Every good marriage has to adapt to developmental changes in each partner, bending and yielding to the re-definitions that all men and all women go through. It must expand to accommodate children, close ranks when the children leave home, and metamorphose at retirement. But somehow, for reasons that are critically important, people stay married despite the 'storm of modern life.'
Happily married husbands and wives get depressed, fight, lose jobs, struggle with demands of the workplace, have health issues and crises of infants and teenagers, and confront sexual problems. They cry and they yell and they get frustrated. They come from sad, abusive, neglectful backgrounds as well as from more stable families, and all marriages are haunted by ghosts from the past.
In studying couples and their marriages, as I experienced in my private practice, the question was posed, "Tell me what is good about your marriage."
Understanding how these happily married couples remained together was foremost. What stood aside was how each in the dyad learned to grow as an individual, stating that it is important also to grow as a couple too.
Most of the couples interviewed also stated that each person felt strongly their marriage had a goodness to it, and they respected each other.
There was a balance in needs, wishes, and expectations. Although every one was reluctant to define love, they spoke movingly, often lyrically, about how appreciative they were of the others responsiveness to their needs.
Opposite are the often the unsuccessful couples who present the picture book perfect relationship. The interior does not match the facade.
One woman shared, "Our family represents to some people a Camelot, when they view it from the outside. Even those who know us don't see the 'nitty gritty' that every marriage goes through. But he and I know it. And our children do, now that they are grown. I am not sure what was modeled to our children, however I do know it was not authentic to the world."
The problem, then is how to gain entry into the inner sanctum of a marriage and not be misled by the front door. Love for each other as well as friendship and shared values and the acceptance that marriage and life are not all a storybook.
One eighty year old man states, "What works for us is that we share a vision of how life will unfold, that we are good and responsible people who care about the world and other people in it, that is our success in marriage."
The Good Marriage
Wallerstein & Blakeslee