What role does luck play in relationships?
While working on revisions to my forthcoming book, Love We Can Sure Of (co-authored by my mom), I read through interviews with many women who grew up in divorced homes. Most people acknowledge that growing up in a divorced home can make relationships harder as an adult. My mom and I asked the women we spoke with what they felt they could to make sure their own relationships last. The foundation of our work has always been that even if you grew up in a divorced home, you have the ability to make healthy choices and are not doomed to repeat the mistakes witnessed in your family of origin.
Laura, a bright occupational therapist in her mid-twenties, stated that having "similar lifestyle preferences and values" was essential to making a relationship work. Megan, a graphic designer who just moved in with her boyfriend of three years, underscored the importance of taking your time to get to know your partner and knowing yourself "inside and out" before making a permanent commitment. Jenna, who recently married and just closed on a house with her new husband, shared that she was able to build trust and confidence in her husband Tom by letting him "prove through his actions that he was there for me."
We interviewed more than 200 women who grew up in divorced homes as a follow-up to my mother's original study, which investigated the relationship between self-esteem and parental divorce and was published in the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. All of these women dealt with the distress of divorce as children, but were determined to enjoy lasting love as adults. All of them provided great ideas about how they felt they could make their relationships work -- even though their parents' didn't. As we met with these women over a few years, we got to know them and rooted for them. Many of them stayed in touch, both in person and through email, and like any group of people, some experienced great joys, while others endured heartbreak.
You can try to do everything right, but sometimes long-term relationships and marriages just don't work out. Most people know at least one couple who just seem to have gotten it right and have been together many years. Sometimes the way people meet, fall in love, and stay together can seem very serendipitous, and people will say, "They got really lucky when they found one another." What separates the "lucky" couples from the people that aren't able to make it work?
If you're not in a healthy emotional state, it's obvious that you won't attract a good partner, and the breakup of such a relationship seems inevitable. But what if you are ready for love, you have tried to make all the right choices, you get married, and boom, twenty years later, your spouse comes clean with an affair and the marriage ends? Was there something you could have done to prevent it? In some cases, yes; in some cases, no. Did the woman down the block who has remained happily married have some insight that you didn't? It's possible that she did, and it's possible that she was just more fortunate.
I do believe that despite a person's best effort, life sometimes just happens and important things, like relationships, can become unglued. Time changes people. This doesn't mean that you are helpless to control your life, and it doesn't mean that you're any less qualified to enjoy a happy relationship. But it does mean that you don't deserve it when your relationship ends. You can do everything possible to make sure your marriage lasts, and sometimes, it just doesn't work. So you can be jealous of those people who got "lucky" and are still together, or you can accept that life has different plans in store for you.
Since our work is primarily about helping adults who grew up in divorced homes find lasting love, I don't want to discount the idea that people can exert control over their future. They can. But sometimes events change people in ways you can't plan for. People get laid off from their jobs, they get sick, or endure other major life stresses. Some people are lucky. Some people don't get laid off from their jobs, or get sick. Some people stay married, and stay married happily. Some of these outcomes have to do with making good choices. But some people make good choices and still have bad luck.
The truth is that whether a person stays married or not, each person has their own road to hoe in life. Life is rarely easy for anyone, and when it is easy, it's never easy all of the time. What is easy is to feel bad for yourself when something bad happens (like a divorce) and wish things were different. In life, you win some and you lose some. Accepting that life rarely -- if ever --goes according to plan is the first step in healing from any unfortunate turn.
Do you think some people just get lucky in relationships? Do you know people who have tried to do everything right and still lose out? Tell us in the comments below!