Hands down, this is the best piece of marriage advice I have ever received:
Every single day is a choice to stay married.
On any given day, either partner can walk out the door and choose not to come back.
Half of us walk.
Half of us stay.
Pretty daunting, right?
So, why is it that between you and me, statistically speaking, one of us, or our spouses will walk, and we will get divorced (or we already have)?
As a wellness advocate, a parenting, family, and relationship writer, an incessant researcher and analyzer, and a wife of almost 24 years, I ponder this question a lot. Recently, in talking with a girlfriend about the roller coaster of marriage, she told me that her mother’s explanation of love, marriage, and relationships helped her make sense of the marriage conundrum that I found to be spot on.
Her mother explained that we humans are wired to need the following relational connections in their lives:
1) A builder/partner—Someone with whom you plant your roots, create the foundation for your life, build your home, your family, your finances, and your social structure, and your family.
2) A lover—Someone with whom you feel physical chemistry and a desire to share physical intimacy.
3) A soul mate/companion—Someone with whom you share emotional love and intimacy, and feel safe in revealing your deepest, most vulnerable self.
It is certainly easy to see how achieving this trifecta with one person for a big chunk of your adult life is no small feat, right? And from this perspective, the fact that 50 percent of couples stay together seems rather remarkable.
But hold on. Before you pick up the phone to call your lawyer, please read on.
Because the wise mother continued and went onto explain how it is rare for people to find one person who can meet all three of those needs. Most often, people get their relational needs met through other relationships, like your best friend who is always available to listen to your (ok, my) existential epiphany that occurred while taking out the trash. And thank goodness for her, because no matter how amazing any of our partners are, or how hard we try to be the best partner we can be, it is nearly impossible for one person to meet the need trifecta all the time time.
But here is where the 50 percent make or break statistic comes into play. While turning regularly to a best friend for a guaranteed soul soothing conversation or a much-needed laugh is a healthy and necessary component of taking care of your emotional needs, many individuals manage their unmet needs in unhealthy and destructive ways.
Most couples are very focused on the “building” part of their relationship and immerse themselves in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of work, kids, and life. From this vantage point, it is so easy to let the physical and the soul components of the relationship slip away at various points along the way. Even the most solid couples are bound to experience periods of dissatisfaction in their level of physical or emotional intimacy with their partner.
Then what? You are feeling exhausted, bored, uninspired, and unsexy or sexy but unnoticed. There are basically a few ways this sense of dissatisfaction can play itself out. Individuals can do the tough work of being honest with themselves and with their partner about how they are feeling, and try to work on their relationship and themselves.
Or one or both individuals can flee the relationship—physically, mentally, or emotionally.
And this happens. A lot. Individuals turn to sex, work, booze, shopping, or an emotional or sexual (or both) affair with another person to escape the monotony and sometimes agonizing and exhausting work of their existing relationship. The talking, listening, understanding, compromising, arguing, and sacrificing that is necessary in a relationship often feels much heavier than the joy, happiness, levity connection, and passion that once defined your union.
Marriage is hard.
Marriage is hard because life is hard. Relationships are hard. Parenting is hard. Work is hard.
And people are complicated. We tend to mask our vulnerabilities—our fear, loneliness, shame, and confusion. And we aren’t very good at talking about the parts of ourselves that we don’t fully understand and try to ignore.
And we definitely do not want to admit that the hardest relationship we probably will ever have to manage is the relationship we have with our self.
So what does it take for a married couple to remain in the 50 percent that stays together? There is definitely no one size fits all prescription. There are situations when a partner and/or the children are in mental, physical or psychological danger and it is essential for one partner to leave the abusive partner. However, for most of us married folks, our scenario is more about this:
It is hard to live with the same person for decades. Accepting your spouse’s imperfections and blind spots takes a tremendous amount of love and patience. And it is also important to remember that it is no picnic for your spouse to accept the whole of you as well. Furthermore, individuals evolve throughout their lives. Life with your spouse feels very different as a newly married, spunky 20- or 30-something than it does as an exhausted 40- or 50-something with kids and a mortgage.
But with a whole lot of work, a willingness of both partners to be honest with each other and themselves, and a strong foundation based on love, trust, and commitment, marriages can usually “survive” the times when one or both of the partners are not “feeling the love” in all three areas of the trifecta.
Which one/s of your trifecta needs are being met by your partner? Which ones you think he/she would say you are meeting for him/her? What areas do you think you might need to focus some attention on and/or what conversations might you need to have with your spouse so that you both might be able to find more happiness and fulfillment in your marriage?
Let me know how it goes!