What Makes a Marriage Work?

“I have great hopes that we shall love each other all our lives

as much as if we had never married at all.” — Lord Byron

Pick up any popular glossy magazine out there and you’ll inevitably read an article about improving your floundering marriage. The headlines read “Put the Spark Back in Your Marriage” and “Spruce Up Your Dull Marriage,” but have you ever really taken any time to delve into the pieces? I have, and I noticed that while there are miniscule differences, they all boil down to one central piece of advise:

Act like you’re not married.

All of these magazines tell married couples to take a night for themselves and call it “date night.” They tell you to remind yourself of what it was like before you got married. Temporarily discard your children, forget those vows and only then will you be able to rekindle some of that former romance.

I find this highly hysterical.

We’re all taught that marriage is the most romantic thing on Earth. After all, it’s two people pledging their eternal love for one another. They promise to stand by each other through thick and thin and eventually grow old and die together. Usually after raising a family. Yet when things go sour or the happy couple gets complacent after a decade or two, what’s the advice commonly given? Pretend you’re NOT married. Go on dates. Think back to what it was like BEFORE you had kids, a mortgage and ran out of things to talk about.

I don’t know about any of you, but I didn’t get married so I could date my wife. Part of why I got married is because I never wanted to date again. Dating was horrible. Seriously, it’s the worst thing on the planet. The small talk, the getting to know you shit, the uncertainty, not being able to fart in front of her for the first three months…dating was a complete nightmare. So why would I want to go back to that?

And honestly, any married couple will tell you it’s IMPOSSIBLE to truly go back. You can’t recreate those initial fireworks. The first kiss. The feeling of your stomach doing somersaults at the mere thought of her. Those things were great, but they’re only meant to occur at the beginning stages. The feelings at the outset of a relationship burn red hot, sometimes to the point where an explosion occurs. But usually that fizzles and fades, which is why people break up. The sparks at the beginning of the relationship are not enough to start a fire that can sustain a marriage.

Marriage is a crock pot, or a simmering of emotions over a long period of time. It’s not as exciting as the fireworks that accompany a new relationship, but that kind of volatility doesn’t lend itself to sustained success over time. Yet we’ve been led to believe we shouldn’t get married until we find that one special person who will bring us fireworks forever and ever.

I’m happy with MJ. I’m content with her. I married her for a lot of reasons, but the defining characteristic that convinced me I should marry her was that she didn’t make me miserable. She was bearable. All the other girls eventually drove me nuts or irritated me to the point that I couldn’t stand the thought of being around them. I had fun for a while, but eventually I wanted to slit my wrists and the mere thought of having to be around them made me want to tear my skin off. But with MJ, I liked being around her almost all the time. And the times she pissed me off, it was never enough to make me want to dive head-first off a cliff. Or if it was, it passed quickly.

It wasn’t always spectacular, but it was hardly ever horrible. Allegorically, we’re Goldilocks and the Bears and she’s just right. Not too hot or spicy and not too cold or bland. To some that sounds lame, but I think it’s an incredibly difficult balance to locate in another person.

If you’re looking for excitement, marriage is not the answer. Marriage is hard work, it’s repetitive and it’s often dull. That’s the marathon nature of the institution. I was watching comedian Louis C.K. (fast forward to the 5:30 mark) the other night, and he had a great bit about marriage, specifically how dull things can get romantically. And he hit on the differences between sex while you’re dating and (the lack of) sex when you’re married. This quote sums it up perfectly:

“You don’t wanna blow your husband, you wanna blow your date. Nobody wants to blow a guy and then go with him to IKEA all day.”

The point is, all of those stupid magazines are trying to do the impossible. They’re trying to go back in time and change reality, when in reality I’m really happy I’m married. Sure it may not be as exciting as that first stroll into your date’s bedroom, but it’s a different kind of happiness. It’s building a life with someone and investing in the future. And when you spend that much time with the same person, things will eventually get stale.

But going back in time and pretending you’re not married is hardly an answer.

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13 thoughts on “What Makes a Marriage Work?

  1. My husband and I often tell each other how incredible it is that we don’t get sick of each other after all the time we spend together. If he were anyone else, I would get antsy and anxious for alone time. But we love just being together. I think that pretty much sums up a successful marriage.

    The most romantic thing he ever told me, and continues to on a regular basis, is that I feel like home. Seriously, that’s what its about. Being comfortable and content. Right?

  2. This post is great! I love hearing a guys perspective… I agree, I don’t think you should go back like your marriage doesn’t exist, but I definitely believe in time alone with my husband. The thing is, if you get too routine and stale and stationary in your relationship then you miss getting to really know your significant other because you wrap your life around those things that keep your attention warped like your children and your work, and then your spouse changes and one day you realize you don’t KNOW them any longer.

    We change as human beings, it’s a natural process, we learn and grow, and even sometimes grow up. We should continue to “get to know our spouse”. But I agree with you, definitely not in the same way we got to know them when we were first dating!

  3. “Marriage is a crock pot…”

    “She was bearable.”

    It’s amazing I have even one grandchild, never mind a second on the way…

  4. Great article. My wife asked me what it was about HER that made me want to be with her forever. I said simply, “You are the least annoying of any woman I’ve been with”.

  5. Coincidence, I wrote about my theories on marriage yesterday too – though I’m feeling like a traitor now after seeing a much more manly version here 🙂

    I do like the quote – noted.

  6. I don’t think that couples need to pretend they are newly dating, but having a “date” night without kids is what keeps us feeling like we’re not an old married couple after FIFTEEN years together! With kids, it’s always a give, give, give, situation and they suck a lot out of their parents. It’s also important for the kids to understand that parents need and want time away from them. It makes us all happier and that’s a plus for them!

  7. big mama: Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of alone time with just the wife. It just struck me as funny that apparently the way to rekindle happiness in a marriage is to pretend you’re not married.

  8. Marriage and Love will eff your mind. I never knew love until I’d been with my wife for at least five years. Love is constantly evolving and taking different shapes. Some people are just used to the initial “butterflies” of love and freak out when it starts to evolve into something more.

    I really like what you said and def didn’t sugarcoat anything… I think alot of people expect everything to be honky dorey when they get married when in actual reality it is hard work.

  9. big mama: Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of alone time with just the wife. It just struck me as funny that apparently the way to rekindle happiness in a marriage is to pretend you’re not married.

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