However, we don’t pat ourselves on our backs, as if somehow this has anything
to do with us. We’re still together because we enjoy each other’s company and even when we disliked each other (and at times we did), we still loved each other. Also, we were both committed to this family we had created. At times, we just dug in and did what was needed to be done to keep our little clan going.
People sometimes assume we’ve “made it”, as if staying married is some sort of prize. I know people that divorce after having been married far longer than my husband and I have. My husband and I don’t stay married because we’ve been married so long, we stay married because it works well for us and we love each other. It’s been true from day one, and if it ever changes we’ll reassess. So far, so good.
What I have learned to truly dislike is when I hear people say “Oh her marriage failed.” This happened recently to a friend that had been married for over 32 years, people were saying to her “I’m so sorry your marriage failed.” She countered with “How can 32 years, 3 children, countless memories of vacations, school plays, birthdays and support in any way be considered a failure?”
I agree, if her husband had died, no one would come and say “Oh too bad it’s over, I’m sorry your marriage was a failure.” If one lost a job after 32 years, no one would say “Well that job was a failure!” Anything lasting that long is not a failure.
Even short marriages are not a “failure” if you had a child together, shared a wonderful vacation, or simply learned what you do not want in your next relationship. Any relationship should be about learning, even if you learn “I never want to be with anyone that eats that much garlic again!”
I think a marriage, or any commitment to someone else, is a positive act. I’ve only heard one woman on her wedding day say “Well if this doesn’t work out, I figure we’ll just get divorced!” She is still a very stereotypical “hipster”, this “eh marriage, I’ll give it a try” was part of her cool hip persona. However, I could tell at the wedding, she and all her family and friends wanted this to work out. Despite her bravado, I’m willing to bet when her marriage ended a few years later, it hurt and hurt badly. But I’m also believe she learned something, if perhaps only that marriage despite our best hipster hopes to make it happy go lucky and without a lot of deep emotional commitment, is far more serious than we might suppose.
I know some marriages of very short duration that have evolved into happy divorces. This is especially wonderful there are children involved. I have a friend on Facebook, BJ (some of you I hope are also lucky enough to be his friend), that is full of praise for his ex and her wonderful parenting. He’s even grateful for her new husband, BJ being smart enough to be appreciative of the positive role this man plays in the life of his children.
Heidi Anderson is another wonderful person that is in line for being “best ex ever”. Is it easy? No. It has to be quite difficult to choose to put your anger, hurt, fears, and I am sure at times loneliness and jealousy aside, and just do what is right. It isn’t that one should not acknowledge and be true to ones feelings. Getting married is a very unselfish act, you are in a sense trusting this partner as you have never trusted anyone before. Often this same trust and lack of self translates into a working, and loving, relationship that is not marriage but can also be important and meaningful. An “unsuccessful” marriage doesn’t always mean the end to friendship and even being a family.
I admire more than I can say the people I know that are successful at their ex status. It is in some ways more difficult than being successful at being married. As a teacher I could almost always pick out the children with parents that were unhappily divorced. Rarely could I ever tell the difference between children of happily married, and happily divorced, parents.
I should say I know a few sad, long and dragged out unhappy toxic marriages
that lasted until death they did part. My own grandmother on my father’s side pulled me aside when my own parents divorced. She asked how my mother was doing, she had been quite fond of her. She then held my hands and told me “I wish I had been as brave as she is. It’s too late for me to leave now, but it’s the one thing I always regret.” I had never been closed to her, and so was shocked that she was confiding this to me.
What she shared stayed with me, and I knew I would never ever stay in a bad relationship. That was her gift to me, staying married wasn’t worth the regret of “what might have been, if only.” After my grandfather died, she was happy to discover my grandfather had left her a lot of money. Her first purchase was a brand new Volvo station wagon, so that she could continue her “meals and wheels” deliveries in style. Grandmother was a whole new person after grandfather died, and happily lived many years more spending generously on others, and just doing what she darned well wanted to do.
Among short marriages I know of that have been successful, a young woman that married a policeman, and discovered she would also like to go into law enforcement. While her husband cheated and they divorced, she said she never would have even thought of going into the career she still loves if she had not married him to begin with.
So, perhaps the only failed marriage is the one someone does not learn something from. I know some women feel like failures, and take away from a marriage a feeling of lowered self worth. That is not a failure, but a tragedy.
My grandmother on my mother’s side also taught me something important about marriage. She told me “Never marry anyone you can’t happily divorce.” That sounds a bit radical, but what she meant was “When you get married, imagine being divorced to that same person.” If you can’t imagine being able to be divorced to this person, and yet still raise children as a team or getting your alimony check on time, don’t marry him.
When I met my husband, I asked myself, how would it be to be divorced to this man. His honesty and sense of doing what is right, as well as the kind of father I imagined him to be, allowed me the security of going into marriage knowing that he would be a very good ex indeed.
One thing that tipped the scales for me was his angry outburst to a friend that groused all the time about his child support. The friend was upset his ex had bought a new car. My husband to be told his friend “Those are your children, how can you complain about your ex getting a new car when it’s your children in the new safer car with her?” They did not remain friends, as my then single husband could not understand how his friend, who spent lavishly on himself, could complain so much about writing a simple child support check each month.
I grew up learning from both my grandmothers the importance of marriage and the importance of divorce. But I’ve also come to believe there is no such thing as a “failed” marriage.