By Mary Petersen
Signal Staff Writer
My husband and I are celebrating our 38th wedding anniversary this month. It’s been 40 years since our first date when I returned home and told my roommate, “This will never work.” In fact we still wonder how it has worked.
We’ve had our share of disagreements, yelling matches (mostly me yelling), and therapy sessions. A few years back I asked him why he thinks our marriage has lasted this long. “I don’t know,” he smirked. “I guess we just lowered our standards.”
Nowadays standards are high. Couples therapist Esther Perel explains why marriage can seem so hard. “The modern idea is that we are entitled to a sense of fulfillment and personal growth through the marriage.
We are expecting a best friend and trusted confidante who helps us grow into a more authentic version of ourselves.” We expect our partner to make us happy. When that ideal is not met, dissatisfaction results.
This occurs even in marriages of 30 years or more. In a study at Bowling Green State University, researchers found that since 1990, divorce rates have doubled for Americans over 50 and more than tripled for Americans over 65. Calling it “gray divorce,” Susan L. Brown, one of the lead researchers for the study, says that the reason for these divorces wasn’t “severe discord,” but rather “the couples had simply grown apart.”
There are so many variables and moving parts to maintaining a marriage. Two people decide to share a home, a relationship, financial commitments, extended families. Throw kids and personal needs into the mix and it’s a miracle anybody stays together.
It’s like two people simultaneously dancing a duet and two solos on the same stage. The difficult nature of marriage is illustrated in its arduous metaphors.
Marriage is compared to a rigorous mountain climb, a car needing constant maintenance, a garden to cultivate, a ship upon a stormy sea, a roller coaster and Pat Benatar’s famous take—“Love is a battlefield.”
Marriage is a precarious contract. Beloved American humorist Erma Bombeck once joked, “Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with the car battery.”
This week I again asked my husband what keeps us together. He proclaimed lofty platitudes: flexibility, compromise, patience and a sense of humor. I squinted skeptically at him. Then we had a good laugh, imagining each of us embodying all those noble qualities.
But no matter how noble, well-intentioned or diligent someone might be, it’s nearly impossible for one person to meet all the needs of a marital partner.
I don’t view my husband as Prince Charming able to make all my dreams come true. He doesn’t see me as his Sleeping Beauty.
He thinks what has kept us together is having independence in the relationship and supporting one another’s interests, goals, and friends. His bike and running buddies provide him joy in ways that I can’t. My girlfriends and I share conversations he is relieved to avoid.
Paradoxically, our time apart may be what keeps us together. That and not taking the relationship too seriously. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, marriage is too important to be taken seriously.
Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, a 30-year SCV resident and two-time breast cancer survivor.