For decades the periodical Ladies Home Journal has included an article called Can This Marriage be Saved, real life experiences between couples whose marriage was on the brink of despair. Somehow the counselor helping them through the maize of marital difficulties always seems to bring them to a happy marriage. When I was growing up I avidly read every month’s article my heart pounding, Will Harry and Susan overcome his infidelities? Can Julie and Bob handle her lingering childhood traumas? What will happen to the children if Frank and Virginia can’t salvage their marriage? Those articles and the resolution of marital problems through maturity, wisdom and love stayed with me throughout my life.
My grandparents had been married for 57 years and even after grandma died my grandpa continued to converse with her every evening sharing what was happening in his life. Once I realized at the age of 12 that my father was not going to allow me to enter the convent and become a nun, my heartfelt desire and all I wanted for my life, I thought tentatively about marriage. By then my father had begun his night time rapes and my goal of someday being able to have the same thing my grandparents had began to flounder. Would anyone ever love me? I was so homely I was sure no man would ever look at me. Still, I daydreamed about the possibility of a happy marriage and a family.
The years passed and due to my unhealthy choices in a mate, two alcoholics in a row, then one man after another I began to see that a happy marriage was not in my future. Nevertheless, I continued my saga, always storing in my mind why marriages failed, how to resurrect them and how to choose the right person. I watched friend’s marriages fall apart, mostly due to infidelities and alcoholism and wondered what my friends’ options had been and what would I do if I were in their place. I never gave thought to the fact that I too was a victim of continual failures in marriage. It never occurred to me that abused children did not have healthy role models, something that plays a large part in marital breakups. My dream became hazy, traveling so far in the distance that I despaired of ever being happily married.
I tucked bits and pieces of wisdom into that storage compartment in my mind, the one that waits for the right time to make an appearance. An elderly female friend of mine said she and her husband had made the observation that two immature people who married had little or no chance of having a happy marriage or even staying together. One immature and one mature person had a chance and two people who were both mature had an excellent chance of resolving marital difficulties.
Webster tricks us with his definition of maturity. He says mature is “having or showing the mental and emotional qualities of an adult.” Ha! “Showing” doesn’t mean you actually have it. I’ve known a number of people who acted like they were adult on the outside but once I got to know them they were no more mature than a 12 year old. Knowing that adult means “mature and sensible” I was able to approach solutions to marital problems. Most people aren’t sensible so that narrows the field down. The emotional growth of someone who was abused as a child stops with the date of the abuse. That meant that I was a 13-year-old emotionally until I entered recovery in my mid-forties. I didn’t know that but looking back I can see that I had no chance of achieving maturity until I went through a recovery program that would rid me of the traumas from my childhood.
A good friend of mine who has been happily married for years said that every time he and his wife had a disagreement, once they worked it out it only strengthened their bond and made them more in love than ever. I envied them. But the vicissitudes of life weave their way into our days and the changes are constantly challenging us. I’ve come to the conclusion that being happily married contains many elements that determine success or failure. I’ve narrowed them down to six rules to live by:
- Make a healthy choice in a mate
- Develop maturity, which includes tolerance and understanding
- Choose your battles wisely
- Be non-controlling with your mate
- Accept that we are all different and that our lives and ourselves are constantly changing.
- Treat your mate with respect and gratitude
If you can utilize these six you have a great chance of being, like my beloved grandparents, happily married for 57 years or more. It will not be easy. Nothing worth attaining in life ever is. You will have to go through several stages yourself before deciding on your mate in life. Falling in love is easy, staying in love is difficult but not unattainable and sometimes you have to fall in love all over again.
After many years of minefields with the opposite sex I finally found the man I was meant to grow old with. First, I had to go through five years of recovery to get my head on straight. Tom and I have been married for almost 19 years. It doesn’t mean we haven’t had our problems. The first few years were challenging at best and there were times when I thought I wasn’t meant to ever be happily married but we persevered and today I am still not only the happiest person I know but one of the happiest married people I know.
Good luck and don’t give up.