Who doesn't love media stories of the wrinkled up couple celebrating their 83rd wedding anniversary?
No, of course I really do. Because like you, I tell myself that they were so happy all those years! They were each other's champion and confidant and soul mate! And despite the arthritis and replaced joints and decades of familiarity, they still probably got it once in a while. What a fairytale.
But no one knows that. Nor do we know that he didn't beat the crap out of her every single day, or that their children weren't secretly sired by the farm hand she carried on with for most of those years. Or, maybe they simply co-existed for 83 years and barely muttered a word to each other for decades. Where's the success in that?
Let's take a closer look at our expectations of marriage. Is sticking it out really the goal? Maybe yes, but I would suggest in most cases: No freaking way. What if we consciously chose more meaningful definitions of success? What if we identified milestones that inspire us work harder at our marriages -- not just clock the days and years until the next anniversary?
I know plenty of long-married couples who have been through some tough stuff -- affairs, life-threatening illness, addiction and general hating the very ground the other person walks on for no good reason other than you've been living with that body for so many years. Some of those marriages somehow survive and both parties swear they're stronger and happier for it.
In some cases, I'm sure that's true.
But contempt is tough to overcome. Resentment from feeling wronged, and the contempt bred by familiarity can be impossible to shake off. Forgiveness -- of yourself, others -- is tricky business.
You try. You really try to make it better. You buy so many relationship books and spend so much on couples counseling. Retreats and toys and date nights. Listen more. Try to reconnect. But you hate him. You just do.
I say: That's cool. It's OK to hate your spouse.
The beautiful thing about life in this country today: You have a choice. You can stay and hate them and then hate yourself for wasting your life hating. Or you can accept that you needed that relationship for its term, and now it is over.
And then you can go on and define a successful marriage by your own terms. Maybe you had fantastic kids, or built a business together, or had a really fulfilling social life. Or what if you had a successful marriage just because it was fun? Or you grew personally or it got you out of your miserable po-dunk hometown or made you believe in your dreams. Or any combination of these elements -- including enjoying each other every single day until one or the other kicks off.
Or maybe, if we redefined what constitutes a successful marriage we would work harder at it. Maybe we wouldn't be so complacent, and just wait until the next anniversary to celebrate a prescribed success. Maybe killing off the longevity factor would make marriages happier while they lasted -- so much so that they actually lasted longer?
How could any of that be a failure?