And why I've decided a little more optimism is in order
I’ve been with my dh since I was 18, had our first baby straight after uni at 21. That baby is now 22 and we had three more. We’ve had so many ups and downs, so many times I’ve felt I’d outgrown him or didn’t even like him any longer. We’ve moved all over the country, both gone back to uni, lived on one salary so I could breastfeed until our babies self weaned etc. We have a joint goal that is our children and raising them. After a while I’d fall in love with him again. It takes time. Some months we are more like good friends. Other times we are in love again. I think that’s just part of growing up and changing. We decided all of those years ago we’d make a family. We are both very practical and also once we commit to something we don’t give up. Including in each other. We find things to love. And it works. It’s a decision we make over and over. We don’t even talk about it like this, it’s just an obvious thing - we stay together. We don’t argue much either, our children are on the whole happy and thriving. My Grandmother once said to me that the one thing about modern life she disliked was the propensity and ease at which couples just gave up and divorced. She was bewildered by it and had the attitude of - wherever you go there you are. Meaning your personal faults and flaws will only follow you into a new relationship so we ought to try really hard with our current life. I’ve really enjoyed listening to your interviews on various podcasts recently and hope to read your book.
Hi Mary, I'm very happily married for 18 years with 5 kids. Not sure if that is long (Grandma and Grandpa celebrated 70 yr anniversary recently). But I can relate to that need to hear about healthy and happy marriages -- I sometimes feel that people are curious to know if we are for real, it's almost like an unrealistic dream to many of my peers. They don't believe that happy families are real any more. That's not a story, but like I say, just avowing that it does/can work and it's a lovely thing is needed these days.
Come to Texas! Married almost 29 years, 3 kids and have parents who have been married 54 years. I look forward to many more years with my husband as our kids get out into the world and start their own families. I hope that we have passed on our values in a way that appeals to them but I worry they will have a tough time finding spouses who have also experienced a stable family life. So much brokenness out there.
Wonderful piece and wonderful comments!
I came here to tell our story but feel a little bit overawed by the other commenters who all had marvellous histories to tell. We are a lot shorter in terms of time but we've packed a lot in.
I met my person 25 years ago this Autumn in first term at university, but although we had a brief and very intense relationship back then, for reasons I won't go into around family and background, we didn't last very long and it ended pretty abruptly. She then left and started a different course elsewhere, and I was left with a broken heart. It was first love for me, and first heartbreak. We went off and lived our lives but she was always the standard for me to which everyone else wouldn't match and although we had virtually no contact for years, and lived in different parts of the UK, I regularly thought of her and pined for her.
Fast forward about 6 or 7 years (so 18 or so years ago) and she started her first job. Sitting beside her was a chap in a golf club jumper from my home town. She says, "do you know x", and it turns out this chap was in my class. So she gets my number, and we share a few texts, and I'm just delighted to have any contact at all with her, short as it is. We are both in relationships by now and it's not even thought of that we would be anything other than acquaintances - but I still love her deeply. Obviously I say nothing about that, why would I, she dumped me remember.
Fast forward a few more years, and Facebook appears and then the drawsomething App appears (pictionary by App) - somehow we end up playing drawsomething and communicating more and more via the drawsomething messages and indeed our pictures, and it becomes the absolute highlight of my day to get a reply from her and I have butterflies and still of course nothing is said because why would I say anything..... And then some months later, we end up chatting on fb messenger, and it turns out that all these years she had been pining for me as well.
It's not that simple because we are both in relationships and so it takes a long time to unwind that situation before we can do anything - but eventually we get together. Everyone says 'oh this is nonsense and you were children before and it won't be the same and it wasn't real love and it isn't real love' etc - but we get together and we have stayed together and that was almost 10 years ago now.
In those 10 years we have had 2 children and miscarriage and moved house and 2 separate floods destroying our house and we've had challenges with all sorts of things and we've had plenty of fights - but we always come back to each other and from my side, I couldn't imagine life without her. She is my best friend, my confidante, my sounding board, my team mate v the world - and I also fancy her as much now as ever - something chemical or animal in there I think that neither of us really have much control over. In short, she's perfect.
Anyway - that's our story, or an abridged version at least. Hope it meets the brief!
Married 11 years, together 20. We have three kids. We've been through a lot, deaths in the family, major health scares, addiction, autism.
Our secret is we never stop the conversation.
I borrowed a concept from the silly sweet 90's books "Conversations with God". There are some people who you can talk to forever. Yourself should be one, and your mate should be another.
My husband isn't beautiful, but he is to me. The smartest man I know, whose moral center is unwavering. A resonant voice whose silence could never be filled by anyone else.
Just celebrated the 25-year anniversary of our drive thru wedding in Las Vegas; didn’t even have to take off our seatbelts 👍🙂 Looking forward to 25 more years of adventure. We’re two totally different people: cat & dog, sun & moon - and she’s Japanese too (!) - but we share a moral depth of character & an intellectual capacity for connection. Five kids, eldest with Down syndrome. Job loss/ career loss, health problems, & just plain Bad Luck - hey, that’s Life 😂 We tell our kids to have 5 or 10 kids each - as many as you can feed! - because their future happiness will be in marriage & children. Thanks for asking 👍🙂
My wife and I just celebrated our 37th anniversary, and we've had ups and downs, of course, but I think most long marriages can be explained by Bruce Springsteen's wonderful song, If I Should Fall Behind.:
We said we'd walk together baby come what may
That come the twilight should we lose our way
If as we're walking a hand should slip free
I'll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me
We swore we'd travel darlin' side by side
We'd help each other stay in stride
But each lover's steps fall so differently
But I'll wait for you
And if I should fall behind
Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true
But you and I know what this world can do
So let's make our steps clear that the other may see
And I'll wait for you
If I should fall behind
Now there's a beautiful river in the valley ahead
There 'neath the oak's bough soon we will be wed
Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees
Darlin' I'll wait for you
Should I fall behind
Everyone will spend some time ahead and some time behind, and that doesn't have to be fatal - as long as you're willing to wait.
Wish you could come to Montreal ! Would love to hear you speak
We've been together for 30 years, married for 20. We lived and worked abroad together, and had a long distance relationship for a while, both doing postgrad studies, before buying a house and having our kids who are now teenagers.
We've been through some tough times, but i wouldn't want to be with anyone else. He makes me laugh. And he puts up with me.
What a shame that you’re not coming to Notre Dame! But enjoy, it hope you get some audiences.
We have been together for 38 years. The fact that we run a full time farm together certainly helps. But in the advice column, I tend to tell younger couples to keep in mind they are nothing special. That, and to always be loyal.
On being loyal: Here is how my father made it work. Go to work every day after school at a brick factory to support your mom, volunteer to serve in World War II, use the GI Bill to go to college, and get out and work for the same company until you are 80. Stay at the same church, stay married, and stay in the same house. Sit by your wife’s side every afternoon for 10 years, holding her hand as she fades away. Be a sticker, not a boomer.
44 years, 3 kids, 3 grandkids....multiple homes, different jobs, different places: it's all been great. Consistently. Over and over again; in a thousand (a million?) different ways. It still is. It's not going to change.
Funny thing: what we're all told... consistently, over and over again... is that Marriage is hard work. "You have to work at your marriage," they say. "You have to put the time in! You have to focus; you have to set goals and measure progress, be prepared to handle the challenges... be willing to fight your way through the difficult times, because boy-oh-boy there will be difficult and trying times!"
But it's not really true. Not really.
Sure, life will throw all kinds of crap your way. That's inevitable. Friends and family will die; people will lose their jobs; promotions will evaporate; you'll live next to horrible neighbors. The sky will pour; the creeks will flood. You will, if you're lucky get old and older: joints will ache, the body won't bend, and when you go to a doctor for a fix there won't be one. 'That's life,' he tells you. Better than the alternative.
But your marriage? Your love? The heart of the heart of all the rest? That doesn't need to change at all, not in any significant way. Nor is it work. It's actually the opposite. I don't put in a 10 hour day at the office to come home to power through another shift; nor does she. I'd hate that. Who wouldn't?
Fundamentally it begins and ends with the simple fact that we love. And loving the Other we each try to build a life which demonstrates that love, and pleases the Other. What I want most is for her to be happy. What she wants most is for me to be happy. And wanting, each, the best for the Other we move ineluctably from pleasure to pleasure, happiness to happiness. Not constantly, certainly, and not without the misstep...but yes, to the best of our abilities given our own, natural human tendency to the selfish & indifferent (which is actually fairly common) we grow closer, and closer still.
That is the rhythm of every good marriage; the music to which we dance.
Love, in other words, is the center of it all. It's not career; it's not the kids; it's not the house or the job or our friends, or the remodeled kitchen (though all of those things are attached to that center and expressed from that center). It's not me trying to 'express myself' or 'self-actualize' (whatever the heck that means). It's not Freedom or Authenticity. It's watching an old movie together....or me watching a new one while she falls asleep....or cleaning bathrooms....or planting a garden...or complaining about how small the tomatoes are....or re-staining the deck....or entertaining the grandkids....or playing Codenames....or making love...or telling stories...or having breakfast together... or me going fishing....or her doing genealogy....or drinking a beer while talking in the hot tub.
Thomas Parker (above) noted Springsteen. He's right. But equally we could reference Jefferson Airplane's "Today" (or maybe 'Coming Back to Me'), or "A Case of You" (Joni Mitchell), or a thousand other songs. We find the echoes of the heart's beat everywhere, in everything. How could we not?
"The city is burning and under siege. And we are in a war in which everyone is killed and no one is remembered."
"What am I supposed to do, then," Peter Lake asked, "if it's like you say?"
"Is there someone you love?"
"Then go home to her."
"And who will remember her?"
"No one. That's just the point. You must take care of all that now.”
Mark Helprin, Winters Tale
And so we do.
I'll be on my own USA road trip then and am going to miss you being in NY by about a week, annoyingly. Good luck with your tour, your recent podcasts have been most excellent.
Hi Mary, we have recently celebrated 34 years of marriage although we cohabited for about five years before that. I had my first child when I was 31 and now we have three sons who are in their 20s and doing well. We both have educations up to postgraduate level which was achieved prior to having children. Our life, so far, has been blessed with good luck and that can never be underestimated. Having said that, there appear to be a few rules for a happy marriage when you have children. 1. You can't have three big careers in one household. Bringing up a family is a big career. My husband has a very successful business so after our third son was born I gave up working for a salary. Big careers require focus and by me focussing on the primary care role he could focus on his career. Financially that benefitted both of us. 2. The drudgery has to be shared. My husband respected that I was well educated and aspirational and for both of us looking after young children was often boring, chaotic and tiring. He knew that he had to share the drudgery and I needed time to nourish my soul (protect my mental health). I see marriages fail when the caregiver is expected to do all of the drugery and is given no respect for it. 3. Couples have to be financially compatible. Households are like businesses. There is money coming in and money going out. When one is dependent on the other for the money coming in there has to be agreement on how it is spent/saved. My husband and I met when we were in our teens and we grew up in the same part of town. We are culturally similar and have always enjoyed each other's company. Since our children have become independent we have enjoyed other joint projects together as well as pursuing our own interests. Thank you for your essays, I find them very thought provoking and could talk to you for hours as I do with my girlfriends about the same topics.
I love Mary's articles, and though I never made a family of my own, I completely support happy ones. Only wish that they weren't as hard to come by as they've been (imo) or as socially challenging to their members (if that makes any sense). Glad to hear about optimism too, another thing that's hard to come by. Good for you, and thank you, Mary!
We’re 37+ years married
5 children and 10 grandchildren
I guess we’re fortunate in having grown up in stable rural communities where divorce was rare. To this day it’s rare in our circle of close friends most of whom have clocked up as many years as we have.
As in so many ways I guess that there’s a lot of self conscious analysis (taking to bits as if a marriage was a car) about these days.
For us it’s like the water in which fishes swim, it just is, and it’s joys come with looking after children and grandchildren all of whom are endlessly unique
Ups and downs? More the challenges that life puts in your path - just having to work it through.