Why the words “failed” and “marriage” don’t belong together.

I somehow lucked out and have been married to a wonderful man for over 30 years.  My husband and I were not aware of this, until one day we sat down to figure out just how long we had been married.  Even we were shocked.

When we were just dating, who knew?

When we were just dating, who knew?

However, we don’t pat ourselves on our backs, as if somehow this has anything

We found we made a good parenting team!

We found we made a good parenting team!

to do with us.  We’re still together because we enjoy each other’s company and even when we disliked each other (and at times we did), we still loved each other.  Also, we were both committed to this family we had created.  At times, we just dug in and did what was needed to be done to keep our little clan going.

People sometimes assume we’ve “made it”, as if staying married is some sort of prize.  I know people that divorce after having been married far longer than my husband and I have.  My husband and I don’t stay married because we’ve been married so long, we stay married because it works well for us and we love each other.  It’s been true from day one, and if it ever changes we’ll reassess.  So far, so good.

What I have learned to truly dislike is when I hear people say “Oh her marriage failed.”  This happened recently to a friend that had been married for over 32 years, people were saying to her “I’m so sorry your marriage failed.”  She countered with “How can 32 years, 3 children, countless memories of vacations, school plays, birthdays and support in any way be considered a failure?”

I agree, if her husband had died, no one would come and say “Oh too bad it’s over, I’m sorry your marriage was a failure.”  If one lost a job after 32 years, no one would say “Well that job was a failure!”  Anything lasting that long is not a failure.

Even short marriages are not a “failure” if you had a child together, shared a wonderful vacation, or simply learned what you do not want in your next relationship.  Any relationship should be about learning, even if you learn “I never want to be with anyone that eats that much garlic again!”

I think a marriage, or any commitment to someone else, is a positive act.  I’ve only heard one woman on her wedding day say “Well if this doesn’t work out, I figure we’ll just get divorced!”  She is still a very stereotypical “hipster”, this “eh marriage, I’ll give it a try” was part of her cool hip persona.  However, I could tell at the wedding,  she and all her family and friends wanted this to work out.  Despite her bravado, I’m willing to bet when her marriage ended a few years later, it hurt and hurt badly.  But I’m also believe she learned something, if perhaps only that marriage despite our best hipster hopes to make it happy go lucky and without a lot of deep emotional commitment, is far more serious than we might suppose.

we knew we'd always be friends, but no one can know if they will always be married!

we knew we’d always be friends, but no one can know if they will always be married!

I know some marriages of very short duration that have evolved into happy divorces.  This is especially wonderful there are children involved.  I have a friend on Facebook, BJ (some of you I hope are also lucky enough to be his friend), that is  full of praise for his ex and her wonderful parenting.  He’s even grateful for her new husband, BJ being smart enough to be appreciative of the positive role this man plays in the life of his children.

Heidi Anderson is another wonderful person that is in line for being “best ex ever”.  Is it easy? No.  It has to be quite difficult to choose to put your anger, hurt, fears, and I am sure at times loneliness and jealousy aside, and just do what is right.  It isn’t that one should not acknowledge and be true to ones feelings.  Getting married is a very unselfish act, you are in a sense trusting this partner as you have never trusted anyone before.  Often this same trust and lack of self translates into a working, and loving, relationship that is not marriage but can also be  important and meaningful.  An “unsuccessful” marriage doesn’t always mean the end to friendship and even being a family.

My grandparents, the ones that were HAPPILY married.  Sadly, my other grandparents were UNHAPPILY married.  I wanted what these grandparents had.

My grandparents, the ones that were HAPPILY married. Sadly, my other grandparents were UNHAPPILY married. I wanted what these grandparents had.

I admire more than I can say the people I know that are successful at their ex status.  It is in some ways more difficult than being successful at being married.  As a teacher I could almost always pick out the children with parents that were unhappily divorced.  Rarely could I ever tell the difference between children of happily married, and happily divorced, parents.

I should say I know a few  sad, long and dragged out unhappy toxic marriages

two very wise grandmothers....

two very wise grandmothers….

that lasted until death they did part.  My own grandmother on my father’s side pulled me aside when my own parents divorced.  She asked how my mother was doing, she had been quite fond of her.  She then held my hands and told me “I wish I had been as brave as she is.  It’s too late for me to leave now, but it’s the one thing I always regret.”  I had never been closed to her, and so was shocked that she was confiding this to me.

What she shared stayed with me, and I knew I would never ever stay in a bad relationship.  That was her gift to me, staying married wasn’t worth the regret of “what might have been, if only.”  After my grandfather died, she was happy to discover my grandfather had left her a lot of money.  Her first purchase was a brand new Volvo station wagon, so that she could continue her “meals and wheels” deliveries in style.  Grandmother was a whole new person after grandfather died, and happily lived many years more spending generously on others, and just doing what she darned well wanted to do.

Among short marriages I know of that have been successful, a young woman that married a policeman, and discovered she would also like to go into law enforcement.  While her husband cheated and they divorced, she said she never would have even thought of going into the career she still loves if she had not married him to begin with.

So, perhaps the only failed marriage is the one someone does not learn something from.   I know some women feel like failures, and take away from a marriage a feeling of lowered self worth.  That is not a failure, but a tragedy.

My grandmother on my mother’s side also taught me something important about marriage.  She told me “Never marry anyone you can’t happily divorce.”  That sounds a bit radical, but what she meant was “When you get married, imagine being divorced to that same person.”  If you can’t imagine being able to be divorced to this person, and yet still raise children as a team or getting your alimony check on time, don’t marry him.

When I met my husband, I asked myself, how would it be to be divorced to this man.  His honesty and sense of doing what is right, as well as the kind of father I imagined him to be, allowed me the security of going into marriage knowing that he would be a very good ex indeed.

This man would make a good ex, I hope I would also be a good ex.

This man would make a good ex, I hope I would also be a good ex.

One thing that tipped the scales for me was his angry outburst to a  friend that groused all the time about his child support.  The friend was upset his ex had bought a new car.  My husband to be told his friend “Those are your children, how can you complain about your ex getting a new car when it’s your children in the new safer car with her?”  They did not remain friends, as my then single husband could not understand how his friend, who spent lavishly on himself, could complain so much about writing a simple child support check each month.

I grew up learning from both my grandmothers the importance of marriage and the importance of divorce.  But I’ve also come to believe there is no such thing as a “failed” marriage.

Yes, he always writes "honk if you like sex" on newly weds cars....

Yes, he always writes “honk if you like sex” on newly weds cars….

Categories: Family, Feminism, Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. Wow. What an amazing piece of thinking, and writing it up.

    I have been married to Himself for 15 years as of early April; but before he and I were together, I was married for 10 years to the guy who was my boyfriend from the time I was 20. I’ll call him SFK.

    SFK was an artist, which meant that he was passionate, creative, an iconoclast, impulsive, emotionally open — many things my stern family (and especially my German Lutheran father) was not. My mom died when I was just turned 21, and SFK, having lost his mother when he was not yet a teen, was my lifeline as I struggled through a depression after that difficult event. A few years later, we decided it made economic sense to ‘make it legal’ and had a very non-traditional wedding–I wore a black semi-formal, we got married at the base of a skyscraper in downtown Seattle, all the judge said was, “And it’s legal!” at the end of our self-written vows–and a somewhat non-traditional marriage.

    Over time, the other things that fit into SFK’s worldview–like not worrying about the future or bourgeois things like owning a home, having a child or even a dog, being emotionally or physically focussed primarily on the spouse–became unacceptable to me. We could still laugh and enjoy each other’s company, but the futures we wanted no longer were the same. Some of the ‘unwritten rules’ of the marriage were, it transpired, understood differently by the two of us. Eventually, after 10 years of legal marriage (and almost 15 years together) we divorced. It was about as amiable as a divorce can be; we agreed on the division of property and of debts, then hired ONE lawyer to write it up in a manner acceptable to the court, and ended the relationship.

    It took a couple of years to get past the hurt and discomfort of things said or done in anger to become friends again; but I can honestly say that he is now one of our better friends. (In fact, he is Himself’s BEST friend.) We fell into the habit of doing lunch together a couple of times a year, because there are so many shared memories, interests, and friends that we really missed talking.

    SFK is a doting uncle to my daughter BG, now 13; he is the ‘Dungeonmaster’ for the D&D-type gaming that is a nearly weekly occurance for Himself, and often BG, up at SFK’s home. I have even started playing again, which has required spending several multi-hour visits “catching up” characters that hadn’t been out and active since BG was a baby. And that has led to discovering a lot about the person my ex has become, not just reminiscing or focussing on the things I knew about him from back when.

    So I would say that I’m successfully divorced. But I have to say that while the marriage wasn’t a failure, it did “fail” in the same way that a transmission in a car may fail when it has been worked in a damaged state for too long.

    I have come to summarize it this way: Either you believe in divorce; or, you believe people never change; or, you believe in slavery. People can be a good ‘fit’ for each other when they marry, and perhaps for years after; but they can grow in different directions and become people who are no longer deeply compatable. I think this is especially a risk for couples that get together when they are quite young, and/or when both have not experienced living on their own. (Living alone is an important thing; it lets you learn who you are, really are, when there bustle and busyness of living isn’t in the way.) I’m not sorry I have been married twice; I’m just sorry that SFK and I let the notion that “marriage” was somehow more important that the people in it, keep us legally married for several years after the partnership no longer worked.

    Thank you for leading me to reflect on this important issue. BG’s a teenager, it’s time to start making sure she understands both how wonderful a marriage can be, and that they aren’t always forever. I’ll start with, “Would you want to be divorced from this man?” which may be the best advice a mother can give.

    • A wonderful response. It’s hard to be a good “ex” but it’s lovely the things that seem positive about your first husband, translated into his still being in your life as a friend. It enriches everyone. A good role model for your daughter also.

  2. First I want to wish you for your married life and future.

    Very nice article specially how things goes in life, in particularly marraige. What I believe marriage is very special in ones life, it’s a bond, and this bond is only possible when they have some things to care about, some things in common. Most importantanly you must have believe and understandings for each other.

  3. Reblogged this on Rumpus Parable's Take On Female Led Relationships and commented:
    This post is reblogged from TwoDifferentGirls.com. It says wonderfully something I’ve myself said since I was a teen and which applied to my life right now. An excellent post.

  4. Reblogged this on Welcome to Katkimjac's Space and commented:
    A very open about marriage – it might help some of you…


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