If you’re thinking of getting married, or if you have already tied the knot, you may naturally find yourself wondering if your relationship has what it takes to last for years, for decades, for a lifetime.
It’s quite normal to wonder such things, particularly given that we live in a society where divorce is ever-present all around us. Aside from a few people who got married on a wild whim when they were drunk in Las Vegas, perhaps, nearly every couple who take vows hope and intend to stay together forever. But so many of them fail. Why? If they were all as sincere and in love as you are, what happened, and could it happen to you?
Embracing the Possibilities
This may sound like a Zen paradox to you, but the first thing you must do to ensure that your marriage endures is to admit to yourself, honestly, that it might not. How’s that again?
If you can honestly accept that your marriage may end – by divorce or through the death of one of you – then you have a better chance than average of staying together.
Why? Well, because if you are honest and realistic about your relationship, if you accept that, like all human creations, your marriage is fragile and imperfect and ephemeral, then you will be much more relaxed about it.
You won’t be nervously worrying about it every moment, terrified that you or your spouse might make some mistake and screw it up. You won’t be holding on to your marriage so tightly that you suffocate it. Instead, you will be more relaxed about it, more comfortable in your own skin, and able to be yourself and enjoy it more.
So, the first and most important way for you to tell if your marriage can last a lifetime is to ask yourself – can I tell myself the truth? Can I accept that my marriage could end at any time?
Can you accept that? Can you accept this idea, which seems harsh at first, but which is ultimately liberating?
If you can let go of your marriage, you are likely to find that it gets stronger and you can enjoy it more.
Letting go of your marriage doesn’t mean neglecting it. You don’t just put it on autopilot and forget about it. Not at all. You still work hard and pour yourself into the relationship. You still show up every day for your spouse and your family. But you let go of trying to control everything. And by letting go you find more freedom.
So find some time to meditate on this paradox. It is possible, though unlikely, that one day your spouse might wake up, look you in the eye, and say, “I don’t love you anymore.” Shocking, I know, but it has happened. People fall into love. They also sometimes fall out of it. If you can embrace and accept this uncomfortable truth, you will be far better off and able to love your spouse more completely.
Someone once asked the Dalai Lama about death. His advice was that if the person was afraid of dying, they should meditate next to a corpse. Don’t turn away from what you fear most. Don’t deny it and try to prevent it. Embrace it instead.
Can you let go of your fear of divorce? Can you relax and accept your marriage today as the blessing it is, as the wonderful adventure you share with your spouse, but let go of what happens tomorrow or next week or in a decade? If you can, you have a great chance of staying together all your lives.
Honest Acceptance a Key Ingredient
Honest acceptance is the most important ingredient in a successful, enduring marriage. Everything that follows is just common sense.
Do you love each other? That’s a no-brainer. If you don’t, then do you have a friendship, a true friendship, to make a strong foundation for future love to grow upon? If you do, then you have a good chance for your relationship to endure.
Are you kind and compassionate? This is no surprise, but some people don’t seem to grasp it. People who are kind, compassionate and forgiving towards their spouse (and everyone else) form enduring, lifelong friendships and their marriages last. If you have an anger problem, or if you tease and bully other people, if you are selfish, then you have some work to do. Some of those personality traits may benefit you in other areas of your life, like your career (though it is worth wondering why you’d choose a career where being nasty is a necessary qualification) but they are not very helpful in a marriage.
Being married for a long time means you will be a witness to all the ugly and uncomfortable frailties of another human being. You will literally see them at their worst.
They will make mistakes, stupid mistakes (as you will, too). Often they will make the same mistake many times before they learn, and sometimes they will never learn their lesson at all. They will get sick and be unable to take care of themselves.
Looking after a sick person can get pretty disgusting at times. If you are naturally kind, compassionate and patient about other people’s human weaknesses and mistakes (and your own), you are far better prepared for the endurance ordeal of lifelong marriage.
Can you change? This is also incredibly important. One reason many marriages fail is that the spouses involved expect everything to stay the same, whether it is the intensity of their passion, the frequency of sex, the shape of their spouse’s body, their income, their domestic situation.
But nothing ever stays the same. People grow older and they change, often dramatically. Sometimes people get fed up and tell their boss to take this job and shove it. They decide they don’t want a career anymore, but they’d rather go meditate in the forest.
Your spouse may come home one day and tell you this. Eventually, children move out of the home, and they don’t come back.
Adapting to Change
Can you accept and adapt to all these changes? Can you change your attitude towards your spouse and let your love evolve as your marriage lasts? Can you continue to love your spouse even if you no longer recognize them?
Can you find and focus on the one inalienable part of them that makes them special, that unique part of them you love, and continue to love it?
There are no certainties in marriage. But if you take an honest look at yourself, you can figure out the necessary ingredients that contribute to a happy, lifelong marriage.
If you don’t have all of them, don’t panic. People change, and you can change, too, if you work at it.