Do you ever feel like all you hear about marriage is negative? Discouraging? Disappointing? I have heard the worst stories about marriage lately, and I keep hearing the question “are any marriages happy anymore?” It seems that it’s easier to see the hard things in marriage than the good. But, if we are to reach our ideal for our happily ever after, it is absolutely vital that we start to notice and remember the good, the beautiful, and the positive in marriage. With intentional thoughts and actions, you can rediscover why you love your marriage!
As a participant in a very happy and fulfilling marriage, I can say with full force that it’s possible. Despite what you hear around you, any marriage is worth it – and you are personally capable of having that marriage. I know it won’t always be easy, and it’s not eternal bliss in every moment, but the good is always there, and I promise you will see it when you choose to focus on the good. There is plenty of negativity surrounding the institution of marriage. It’s time to start adding a few voices of triumph and unabashed joy in what can be accomplished when two people decide to make their life one.
Enter Marriage with Eyes Wide Open
Benjamin Franklin said, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards”. This is great advice. I’m all for dating couples asking a million questions, hesitating, evaluating red flags, and running away when those red flags become billboards. This is what dating is for, and it allows you to close those eyes a little after you say, “I do.”
However, I feel like the majority of married couples keep that “eyes wide open” mindset – particularly when it comes to negative components of their personal relationship or the establishment of marriage in general. What was once a healthy practice in dating to narrow the field, becomes a habit of waking up each day only to notice frustrations that perhaps would be less annoying with eyes half closed.
From dear friends and family members to tv series and news stories it sounds like marriage is just more work and less fun than we all hoped. It’s a discouraging narrative to dating and married couples alike. When I was getting married just over 7 years ago, Ryan and I were told constantly how hard marriage would be, that the honeymoon phase would soon be over, and we would be in for a life of disagreements and frustration, with a possible end in divorce.
As a child of divorced parents I wasn’t unfamiliar with the realities, statistics, and tragedies of a failed married. I certainly went into marriage with eyes wide open. Yet, everyone around me seemed reluctant to allow even the hope of a happy, lasting marriage.
No One’s Life is a Fairytale…
When I got engaged to Ryan, I decided to transfer colleges and change my degree to something less “profitable”. I had one particularly discouraging conversation with a professor that I greatly admired. In response to my personal choice to transfer to online classes, he counseled that I needed to prepare for Ryan not being around to support me, because I couldn’t plan my life around a successful marriage.
I felt like I was being told a happy marriage was a fairytale and that I was no princess. I was confused and even felt a little silly for assuming that I, of all people, had thought I could reach this ideal of joy in marriage.
Looking back, I realize the tone of the conversation was likely geared much more towards “prepare for the worst, hope for the best.” However, his advice didn’t offer me much towards the reality of hope in marriage.
I felt disappointed about all of the negative commentary on marriage. And I felt frustrated that I couldn’t find anyone around me to support my goal of prioritizing a happy marriage. Overall, I was concerned about the kind of marriage I would build if my primary goals hinged on life after the divorce, rather than a successful marriage.
Simultaneous to these emotions, I came across this quote in one of my college classes by Henry Eyring. He said, “To begin with, we can decide to plan for success, not for failure. … There are important ways in which planning for failure can make failure more likely and the ideal less so”. I decided to switch up the advice from my friend. I would prepare the best that I could (because failure and disappointment certainly happen). But never at the expense of my marriage.
…But I Think We All Want to Live Happily Ever After
That week – about 2 months before our wedding – I decided to live for the ideal. My ideal wasn’t living side by side with a stranger. I had no intention of becoming distant to the man I promised my life to. And I wasn’t getting married just to end up divorced. My goals included marriage for time and all eternity. I wanted to remain happy and content in that marriage. Becoming my best self became a priority, and I determined to never lose sight of the joy I felt with Ryan Davis – my chosen other half.
I began obsessing with this “ideal” and decided to beat all of the odds. My focus became to not only “hope for the best” but to plan, work, and expect nothing but the best. No one around me would allow me to go into marriage with my eyes half shut to the realities of a difficult marriage. But I made my own decision to go into marriage with eyes wide open also to the realities of happy marriages that happen every single day.
Ryan and I talked endlessly of goals, ideals, and couples we admired. We have kept our eyes open to the happiness that surrounds those gray-haired 70 year olds who walk hand in hand through the grocery store. We’ve watched a budding relationship and remembered our own experience falling in love. We have read and shared books about marriage, relationships, communication, and commitment. Every moment of positive thinking and dreaming has edged us toward our goal of this happy married life.
Positivity in Marriage Must Be Intentional
Dr. Kim Blackham, in speaking about the power of positivity in marriage, said “When you are intentional, you make a concerted effort to do only the things that will help you achieve your goal.” Note she says – “only the things”. This is the key. Is constant complaining, worrying, and frustration going to help you reach your goal of a happy marriage?
Dr. Blackham continues, “You no longer wait for things to fall into place on their own. Instead, you actively work to make your goal a reality. Intentionality in marriage is essential.” Consider these two ways that you can start being intentional about the positive messages and moments that you bring into your marriage – even and especially when you are most frustrated.
Remember the good!
It is all too easy, when I am upset, to remember only recent frustrations on that particular topic. I bring these things up, without mentioning even a single positive thing that may have happened in between. Luckily Ryan will call me out on this, and I have tried to be realistic when I see myself do this. Every time you feel overwhelmed with frustration, consider if this is always happening, or if you are only focused on the negative. Think of those times where your spouse is doing especially well. Bring these up as well. Part of being intentional is being honest with yourself.
See Your Spouse
One more way that you can be intentional is to put yourself in your spouses shoes. If he isn’t helping enough with the dishes, consider how much time he is spending with the children, his stress at work, or his distress over balancing his schedule. When you start to see your spouse more, you will be more likely to cut them the break that they most likely deserve. At any rate, it will help the discussion to go much better. (Does your marriage strain under the life-home balance? See these 7 Ways to Simplify Your Life and Become a Happier Parent).
No Marriage is Perfect
I am not some 26 year old girl who believes that marriage is easy, fun, and conflict free. My parents divorced when I was 14 years old. I’ve been analyzing marriages since then. I know some marriages don’t work out. I recognize that in practically every situation both parties are to blame – and at the same time, neither party is to blame. Life is hard. Marriage is hard. People are different and people are difficult! They have pasts and even worse – presents. Even the best people make mistakes, and can be selfish, confused, and distracted.
Watching siblings and friends argue with their spouses in not foreign to me. I have disagreed with my own husband – who I love more than anything – more times than I could begin to count. Feelings of disappointment, frustration, selfishness, and insecurity come out in every marriage. It’s not hard to understand why people find the whole marriage thing hard.
The Power of Seeing the Joy in Marriage
I’m not here to talk about what’s hard, though. Plenty of people are anxious to share the difficulties of marriage. But I just don’t hear enough about what is amazing about marriage. There are significant joys in marriage – and I believe in every marriage. Perhaps in some more than others, but I have seen glimpses even in the worst marriages. Things like holding each other’s hand as you hike up a new trail together. Like cooking dinner together and laughing at things only you understand. Things like lying in bed for an hour talking about nothing and everything even though it’s way too late. And there is nothing like the way it feels to overcome yet another difference and find yourselves on the same page.
Finding in marriage a best friend, a confidante, and a partner is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It takes work, sacrifice, and a great level of selflessness from each of us – every single day. But our lives are filled with light and purpose. What we do is nothing special. But I believe our mindset and idealistic attitude are relatively unique in a skeptical world. We are determined to share how to see the good and the best in marriage. Start living with your eyes wide open to the good. I know this will help you reach an ideal you’ve barely allowed yourself to dream of.
Happiness in Your Marriage Can Be Your Reality
Our lives took an interesting path to get to where we are. As my husband graduated law school and entered his career as a divorce attorney, I scheduled my last two years of classes for my undergraduate degree in Marriage & Family Studies. I worked as his paralegal while completing these classes. It was a unique opportunity to analyze the real life situations of marriage after marriage that hadn’t worked out. I applied my learnings daily. As I worked, I wondered how each of these families might have been helped if they only knew what kind of marriage and family they could have.
Such education – both literally and through a series of life events – has blessed me with open eyes and a determined heart. This has enabled me to understand a few important things about marriage. This post is simply about the foundation that I want everyone to understand. That marriage can be good, should be good, and is worth fighting for! I know some partners will just never work out. But I’m confident that there are people out there who could save their marriages and enjoy a heck of a lot more happiness in their lives with just a little more knowledge.
“What Greater Thing?”
George Eliot said, “What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life – to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting”. My vision and ideal for marriage is wrapped up in this single quote. Open your eyes! Just start looking to see what kind of a marriage you can have. Begin believing again in happy endings, and then do what it takes to write that story.