Marriage: Staying the Course

Disclaimer:   I’m  a divorced woman who worked hard to save her marriage.  If you’re reading this and are divorced, please know I’m not judging you.  I’m simply sharing my stance:  I believe there is no perfect match for each person and that most marriages can be saved if both parties work hard at loving, learning, and listening.  Most. 

A few days ago, I ran across this  blog post by Lori Lowe, We All Married the Wrong Person, while perusing the Freshly Pressed page from WordPress, a list of 10 recent posts.  It’s an eclectic list, but I generally follow a few of the links.  Sometimes they’re actually good reads.  This post from Marriage Gems:  Research-based Marriage Tips and Insights hooked me.

In her post, she reviews some work of psychiatrist and author Scott Haltzman, MD, specifically his writings about choosing of a life partner and staying with that partner.  In short, he holds most people emphasize finding the right person, often dating numerous potential mates in the hopes of finding Mr. or Ms. Right, or (and I really detest this term) one’s soul mate.  He goes on to explain that if a successful marriage depended on doing that careful search that more people would stay married, given the dating habits they have.  After all, they’ve tried out plenty of candidates in search of the best fit.  But that system doesn’t work.  Working one’s way through more choices doesn’t increase marital success, and the divorce rate reflects that. 

Simply put, more available choices don’t make for a better product.  Now, I could have told you that.  That’s why I shop at Trader Joe’s.  Fewer choices in a smaller place makes for easier decision-making.  I live without what they don’t have (okay, I make a separate run for the ice cream I like).  Plus, they’re just so darn friendly there, and, at least at my particular store, the lines are really short.  But I digress.

I’ve heard many a woman (and I’ve talked to many more women than men about relationships – go figure) dreamily talk about meeting her soul mate.  Really?  On a planet of almost 7 billion people, you’re going to meet the one person who will fulfill your every desire in a mate?  Even with internet dating (and I admit I haven’t done that), the chances of finding that perfect mate seem, well, worse than being struck by lightning in a given year (1 in 750,000 per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association). 

People and marriages aren’t perfect.  Neither are kids, and no one tries out a bunch of those, choosing the one we deem to be the best fit or, worse, tossing the one we have at age 2 or 13 because they really aren’t what we want anymore (there could be quite a few 13-year-old orphans if that was an acceptable option). We keep the ones we get.   Life isn’t perfect.  It’s wholly unpredictable, as are the people in it.  Add in a few of those not-so-handpicked kids and you’re awash in imperfection.   And that’s just fine. 

Now I’m all for caution when considering partnering for life.  Certainly one looks for red flags:  bodies in the trunk, a string of past marriages/relationships that “just didn’t work”, and, depending on your bent, an aversion to chocolate.  That’s not including the biggies:  substance abusers, people abusers, already married folks, etc.  Sure, some screening is good.  But the perfect mate isn’t out there.  Really.  Because no one is perfect, and no one is perfect for anyone else.  And this is Haltzman’s point.  I’d add that the longer the list of what a potential mate must have/do/be, the more likely we are to be disappointed (and perhaps leave the marriage) down the line.  Because even when we think we’ve chosen carefully, Haltzman maintains, we’re still unable to choose the “right” person because we’re a bit blinded by love.  Those endorphins, pheromones, and hormones don’t lead to the clearest of thinking, it seems.  Shocking, huh? 

Haltzman sums it up this way:

I strongly agree.  It’s impossible to choose a “perfect partner” (as Lowe’s blog post title affirms), but it is possible to stay in the marriage and, I believe, find happiness.  As a culture, we’re focused on finding perfection in all:  the perfect car, house, job, shoes, cell phone, and, of course, partner.  It’s a consumer mentality:  find the perfect item and toss it when it ceases to be perfect.  Or when you realize that it never was perfect.  That’s flighty enough when it comes to vehicle choice, but it’s downright wrong when it comes to dealing with your life partner (and I’d agree with Haltzman regarding extreme scenarios such as those he posed being exceptions).
Divorce will happen — I’d maintain that it should happen in some circumstances.   But perhaps less expectation of perfection in one’s partner and the relationship and more focus on acceptance and love would help more couples avoid divorce and improve their relationships.  Simplistic sounding, perhaps, but certainly not easy.  Coming from the other side of a 15 year marriage, I’d say it’s worth a good try.