One size does not fit all when trying to understand why some marriages crash and burn, and other marriages stand the test of time. One size does not fit all when trying to understand why some marriages stagnate and become relationships of convenience, and others flourish and continue to grow in love and respect "till death do us part". It's about luck, some would say. That would be a short easy answer to understanding why some marriages are successful, and that would partly be true. I believe there is luck involved when selecting and ending up with a mate who you mesh well with. However, luck is only a very small part of what it takes to create a successful marriage.
At the outset, my definition of a successful marriage is as follows: A marriage that is over 20 years in longevity that keeps intensifying in compassion and love with successive decades of mutual commitment. The reason I selected a seemingly arbitrary number like 20 years, is because it takes most couples the first 10 years of marriage to iron out the mutual quirks and idiosyncrasies (i.e. numerous failed attempts at success), and the second 10 years to grow and go with the flow of the relationship (i.e. prolonged success born of numerous failed attempts). Sure, some couples are far more mature than others, and the ironing out of quirks and idiosyncrasies followed by a lovely relationship flow is much shorter than 20 years. Then again, others, like the turtle who eventually wins the race, start out very, very slowly, so I'd put the definition of successful marriage up to 30+ years for the turtles.
When I look back at my life and observe my own personal successes, creating an awesome 34-year marital relationship has been among my top endeavors. I am not a licensed marriage counselor, but as a physician, I have counseled many people regarding their struggling marital relationships over the past 19 years when addressing their health as a totality. Given that resume, I'm more than qualified in expressing my ideas on marital health and longevity.
Personally, I don't understand how some people dole out big bucks and pay professionals to help them with their marriage troubles, when the professional himself (or herself) has failed in that particular area of his life. I also don't understand people who buy books from authors who give advice on how to have healthy intimate relationships, and the authors themselves have also failed in that department and continue to have absent from their lives, healthy intimate relationships. (Nope. I'm not going to name names of these professionals and authors, but there are a hell of a lot out there).
I'm not saying that a person struggling in their marriage couldn't gather something of value from a counselor or author who has had little to no success in the marriage arena of their own life, but it sure as hell wouldn't be my way of getting the most bang for my buck. For me, it would be like seeing a physician for smoking cessation, and the physician himself smokes 3 packs a day; or seeing a 350 pound cardiologist to help with heart health. Not much bang for the buck there in my opinion.
The next part is free information. Free advice. It might be the most important marital relationship information that you will read. Then again, maybe not. But at least it's FREE. This is information coming from someone who has walked the marital road, climbed the relationship mountain, and has been enjoying the wedded blissful summit for the last decade. If you are searching, you will have only lost a few minutes of your life reading this information if the ideas in this blog do not resonate with you. Then again, after reading this blog, you may have gained a new perspective and a new potential to create what many people dream of: a lasting, loving, and fulfilling lifetime partnership with a mate.
So what is the recipe for creating a loving, successful and absolutely awesome marriage?
I will repeat what I wrote at the start of this blog, one size does not fit all. However, there are 2 common denominators that I have observed over and over again in the lives of my patients, my friends, acquaintances, and in my own marriage, that I believe form the glue of a successful marriage.
Is it sexual passion?
Nope. Many couples with successful marriages continue to enjoy sexual intimacy well into their 70s and 80s, and in other successful marriages, the sexual flame of passion had long been extinguished since their 40s.
Is it the touchy-feely-factor?
Nope. Some couples are overtly affectionate and others are the exact opposite, yet both scenarios produce marriages that are successful.
Is it the amount of time spent together?
Nope. Many successful marriages work well when both partners are with each other 24/7 at work and at play. Other successful marriages work best when partners spend time apart due to traveling schedules and other time commitments that intermittently separate the couple.
Is it religion and spirituality?
Nope. Some people attribute the success of their marriage to God or to some form of spirituality, and yet there are very successful marriages found in those who are atheists and agnostics.
Is it great communication skills?
Nope. Many successful marriages are built on a foundation of constant communication and flow of information, and other marriages that are also successful are comprised of people whose skills of communication are not their forte.
Is it shared common interests?
Nope. Many successful marriages center around a common interest in sports or hobbies or politics or academia, or whatever. Other marriages don't need a common shared interest to work well.
Is it common values?
Well, let's face it, when personal, cultural, and moral values between two people in an intimate relationship are similar, the potential to create a successful marriage is much easier. However, no two people in the world have the exact same values, and some partners within a union have quite diametrically opposite values. A man who wants his children vaccinated and has complete faith in conventional medical practices, and a woman who does not want these same children vaccinated and has great skepticism toward conventional medical practices, is an example of a challenge regarding competing values. Of course, there are values that are much more challenging than even this example, however, marriages can, and do thrive even when values are diametrically opposed.
Is it the intention and desire to remain together "till death do us part?"
Nope. Intention and desire alone do not a healthy marriage make. There are countless of people who had once stood before a religious or secular person, speaking vows of love and commitment with the intent of forging a forever lifetime partnership, only to have found themselves in the midst of a divorce settlement.
So what are the 2 necessary common denominators that form the glue of a solid and successful union?
The first common denominator is honesty: Honesty with self and honesty with your partner. Without that basic foundation, nothing much is going to stick after that. Nada.
Honesty allows for the greatest opportunity of mutual vulnerability. Honesty ensures that you do not hide from yourself, and thus do not hide from your partner. Your mutual expression of flaws and failures are laid bare for both of you to see, for the greater good and health of the relationship. Great communication skills are not necessary in order to speak the truth. Speaking the truth is a matter of stating facts, and stating what is true for yourself without restraint, but with compassion for yourself and your partner.
Honesty is a two person job. If one person is honest and the other is not, the relationship will either fail or fall into an abyss of marital oblivion. Success can only happen when both people are honest: first with themselves, and then secondly, with their partner.
The second common denominator is wanting the best for your partner. By 'best', I mean best as defined by your partner, not you. In order for marriages to be successful, this must be a mutual endeavor. If you want what is best for your mate (as seen through his eyes) and he wants the best for himself, that's a one-way ticket to marriage struggle. If you want what is best for yourself, and your mate wants what is best for himself, that's a one way ticket to marriage failure (otherwise called mutual self-absorption).
Wanting the best for your partner means that you want to support him with his dreams, his goals and his challenges. It means that you are in his corner when he needs someone to lean on. At the very same time, your partner mutually wants to support you with your dreams, your goals, your challenges. It means that he is in your corner when you need someone to lean on.
At times, there will be conflict between what you want for yourself and what your partner wants for himself. But if both of you have as a priority, the best interest of the other, higher than the best interest of yourself, you will live in the land of exquisite compromise where loving someone else is more important than being loved.
When your goal in a loving relationship is to watch over and protect your beloved, and your beloved has the same goal, it's not too difficult to understand how a marriage like that can become successful. This idea is not magic, but the results are.
Mutually loving someone as much or more than yourself, is what wedded bliss is about. It is absent of self-absorption. It is absent of martyrdom. What it is completely present in, is the synchronistic loving desire in wanting the best for your mate.
I would hazard a guess to say, if one were to look at the root of why most marriages fail, it would be a combination of dishonesty and self-absorption.
For those whose marriages are faltering, and are interested in having a healthy loving marriage, both people must come to terms with these questions together as a couple (with or without a counselor):
Is there anything you are being dishonest about? Is there anything you are hiding from yourself? Is there anything you are hiding from your partner? Are there flaws you perceive about yourself and have kept to yourself? What are those flaws in yourself? How does it feel to be vulnerable when expressing these thoughts and feelings to your partner?
Regarding Wanting The Best:
What are your partner's goals and dreams? How can you support your partner in this endeavor? How can you place your partner's best interests ahead of your own?
Compromise is a much, much easier task if both people want what is best for the other.