Life is Relationships (The Rest is Just Details)
February 24th, 2022
Every year in the United States, approximately 2.5 million couples– that’s 5 million people— stand before their friends, families, faith communities, or state officials in wedding ceremonies, promising to love, honor, and cherish their partner “‘til death do us part”. However, statistics show that most of the time, something happens that de-rails these lofty dreams and heartfelt promises.
Approximately 50% of first time marriages end in divorce, and in the case of second marriages, that number rises to 60% and then 73% for third marriages. And those numbers reflect only the couples that have totally given up on any chance for improvement and are willing to go through the upheaval that accompanies dissolving a marriage. There are varying statistics on those living lives of quiet desperation and profound resignation in disappointing marriages, without the joy and contentment of true partnership.
Not much has more of an impact on the experience of our life than the quality of our primary relationship. In fact, best-selling author Gary Smalley boldly states that “Life is Relationship–the rest is just details.” So the pressing question is, is it just the luck of the draw? Are half of the people who get married destined for divorce and the other half are just lucky that they just chose the right person and live happily ever after? Having been a student of human behavior and especially marriage and relationships for over three decades, I can firmly assert that that could not be further from the truth. While there are certainly some marriages that are truly toxic and should end in divorce, there are also many failing marriages that have potential for remarkable transformations through sincere, committed effort.
A successful marriage, like success in any area of life, requires intentionality and hard work. Most people don’t get lean, powerful, athletic bodies, or a deep, fulfilling spiritual life, or massive business/financial success by accident. Success in any area of life takes work, commitment, and determination. Unlike the romances portrayed in movies and literature, great marriages in real life don’t just come from that magical moment when the prince and princess share a glance across a crowded room, then share a magical kiss and magically live happily ever after.
My experience and observation indicates that building a successful marriage is hard work. It takes years of commitment and a willingness to sacrifice being right for the opportunity to be happy. I have never met anyone who has a long term, successful marriage who says it was easy, came naturally, that they just lucked into the right person. They tell me that it was hard, dirty, uncomfortable, challenging, and frustrating work, but that it was totally worth the effort.
My personal experience was no different. After almost 10 years of marriage, I was in my early 30’s. I was a young mother, a developing entrepreneur married to an engineer at a large corporation. We had two highly demanding, stressful careers, bills to pay, a mortgage, financial concerns, extended family issues, three young, active children, and two totally opposite personality types. We loved each other, but our lives didn’t reflect that love. We lacked the skills and strategy to work together rather than against each other. We had fallen into a pattern of resenting each other, withdrawing from each other, blaming each other, and becoming resigned to an unfulfilling relationship. I vividly remember the conversation with my sister when I told her that I didn’t know which would be worse for my children, to come from a broken home or live in one. I believed my choices were to get a divorce or spend my life with someone who didn’t understand who I was or how to give me what I needed. My husband was frustrated and tired of the constant conflict.
Let me avoid the drama and fast forward to the happy ending of this tale. My husband and I recommitted to each other and to our family and the home we wanted for our children. We sought resources and wise counsel. We read books and discussed strategies, we went to workshops, and we found our way back to each other. We spent most of the next four decades, until his recent death, growing together in a joyful, satisfying partnership. One happy memory we shared in the last month of his life was overhearing two separate conversations with health care workers commenting about our relationship. There was something about the richness and love that we demonstrated to each other that was real enough for them to feel. What they said was “What they have, that’s what I want.” It’s so rare that in any area of our lives we build something that others can feel as authentic and real. But the love that my husband and I had for each other was real and authentic, and it was beautiful. It was what we intended for it to be when we stood at the altar 48 years earlier and looked at each other and said “I do.”
In my 30’s, we were on the brink of divorce. But, we decided together that we wanted something different. We decided that we were both going to invest in our relationship, and I’m so glad that we didn’t quit. It was hard work. It was messy, but it was so, so worth it.
My hope for all of you out there in the LEAD community is for you to have a rich and meaningful marriage, because after all, “life is relationships”, and this relationship really matters.
Join me in part 2 of this blog as we discuss some of the lessons learned, tactics, and resources that helped us get out of our marriage rut and build a marriage that was fulfilling, life giving, and a legacy building partnership.