I was a little quiet last week. It was pretty busy around here. In addition to building two sets of bunkbeds, my husband and I also celebrated our 15th anniversary. Considering that people at our wedding reception were literally placing bets on how soon we’d split, I’d say someone owes us A LOT of money. At 15 years, we’ve totally dusted all of our parents’ marriages.
We got married years before any of our friends. In fact, our wedding party was so young (including us) that they showed up 15 minutes LATE to the ceremony. I mean, who knew that you were supposed to be there two hours early? Probably the wedding planner that we didn’t hire. Whatever. Seems to have worked out.
Over the years, as our friends got married, we’ve been asked for the secret to a long successful marriage. I always say the same thing: “It’s easy. Just don’t get divorced.”
But that’s a lie. It may be simple, but it’s not easy.
It’s also not a great piece of advice. It tackles the “long” part of the question, but just glosses over the “successful” bit. That bit requires more thought, and as I’ve lately watched several marriages around me disintegrate, I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
Most of the people I know in the throes of divorce have children. These are not unencumbered folks who can pack up their futon and their album collection and move on because they’ve found greener pastures. No, these are people who have struggled for years to repair hurtful, destructive relationships in hopes of preserving an intact family for their kids. In some cases there is a main offender. In others, no one in particular is to blame. But regardless, in every case, there is someone who has been trying to protect the children from the trauma of growing up in a “broken home.”
My parents split when I was nine. I remember being sent to the school guidance counselor to talk about my parents’ divorce. I remember my mom bringing home library books written for children whose families were breaking up. I remember feeling horribly guilty that all I felt was relief. Because here’s the thing: my family was broken long before my parents got divorced. I knew it even if they wouldn’t admit it. I think most kids do. My parents’ divorce was the best thing that could have happened to me. It confirmed what I’d long hoped was true, that marriage was supposed to be better than what I saw around me everyday.
It helped set my standard for a successful marriage. Forget about being madly in love. Even in a great marriage, you will fall out of love sometimes. Being married is what keeps you together until you can fall back in.
Here are the questions I ask myself: Am I showing my children what a marriage is supposed to be? Am I modeling for them how to treat your partner and how one should expect to be treated? Would I be happy to see my children in a marriage like mine? As long as I can answer in the affirmative the vast majority of the time, I consider my marriage successful. Should the time come when I can’t, it’s time to break up for the sake of the kids.