I’ve always found it funny/sad how we classify marital success purely by its duration. I mean, imagine if we applied this same metric to other areas of our lives –
She was a really great student – she was in school for fifty years!
He was an amazing dog, but he was a failure as a pet because he died before he turned ten.
It was a wonderful dinner. The service was so slow that the meal lasted for hours!
I’m afraid I have to give the book only one star because it ended.
Pretty crazy, huh?
So why do we then so easily apply this faulty logic to marriages? Classifying them as failures if they end and successes if they persist?
I think we all have seen (either from within or from the outside looking in), marriages that go the duration yet are filled with contempt, isolation and misery.
And we have all witnessed relationships that were once strong and fulfilling come to a premature end as the individuals or the circumstances changed.
Yet in our cultural lexicon, the first couple is heralded as a success (and sometimes even asked for their marital wisdom) while the latter is written off as a failure.
Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate what makes a successful marriage.
Because it is certainly both more complex and more challenging than simply managing to hold on to one another for a lifetime of journeys around the sun.
In a successful marriage,
You both play for the same team. You know that there will be disagreements about how things should be done. But rather than view your spouse as your opponent in these arguments, you see him or her as your ally in life.
The good interactions outweigh the bad. There will be rolled eyes and hurt feelings. And they will be smothered by hugs and positive words.
You share common goals and values. Even when you take different paths to get there.
Support is given freely and challenges are presented. You don’t seek to change your partner; you want to enhance the best parts of your partner.
A growth mindset is present. Both for the marriage and for the individuals that comprise the union. Each person learns and grows in response to struggle and success.
Mistakes are perceived as opportunities. And the actions are condemned. Not the person.
There is a balance of independence and interdependence.
The difficult conversations happen. And problems are perceived as a challenge to overcome together.
Each person takes responsibility for his or her own stuff. And each person is willing to carry more than his or her share when the situation demands. Because there will be days when the commitment to the marriage is greater than your commitment to your spouse.
A legacy is left, either by the children born from the union or the others inspired or influenced by the couple. A successful marriage is greater than itself.
And here’s the hard part –
A successful marriage accepts when it is no longer successful. It is willing to make the agonizing decision to pull the plug rather than condemning both people to live in the diminished world of a marriage on life support.
Now it is true that no good marriages end in divorce.
But it is also true that the marriage that ended may not be the same marriage that existed for some time before.
It’s not just about the number of years.
It’s more about what you do with those years.
And if that marriage brought a smile to your face and eased your burden,
If that marriage challenged you to learn and grow,
If that marriage taught you what it was like to share a common dream and common goals,
If that marriage opened your heart and made you feel seen and understood,
If that marriage made an impact on others,
If that marriage pushed you and tested you,
If that marriage made you realize that nobody else can make you happy,
If that marriage taught you what you don’t want,
If that marriage inspired you to never again allow anyone else to reduce your worth,
If that marriage taught you how strong you are,
Then that marriage was successful.
No matter how long it lasted.
Or how it ended.
Take the lessons and move on.
Because the only failed marriage is one that you refuse to learn from.