Have you ever known a couple that got divorced? Of course you have. And you’ve heard all of the reasons. And what do they usually boil down to?
Here’s the first one: we weren’t compatible. This is the go-to in amicable splits. “Oh, we had irreconcilable differences.” It’s the “nice” way that people end marriages without demonizing the other person. Then, on the other hand, you have: he/she was a psycho/crazy/jerk/(insert slur of your choice). When the split isn’t amicable, you hear about what a completely terrible person the other person was… from both sides.
Let’s imagine either of these scenarios is true in the majority of cases.
Isn’t it a bit bizarre that marriage worked for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but suddenly, in the last few decades, the whole institution just seems to be falling apart? So-called “compatibility issues” didn’t keep people from having happy marriages in the past. And people in the past didn’t seem to be such irredeemable jerks, either.
Maybe we should consider that compatibility is a skill that people used to be taught, and that maybe our perception of what makes a marriage fail has more to do with our societal environment than each other. If we start from there, we can understand some of the truths about marriage that might be hard to swallow… but are they harder to swallow than accepting the impossibility of a true partnership?
Love Is Not All You Need
Our culture has deified the idea of romantic love. From Disney to rom-coms to the Billboard hits you hear on the radio, desperate, unconditional love is king. The thing is… that’s simply not the truth. Love isn’t all you need. “What’s so bad about believing in true love,” you ask? If you believe love is the be all and end all, then you give up the second things get hard. This is one of the reasons why so many actors from the movies about love and singers who sign about love are actually divorced. They are selling you a nice fairy tale that they themselves haven’t been able to make work in their lives.
One of the issues today is that it has become very easy to meet new people, especially if you live in a big city. Even in areas with smaller populations people use Internet for dating and can meet someone from the comfort of their home. This is not how things worked even as little as few centuries ago. Our ancestors did not have an opportunity to meet hundreds or thousands new people in short spans of time, which is something that a person today can easily experience spending a day in a city like New York. Because of all these opportunities, it is very easy to meet someone new and to run from one relationship to another. There’s just one issue with that: you will bring you to the new relationship, with all your issues, beliefs, behavior patterns and baggage. If you believe in running away instead of dealing with problems, it is very likely that you will do the same in a new relationship. If, on the other hand, you believe that commitment and hard work matters, you can sustain love even through the hard times.
Good Communication Isn’t Just Speaking Your Mind
Honesty is important. Telling your partner what’s on your mind is important, but doing so isn’t necessarily communicating well. Sometimes you need to stay quiet, listen, and problem-solve. “I told him I hate living in X city, but our marriage is still struggling! He’s not listening!”
There may be myriad reasons for that. Simply saying your feelings out loud doesn’t fix things and issues. Maybe it’s not reasonable to move, maybe moving would actually make things harder on your spouse than staying does for you. Recognizing problems is great, but you have to work together to solve them, not just express your discontent and expect a magical solution. Once you figure out what the problem is, communicate with your spouse and learn about his or her point of view. People behave the way they do because they have reasons for it. Your first step should be to understand the reasons behind the behavior of your spouse. He or she has his own values, beliefs and priorities. Once you understand the logic behind the behavior, you can get to dealing with problems and solving the issues.
People can change
You hear it all the time: “People can’t change.” So when you see a certain trait in your spouse—or when they see a trait in you—that you (or they) can’t deal with, you want to bail. The truth is, people can change, and bailing on working on change together because you believe they can’t is a cop-out. People are creatures of habit. Mostly, we all do the same things over and over again. There is a process to acquiring and installing new habits. Read the book “The Power Of Full Engagement” by Tony Schwartz to learn more about the process and how it works.
Equal Doesn’t Mean Easy
Marriages where both partners see each other as equal 50/50 partners can and do work. They are also known as egalitarian, which means relating to or believing the equality of people, rights and opportunities. But they’re simply not as simple as having defined roles. Does that mean you shouldn’t have an egalitarian marriage? Of course not. What it means, however, is that if that is your goal, you need to be prepared to put in extra work. More conversations, more problem solving, more negotiating, more honesty.
Kids Don’t Make the Marriage (Quite The Opposite)
Here’s the hardest truth for many couples to swallow: Kids make marriage harder. Kids break up marriages. Having kids makes loving each other harder, not easier. There’s the lovely fantasy that having a child, sharing that experience, etc. makes you stronger in the end. Well, it does—if you don’t tear each other to pieces in the process. The myth that your children should always come first has destroyed innumerable families (and the lives of innumerable children). Your family should come first—and that means prioritizing your partner when your marriage is in jeopardy. Together you take care of your kids—but you have to be a team to be together.