Editor’s Note: As we wrap up our week of relationship posts, I thought it might be appropriate to share an essay by someone who is past her fortieth wedding anniversary. Someone who self-describes her marriage much like a dear researcher I know who says, “I’ve been married to seven different men over my lifetime, and they’re all the same person.” A retrospective and thoughtful view can be especially helpful when we’re stuck in the moment. I thank Alice for sharing her perspective.
Written on our Fortieth Anniversary
I’ve been married for forty years. That doesn’t make me an expert on long-time romance any more than a man who lives to be 100 is an expert on health and longevity. Sometimes people ask a centenarian what the secret of his long life is, and he may give a pretty good answer, but I’ve heard some lame answers to that question, as well. I even heard one old guy say it was “a cigar a day and a pint of brew.”
Nevertheless, for what they are worth, I have some opinions on long-term relationships to share. If you were to ask me what the secret of a lasting marriage is, the short answer would be “don’t leave – it gets better.”
Of course, that is a simplistic answer for something as complicated as the blending of two personalities. It presupposes that both parties want the union and are willing to learn how to make it work better. If both are committed to making it work, instead of bolting when things go sour, there is a good chance that their first choice of a life partner is the best choice they could have made. It certainly is less complicated than going from relationship to relationship when the going gets rough.
And anyone with a little experience knows, the going does get rough. The euphoria at the beginning of a romance does not last. That head over heels stage where we overlook our partner’s faults eventually fades as the realities of living together set in. Then our spouse’s inadequacies loom large. Differences in interest, perspectives, personality and habits can appear insurmountable, and we seriously question whether we made a wise decision. It happens to most couples, and if more people knew that it was coming and that there is something good beyond it, they might stick it out long enough to learn to communicate – long enough to learn ways to resolve conflicts.
What keeps some couples together through those times when other couples split? It is not love, but commitment, that is the real glue holding them together. I suspect most people who have been married a very long time have fallen in and out of love with their spouses several times. I know I have. It is tempting, especially when we are young, to cut and run during the times when we can’t feel the love. Commitment keeps us connected until the love returns.
Even in loving and committed relationships, most couples spend years trying to change their partners into someone they are not. For the most part, it is wasted energy and only causes clashes. People do change, of course, in the process of fusing their life with another. Most of us grow and change as our experiences teach us about life. And we usually grow in ways that make us better partners; but it is useless to try to change another person and eventually we all learn that. Sooner or later we learn to accept the differences and even appreciate them. We become far more forgiving and acknowledge our own shortcomings, too.
After forty years of marriage, I know the truth of the lines, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be. The last of life, for which the first was made.” When a couple sticks it out for the long haul they have a shared history. They have traveled the same path and survived the same hazards of life, together. They begin to connect on a different level that is above the trivialities of every day life. Traveling the road of life with the same companion is a treasured achievement. I can’t say that I really married my soul mate, and we still don’t always see eye to eye on everything, but after so many years together, I’m sure glad we stuck it out. It’s the best it’s ever been.
Alice and her husband are lifetime Okies, and reside in Oklahoma City. Alice’s literary works can be found at her website here.