Who Said Marriage Should be Work?

Category: Weekly Columns

I recently learned some statistics that surprised me, but upon reflection they really made sense.  What do you think the rate of divorce is between first, second, and third marriages?  Think about it.  I didn’t and came to the wrong conclusion.

It’s pretty much agreed by most experts that first marriages end in divorce about 40-50% of the time.  What surprised me is that the divorce rate increases with second marriages to something like 60% and more, while third marriages end in divorce at least 70% of the time.

My first gut reaction was that we would have learned from prior mistakes, we’d be wiser with the experience of living through a marriage and divorce, and maybe, just maybe, we may have learned something about our contributions to the break-up.  And, therefore, we’d not repeat destructive behaviors.

When I reflected on the challenges in my own house and applied some common sense, those statistics became more logical.  The reality is that the older we get, the more we’ve experienced, the more we’re likely to be set in our ways, and the more stress that is likely to come our direction.  By this I mean that with age often comes increased problems.

In my new, second marriage my wife and I have already dealt with the death of a parent, a significant loss of savings via the recession, a severe downturn in one of our professions (real estate), blending our families with my kids, a parent’s serious surgery, two surgeries of our own, moving, one of our dogs sent to doggie prison for attacking another dog, and a teenager.

I believe everyone in life has problems and, as I stated to my wife just yesterday, I wouldn’t switch mine with anyone I know and I’m especially grateful for our family’s present good health.  Health is indeed the greatest wealth, without a doubt.  I’m also extremely grateful for the growth of my new career as a columnist, so I have little to complain about.

But, second marriages are a challenge and ours is no exception.  Thankfully, we’re both able and willing to work on it.  For us, it has meant occasional sessions with a therapist.  For others, it may be clergy that can offer an objective view and unemotional help.

We’ve also both been willing to read some of the better self-help books.  One we especially found illuminating was “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, which taught us, to our surprise, that we’re different from one another in how we express love and want love expressed in return.  The lessons learned and the realization of what each of our “love languages” is has been helpful, though as with so many things we know, applying them to our actions is harder than reading or hearing about them.

Some people say that marriage is “work.”  While I agree with that to some degree, it’s the amount of “work” that is worth discussion.  If your relationship is constantly fraught with fights and disagreements, non-stop sessions with therapists, and regular on-going tension in the house, then that is just too much “work.”

On the other hand, if you expect to just slide by without making adjustments in your own behavior and aren’t willing to explore the bigger issues via therapy, clergy, and/or discussion, then you’re not putting in enough “work.”  Like everything in life, there’s a balance and the extremes tend to not work, to beat that word to death.

As passionate as I may be about a particular issue, there’s no question of my culpability in any stressful and meaningful argument or disagreement we have.  And, to my wife’s credit, she says the same thing.  Granted, she’s more emotional than I, but I’m more stubborn.  I believe this is a normal gender balance.  And, let’s face it; making up can be a lot of fun.

I’m going to offer a few suggestions that will help any relationship.  These are ideas I learned, back in my showbiz career, when I attended a weekend seminar put on by the Catholic Church as a prerequisite for getting married in the church.  I was developing a murder mystery, a TV movie; set against the background of such a couple’s retreat and I went undercover with the writer, as an engaged couple.

Not knowing each other well, we crafted new identities for each other, how we met, when we were getting married, likes and dislikes, etc.  It was actually quite fun and extremely eye opening for us.  Here are some of their valuable suggestions, which apply to first or fifth marriages:

1.    Don’t go to bed angry.

2.    Don’t call each other names.

3.    Let go of old business, old issues.  Debate them, argue them, and let them go.

4.    Hold each other’s hand during an argument to remind each other of your connection and love (not easy).

5.    When you agree to something, whether reluctantly or not, you cannot later say you didn’t agree to it.  In other words, if you give in, you’ve let go of your right to complain later.

I maintain that this short list will enhance any relationship.  Thankfully, I have a loving, willing partner with my wife and I know we’ll work through our issues and have a long, loving, fulfilling marriage.