What makes a marriage?

A friend of mine recently decided in order to preserve her marriage, she needed to leave the marital home. She and her husband now live in two homes in the same city, while they work through counselors to cure the issues that separated them. So they see each other a couple times a week and share joint activities with their children.

Sounds like dating to me.

I know other families where one of the spouses works 60 or more hours a week to keep the bills paid, sometimes in town, sometimes out on the road, leaving the other to stay home and handle the domestic situation all alone.

Sounds like single parenthood to me.

There are even a few families I know in the “Leave it to Beaver” mode, where mom and dad cooperate to work and raise the family together.

Sounds like a pipe dream to most people–I know.

I didn’t grow up in a family like that, at least for not more than a year or two at a time. When my parents were still together, for a few years anyway, and then with my one step-mother for about another 18 months, there were two parents, each contributing and caring for the children. It wasn’t always 50-50 for each category, but it was cooperative.

My office files are filled with the broken dreams of those who hoped to achieve that goal, but found their relationships wanting. Many tried to work and compromise to produce a successful marriage, but because of some outside influence–alcohol, drugs, a paramour– they couldn’t keep it up. Some found that after years went by, that early shine on their mate that they’d found attractive had worn thin, like the veneer on a well-used coffee table. Others realized too late that they’d married for the wrong reasons and could never make it work.

So what does it take?

I’m probably no expert (though I’ve taken the plunge three times). There are some common themes: mutual respect, tolerance and a commitment to endure. The first shows you have the ability to trust the other person with the joint aspects of your life, including the children, the finances and your own insecurities. The second demonstrates the willingness to accept that neither of you are perfect–will never be–but that you can still accept your partner as they are, even when they don’t come up to “Prince Charming” standards. The third embodies the words of the wedding vows, keeping in mind that a marriage is not about that first fire of passion, but the glow of the embers that keep you warm for years to come, through wealth and poverty, health and illness, and all the events that the two of you face together.

Along with a generous slice of sense of humor and an occasional garnish of joy, this is what gets me through. That, and the fact that my husband is destined for sainthood. 🙂

How about you?