a love poem I’ve been meaning to write
**From a love poem I forgot to write