Also, a friend recently asked me for advice about marriage, from my perspective as a happily married person. I don't think I'm at all qualified to comment, because really five years together seems like a really short time. It's about 10% of the marriage I'm hoping for, and probably the easiest tenth, too. But anyway, it's a fun topic so I shall put some scattered thoughts here.
A few months ago some bloke on the internet, Mark Manson, crowd-sourced asking for marriage advice. And most of the conclusions of his collated suggestions are things I agree with; this may reflect that he asked lots of people who are from a similar culture to me, but anyway, I don't want to repeat what's in Manson's essay.
There are lots of reasons to get married, but a lot of my hesitation those years ago came from the fact that none of them seem to apply to me. I don't want or need the social status that comes with being married. I don't intend to have children so I don't need a partner who is legally committed to co-parenting with me. We were both already living independently so didn't need to be married in order to leave the parental home. And we both had good jobs and optmistic career plans, so didn't expect to rely on eachother for financial support. We weren't fulfilling any religious obligation; jack isn't Jewish so my marrying him is if anything frowned on rather than encouraged, and he has no religion which might favour his getting married. We're both citizens of the same country (and it's not a barbaric one where access to healthcare depends on marital status) so we don't need to be married to be able to live together.
In the end, the only reason we got married was because we wanted to make a public commitment to spending our lives together. We could've just announced it on social media and not got the state involved, and we did seriously consider that option, but in the end, we decided we did want the legal status. In some ways I'm a bit discouraged at how much this has meant our relationship gets taken seriously compared to people who just tell eachother and their relevant friends that they're together. Partly by random bureaucracy, partly by casual acquaintances such as work colleagues, but even by people quite important in our lives.
But the commitment, that's the thing I want to talk about, whether or not you have a ceremony and a legal status. I don't know what makes a successful long-term relationship, because I haven't actually reached a point I would describe as long-term. But I'm hopeful based on the years we've had together so far. The main reason is because jack has always and without exception been my partner. We work on stuff together, whether it's a small household chore or a difficult emotional conversation. We support eachother's goals, actively, not just words of encouragement but being part of a team. All these reasons that I'm still very happy in the relationship now were the same reasons I chose to bind my life to jack. Not because I was madly in love with him; I've been madly in love with various people before and since and that's not enough for me to regard them as potential life partners.
And maybe partnership is not enough either. One of the comments in the crowd-sourced advice article is that you have to know how to fight, how to live with profound disagreements. The truth is that jack and I have never had a serious disagreement, and I assume this won't hold for the next several decades, but it's true so far. I mean, sure, we get moody with eachother and snap at eachother from time to time, but we don't fight. And that's partly, I think, related to the absence of external pressures to be in a relationship. If money were tight we might fight over money, if we had massively incompatible life goals we would have to find a compromise, if one us became unable to contribute equally to our joint projects we'd have to find a way to deal with the unfairness without resentment. As it is, well, we've had a pretty easy ride; we chose eachother because we're pretty deeply compatible, and so far that has held true.
When I look at couples who have ended a long-term, meant to be committed relationship, there are some trends in the reasons. Some started out incompatible (at least in hindsight), but got married because of external pressures and fairly soon regretted it. Sometimes there's been cruelty and abuse, and nobody expects their partner to betray them but if it happens then there's no amount of advice about how to conduct a marriage that will help. Sometimes one partner has found another person they choose over the first person they made a commitment to. I like to think that wouldn't happen to us; if I met someone else I wouldn't leave jack for them. In some ways being poly is helpful because I can in fact appreciate the wonderfulness of other people, without needing to break up with jack. Though perhaps one could argue that it makes it more likely that I will leave the relationship for a new partner. It just seems impossible to imagine from here, though, I've made a commitment and I intend to stick to it.
Another reason is that the people in the marriage are not who they thought they were when the got married; the most extreme case is where one partner is not in fact the gender they were perceived as when they married and their spouse is monosexual to the point of not being able to handle a partner living as their real gender. Though I certainly know of a number of marriages that have survived one partner transitioning, I don't mean to imply that trans people can never have long-term relationships! I've also seen couples where they got married with compatible ideas about children and one of them has a complete change of heart, meaning that they have to choose between the relationship and parenting (or non-parenting) goals.
What I can't think of any examples of is a marriage that has ended because of adversity. Now maybe that's just a narrative thing; people won't say that they ended a relationship because their surrounding circumstances became unbearable and they were too stressed to continue together. (Other than marriages that end because one partner dies, but that's not exactly in anyone's control, and is always a risk you have to take if you choose to build your life around a relationship.) But still, it seems to me very striking that serious relationships don't end for external reasons, but because the couple are or become incompatible.
The Manson article talks about long term marital success depending on being able to handle
some pretty serious life changes. Remember, if you’re going to spend decades together, some really heavy shit will hit (and break) the fan.. It's something I've seen in my circles, certainly, people who have radically changed in ways that might make them incompatible with their partner, but have managed to adapt to the new reality and keep the relationship. I don't at all know what enables couples to be able to do that, though. I expect mutual respect and good communication help, but I don't know if that's enough.
My suspicion, based on second-hand observation, not my own experience, is that the key factor is determination. It's, well, commitment. A wise friend observed to me that if you find yourself in a relationship that makes you unhappy, you have the choice to change the relationship and the circumstances, or to leave the relationship (or, I suppose, to continue being unhappy, but that doesn't seem like a good option). Now, I have to clarify that I couldn't be more pro divorce. I think divorce is an absolute pillar of civilization, and I completely support the Captain Awkward principle that anyone has the right to leave any relationship at any time for any reason. But, but, there is a cost. If you choose to leave because you're unhappy, then that absolutely is your right, but you don't get the chance at a really long-term connection or the benefits that brings.
So in the end, the advice that I gave to my friend was that a good marriage is partly a matter of luck, and partly a matter of picking the right person. But it's only partly luck; the people actually involved in the marriage have some control over whether the relationship is happy or not. I don't necessarily count time-limited relationships as failures, but if what a person wants is a forever relationship, then it's important to think about what may help towards that. And I don't know if I will get that myself, but the first five years have been really good and I'm looking forward to lots and lots more.
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