Life Skill #58: How to Stay Married

Let me get this out of the way: I’ve never been married. So I have no expertise at all on this matter. But, I will qualify by saying, just being good at something doesn’t mean you’ll be able to teach something. Also, this is the internet so take everything with a grain (or shaker!) of salt. I have no idea what I’m talking about – this is all conjecture. I’ll admit it up front.

My ex-fiance and I had read lots of books about marriage and taken premarital counseling. My parents and my ex’s parents never took premarital counseling. None of them were great communicators. They all argued and complained more than they perhaps should. My parents have been happily married for almost 40 years. My ex’s parents had an acrimonious divorce when he was a kid.

The same type of marriage yielded vastly different results. Granted, my parents’ marriage is never something that will be held up in relationship books as ideal but it works well enough for them. And for better, and likely worse, this is my model for a working marriage. I realized today, while refereeing a tiff between my parents, that this model is something my ex-fiance thought would lead to a very unhappy marriage. He wanted us to be better than our parents. Based on his worldview, this type of marriage would not end well.

I catch myself often when dating figuring out what are real dealbreakers and what are things that are just odd or novel to me. We can all understand that people face the world with their own preconceived notions of how things should work, particularly in relationships. We can all understand that we are ourselves colored by our childhood experiences. But coming to believe that my partner’s viewpoint is as valid as mine – that is not something I understand how to do yet.

What I’ve found to be the most meaningful marriage advice for me came from Will Smith, the actor, married 17 years.

“If there is a secret I would say it is that we never went into working on our relationship. We only ever worked on ourselves individually. And then presented ourselves to one another better than we were previously.”

So often in relationships, we think about what can be changed about the other person. We think about designing the perfect mate for ourselves. It’s a beautiful thing to realize that if there’s an argument, if there’s an obstacle, an impediment in their marriage, that the Smiths are focused on what they can actually change: themselves.

And then you just have to hope that the other person will stay. The more I think about marriage, the more I consider it to be quite a risky endeavor. This is not to say people shouldn’t take the risk. The advantages are sky high. But it’s like starting a business. You can put in a lot of work but the role of luck should not be underestimated.

But let me hear from you: what are the actual secrets to staying married?