Every marriage story I’ve ever been told started out with joy — the joy of two people who met, fell in love, and at some point decided, “This is the person I want to build a life with.”
And of course, our greatest romantic notions of what marriage should be, at least for Americans, always include the expectation of happiness together. Making a life together with the person who makes you happiest. Making happy memories. Making each other happy. Creating happy memories the two of you will reflect back upon in your old age, should you live that long.
Not every marriage starts out with joy, of course. There are also arranged marriages, marriages of convenience, marriages created out of financial necessity, marriages entered into because of an unexpected pregnancy, and marriages brought about through manipulation, fear, or control.
Those kinds of marriages don’t carry that same promise of happiness. Some of those situations are really tough and difficult, no matter how you cut it.
But let’s get back to happy marriages, or at least the hope of happy marriages.
I’m going to start out with this one piece of wisdom gleaned from nearly 60 years of observing, learning from, and knowing hundreds of married couples of all ages, backgrounds, cultures and financial means:
No marriage that lasts more than a year will always be happy. Not one.
I know, I know…we don’t want our dreams dashed. “Wait. We’re different from everyone else!” Right? And yes, you and your beloved are different from everyone else, from every married couple who has ever walked the face of this planet.
But you’re also different from one another. Very different.
You may just not see all those differences yet, because situations haven’t yet arisen to magnify those differences. But those situations will arise. Guaranteed.
This is where the commitment you made to your spouse to love and cherish them will really be tested.
Love isn’t always hearts and flowers and butterflies in the stomach. Real love is not sexual attraction or even “chemistry.” Those are wonderful feelings and experiences to share together, and I hope you have them for the entire life of your marriage.
But those things don’t last, at least not when hardships and trials come your way as a couple.
Here’s what real love does: Real love persists. Real love commits. Real love is in for the long haul.
Real love says, “I’m on your side, and I want the best for you.”
Even when you can’t stand the sight of one another, when you’ve had a huge fight, when those differences between you are so huge they eclipse the wonderful feelings you once had for each other.
Real love works things out.
Real love figures out how to create a life that honors both of you.
I can’t promise real love will make a marriage last for life. It takes two people to do that.
It also takes wisdom, the wisdom that comes only from experience — “We’ve been here before. We can get through this.”
It takes a willingness to self-reflect and change. To grow. To become a better version of yourself, which makes a better wife, a better husband. A better friend.
It takes courage. The courage to walk through the furnace of affliction (anger, disappointment, discouragement) instead of run away.
And it takes commitment. Commitment to the marriage. Commitment to one another. Commitment to make it work.
The reward for all of this is priceless. You will have created a life together. A life that is different from everyone else’s. A life that is yours, and yours alone.
You will have written a story in the heavens that nobody could write except you.
A life written by real love.