Updated: Jul 31
As I write this, next week will be our 56th anniversary. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Wow! You must be really old!!!” I get it. When I think of people married this long I think of really old people too. But we were teenagers when we got married, so you see we ain’t really old at all!
But still, 56 years is a long time. Not a crazy long time, in spite of the confusing divorce statistics, which make the average person think that marriages have the shelf life of a gerbil. The fact is, most people won’t get divorced. So if you don’t screw things up, and if you don’t die, and if you marry young enough, anyone can end up celebrating their golden wedding anniversary.
Still, there are many risks along the way, and it’s smart to wonder about how to minimize those risks. It’s a wonderful thing to be in a happy, fruitful relationship with someone for a long, long time. To have a rich history together, and so many memories. To have meant so much to someone for so long, and to feel you’ve mattered to that person for so long as well.
So how do you do it?
Today we’ll talk about laying the groundwork. Starting off right. Preparing the soil before you plant your marriage vows. Next time we’ll talk about keeping the whole thing going once it starts.
The problem begins with people choosing their partner for the wrong reasons. Dating traps people into this. You want romance, excitement, fun, spark, energy...and all of this in an unreal context of no commitment or responsibility. And it’s out of this la-la chemistry that we concoct our falling in love, and fall to our doom.
And we all do it, so it’s totally normal. Still, it’s totally the wrong way to go about it. Because we think about it the wrong way.
We want to fall in love. What we should want is a partner for a long and difficult journey.
Imagine you were going to trek your way through the Amazon rain forest. A difficult journey indeed! I think you would want a partner who was the smartest, sanest, most sensible, most practical person you could find. Someone easy to get along with. Someone who made a good decision. Someone who was genuinely good: moral, decent, kind, trustworthy, generous. Someone who had their shit together.
And if they were nice to look at, that would be a big plus.
Well, that’s what you look for in a life partner. And while you can date anyone you want just for the experience, if you’re looking for a life partner, you’d be an idiot to date anyone who wasn’t the way I just described. Otherwise, they just wouldn’t hold up on your trek through the rainforest of marriage.
But hey, you can make anything you want your priority. Six-pack abs and a chiseled jaw? Go for it! Big boobs and a delightful giggle? Sure! But when the statistics talk about first marriages ending on average at the 6-year mark, they’re talking about the time when boobs and abs wear out their appeal.
You can look further for guidance, too. We did, in our book Is He Mr. Right? We aimed that book at women—our publisher told us to—but the advice in it is just as much for men as it is for women. And our research revealed that if you want to be with someone where the relationship is likely to last, there are five factors you have to check out pretty carefully:
Can you get close and is it pretty easy to do so?
Do you respect your partner and feel respected by them?
Do you feel you usually do, and always can, have fun together?
Do you feel safe with each other? Not just safe physically, but safe from things like being lied to or being cheated?
Do you feel real affection and passion for each other?
Now here’s the crucial thing where so many people go wrong. They find some of these things with a person and think they’re good to go. The truth is that
You just need a passing grade in these factors.
But you need a passing grade in EACH AND EVERY ONE of these factors.
The thing is this: when a marriage flops, you can almost always trace the failure to which of the factors that got the failing grade, even if it’s just one. So let’s say Timmy and Tammy were fine in 4 of these factors except the fun one. (And I’ve known many couples like this.) So fun is a stranger in their marriage. Well, for the first few years—more if they have children—they get along without fun. They’re bored, and bored with each other, but the other stuff keeps things going. In the end, that boredom and the absence of fun, one way or another, will do them in. Maybe one of them will have an affair. Maybe one will just get fed up. Maybe they’ll stay married but grow more and more distant and unhappy.
All because they flunked the fun factor going in.
And the exact same thing is true for each of the other factors. You absolutely need a passing grade for each of them. Really, that’s not too much to ask. It’s how successful marriages start out.
Next time we’ll look at how you can keep things going once you commit to one another.