Tag Archives: long-term marriage

Lifetime Marriage: A Reasonable Expectation or Crazy Talk?

1-1203879082HMCpAmong never-marrieds aged 20 to 30 who were surveyed recently, 87% said “I want a marriage that will last a lifetime.” Many in Gen Y have seen their parents divorce and hope to avoid that path. Unfortunately a desire to have a lasting marriage doesn’t mean they have the skills to achieve it, especially as conflict and adversity enter their lives.

A 1995 Monitoring the Future survey of teens found most planned to get married and felt marriage was important, but they were pessimistic about their ability to maintain a lifelong marriage and saw few positive examples of marriage.

This brings us back to the subject of agape or unconditional love  (discussed in a previous post). Many people of faith refer to this type of marriage as a “covenant marriage” and view marriage as a sacred vow rather than a hopeful agreement based on positive life occurrences. Is a lifetime marriage a crazy ideal that few people can hope for, or is it reasonable that two normal, committed people can achieve?

Advocates for a permanent marriage say it is based on commitment, forgiveness, sacrifice, and putting the other person’s needs above their own. This may seem like a way to set yourself up to be taken advantage of. After all, if you could get your way, wouldn’t you do less work and make special requests all day long? (Perhaps there are some spouses who would, but that rolls into the topic of setting expectations and knowing your partner well before marriage. Yes, many people need a better screening process for potential mates.)

For the happily married couples I have interviewed, the opposite tends to occur. Many of them have learned a secret, what I call the “paradox of giving.” The more one person chooses to give, the more the other person desires to please his or her spouse, creating a cycle of giving. Instead of keeping track and waiting to get something back every time they give, they just do their best at being giving, loving people, and their spouse does the same. They’re not perfect, but they make a daily effort.

Everyone has heard the phrase “it is in giving that we receive,” but few live it out.  The immature couple focused on their individual needs and wants never experiences this paradox and never finds anyone who can meet every desire and expectation they have. The mature couple at least has a willingness to try to please one other. The result, at least for many I have met, is that they both end up feeling very satisfied and happy in their relationship.

Lonely or sad people are often told to reach out to help someone else in need as a way to boost their spirits. Most of us feel good when we help someone else, especially as a secret or a surprise. Apply a little of this feel-good medicine to your marriage. Do something nice without the other person even knowing. If you can’t think of something nice to do, ask, “How can I help you today?” Start the giving cycle. Don’t wait for the good to be returned.

So what do you think–is a lifetime married to the same person reasonable or does it sound like crazy talk?

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New Marriage Rules

Good Housekeeping recently published some “New Rules for a Good Marriage” debunking some popular myths. Some of your biggest marriage fears may be wiped away. Here’s a peek:

Myth: Couples may drift apart as their interests diverge or personalities change.
Truth: In reality, experts say most happy couples share surprisingly little in common. One is an introvert, the other an extrovert. One likes sports, the other knitting. But they find a way to support one another and spend time together. For instance, she knits on the couch while he watches the game. Couples who have more shared interests don’t have a better chance of staying married. The new rule is that a marriage doesn’t run on feelings, but on hard work, compromises and the ability to unite during both good times and crises.

Myth: As you age, sex will become less important.
Truth: Intimacy often improves over time as couples find what makes them both happy. Even after menopause, most women report their sex lives either stay on par or improve. The new rule is that partners’ communication about what they want sexually is linked to happier sex lives.

Myth: When the kids leave home, there will be nothing left to hold the marriage together.
Truth: Marriages that seem empty after the kids leave have been empty for some time; it’s just now noticeable. However, many couples say their marital satisfaction improves after the children leave the nest. The new rule is that spouses gain time, money and freedom, and often have fewer conflicts, after the kids leave. Make a list of what you’d like to do together, and rediscover each other.

Myth: Every man will have a midlife crisis (and do something drastic).
Truth: A period of reevaluation is common for both men and women during middle age as perspectives change. Instead of negative changes, many over 55 are looking forward to “reinventing” themselves for their next life phase. The new rule is that these periods of reevaluation can be good for each spouse as an individual, and good for them as a couple.

Read the full Good Housekeeping article.

Author Shares Secret to Long Marriage

Author and psychologist Maggie Scarf, who has herself been married 55 years, interviewed 75 couples between 50 and 75 years old to learn about marriage in the later years. The result is a book called “September Songs: The Good News About Marriage in the Later Years.” She expected lots of complaints about how tough life and marriage was in these longer marriages. What she found was that most marriages showed a U-shaped trajectory over time.

In the beginning of these marriages was a blissful peak, which was followed by a challenging time with the stress of career building and child rearing. Many of you are currently in this challenging time. In fact, this is frequently when marriages fall apart or become extremely worn out. “Every marriage has a downside, a time when you looked across the room and thought …what is it with this person?” Scarf said. But there is a longer view to keep in mind.

What Scarf found was that couples who got through the tough patches gained more time together and “refound” one another, including the fun and intimacy they once had. They actually regained that peak point, making the other side of the U. Scarf calls these happier older years the “bonus years” which include a longer, healthier, happier life.

The secret of a long marriage may be that couples who stay together can envision this up side while they are enduring stressful times. In fact, I just interviewed an amazing military family that has endured an Iraq deployment and many years of infertility. Now that they have a house full of young children (whom they struggled and longed for), they have little time for one another. However, they like to focus on the joy amidst the current chaos, and the peace they will eventually enjoy together when their children are a little older. In short, they can see to the other side.

Where are you in the “U”? How do you envision your future together?