There are few things in our society in which we have unconsciously imbued so much expectation and meaning as marriage.
Of course, everyone wants to be happy in marriage. But the yoking of two divergent individuals is meant to make both parties acutely self-conscious of the inner workings of their persona which should spawn happiness in the union as a by-effect.
Before any further dissection, let us start at the beginning. We grow up thinking the hardest part is finding the right person.
This thought erroneously (or not) assumes this is the secret to a happy life. The more “right” a person is for us, the less suffering we will experience down the line.
However, evidence tells us this isn’t exactly true. People generally do pair up with whom they believe they will be most happy. Even if, in some cases, it’s more about security, status or tradition than love.
People do generally choose who they think they will be happiest with, only to find that they are incorrect.
This is because aside from basic compatibility; being aligned on key values and long-term issues the work of marriage is not whether or not you find and keep your most ideal counterpart.
The work is what you do when you discover that you can couple up with the most perfect person for you ever, and still find yourself frustrated, exhausted, dragged down and at your wit’s end.
When we choose romantic partners, we do so through unconscious “love maps.”
These are cues. Ideas and suggestions that are picked up over time to piece together a concept of the right partner.
This is gathered through a lot of past experience: familiarity, family ties, failed relationships, trauma, other people’s beliefs about what’s “right” for us, our own outdated ideas about who we are and what we should do in life.
Then, of course, there’s sexual attraction, which is the biggest thing that people confuse for compatibility.
What we are really doing, however, is attaching ourselves to those who most significantly mirror our strengths and flaws.
We do this because it is familiar. But also because this is the essential purpose of long-term partnership: to assist us in growth.
If our lives are about becoming ourselves, then our closest partners are our greatest teachers.
When we are triggered by them, we are being awakened to something within ourselves that we have yet to see clearly.
Nobody can do this as well as someone who is so intimately connected to us.
The magic of marriage is that it is not meant to make you feel happy in that dopamine-laced, movie-ending kind of way.
It is meant to make you aware of yourself, and the more deeply you can grow, the more joy you will experience.
It’s counter-intuitive, but the less you expect marriage to make you happy, the more that it will.
It is not about finding the right person but becoming the right person.
Your life partner is an asset to you in the evolution of your becoming, it is not the whole of your becoming.
Marriage will not do the work for you. It is yours, always, and forevermore.
Relationships, in general, are the major means through which the majority of us learn about ourselves.
Our interactions with others show us who we are, how we behave, and what we are doing. It is the most enlightening medium for self-awareness.
There is absolutely no relationship that does this more than a person with whom you commit to build your life, home, and share a sexual and intimate relationship for the rest of your existence.
It’s a lot to ask of an imperfect person — to assume they will show up and fit the mould of the very specific image you imagined your partner to be, which, when it comes down to it, is just someone who makes you happy all of the time.
Therein lies perhaps the most important aspect of our growth: how can we lay to rest what we thought our partners would do for us and instead see them for who they actually are?
How can we learn to be gracious and forgiving and compassionate?
How can we find gratitude for the sheer fact that they continue to show up every day, even though the hardest parts?
We say that our failed relationships teach us more than anything else. Actually, it is our ongoing relationships that teach us the most.
Now to the most difficult part of this discourse. Marriage is not always going to make you happy, but it is going to do something much better.
It will give you an opportunity to find happiness in peace, in letting go, in learning what’s worth fighting for, in figuring out how to love an imperfect person, in seeing what commitment is and what compromise feels like.
Marriage gives you a happy life because it makes you a better person.
That’s why it’s so hard for so many: they go into it thinking that just being in the right relationship is the ticket to everlasting joy and find themselves explosive and inconsolable, terse and agitated over the smallest of issues when they realize that it is not.
This is the expectation that will wreck you if you let it.
At the end of the day, anyone who ventures into a marriage is a sane adult with functioning faculties who understands the difficult choices therein.
You can choose to see marriage as a gift.
You can choose to view it as an incredible privilege that someone has promised to walk with you through life.
Marriage gives us our walking partners, not our paths. When you view your partner less as your saviour and more as a cool person who you get to hang out with until you die, you’re more likely to be forgiving of their shortcomings. Because you are no longer under the delusion that they need to be perfect.
Our partners don’t exist to satiate our every emotional need.
They exist to be companions — separate, but equal—at once our responsibility, and yet very much out of our control.
Learning to love them better is the purpose of our lives. It gives so much more than it takes. It is worth it, in the end.
When we can strip away the assumption that they should be different than they are, we find something beautiful underneath. HARMONY. The very kind we had been hungry for all along.