During a recent interview on the Family Matters radio show, Jill Egizii asked me what advice I’d give to people looking to have a successful marriage. I gave the typical response: it takes work (the relationship has to be on the Priority List) and it takes planning (what are the expectations?). And I told a story about a conversation I had last Saturday…
I was speaking to a man who currently lives about a thousand miles away from his wife. They’ve endured this extent of distance for over a year now, since his personal aspirations required him to relocate.
“Do you think she’ll move, so you can live together?” I asked him.
He shook his head. “No, I don’t. And I don’t want her to. Part of loving someone means giving that person the freedom to be themselves. Her life is there. Her job is there. If she were to move with me, she’d eventually resent me for all she would give up in the process.”
(No doubt, his wife would’ve said the same thing.)
I summed up my answer for Jill by saying that individuals need to remain respectful of each others’ individuality in a relationship. Change can happen (to varying degrees) and it’s important to accept this and love each other through the evolutions of life.
(Was that a good answer?)
I should’ve kept babbling, just a few moments longer. I forgot to say something very important. I forgot to state my position that a “successful” marriage isn’t necessarily one that lasts forever.
The couple that I referenced above has been married for more than eight years. They’ve laughed, loved and supported each other through job changes and struggles, educational accomplishments, health issues, losses of loved ones and relocation- to name a few. They adopted a dog and trained him to poop in an acceptable place. They’ve traveled together and they’ve traveled to be together. Their relationship is built on a solid foundation which has yet to crumble. They model the kind of success that many aspire to achieve.
And if tomorrow they should decide to call it quits, I would think no less of them and the success of their partnership. To me, a successful marriage is one that features respect, kindness, maturity and teamwork (maybe some other stuff too). It’s not about the length of the timeline, it’s about what happens along the line that counts. Would you celebrate a partnership that spanned 6 decades of horrific neglect or abuse? I hope not.
I’ll venture to guess that “success” means many different things to different people (this is part of that “planning” I mentioned earlier- it’s a topic worthy of pre-marital discussion). Some get married looking to raise children with their partner… others want to start and grow a business together… some plan to travel and cook… others only want the benefit of shared health insurance. Divorce cannot negate the accomplishments of a partnership and therefore it shouldn’t determine success or failure (at least, not all by itself).
Healthy and successful (my definition) partnerships are the ones which change the most (think: circulation vs. stagnation). Especially in today’s world, it’s natural and understandable for couples to find themselves in a place where their marriage no longer serves them, and they can no longer serve their marriage. And, that should be OK.
Like my friend said, “loving someone means giving that person the freedom to be themselves.” Sometimes that means you have to let go.