I was recently watching a late night show on which Michelle Obama appeared and said, “If you’re married for 50 years, and 10 of them are horrible, you’re doing really good! Anybody would take those odds.”
Should anybody *really* take those odds, though?
Is it simply being realistic, as the former First Lady suggests, to expect a “horrible” year or two here and there sprinkled throughout a lifelong partnership?
If not, is it possible to assess at 2-3 years into a relationship whether or not that “horrible” year is right around the corner?
Perhaps even worse, is it a thing that the first 40 years could be blissful and the next 10 a total nightmare? And if either of those circumstances were to happen in a relationship, what should the partners do?
Really great question, Jen. I’m glad you asked it.
I think this is as good a time to point out that the way I feel about relationships is different than the way most people feel about relationships.
Most people: “Relationships take work!”
Evan: “Good relationships are easy. If it’s not easy, it’s not a good relationship.”
Most people: “Couples fight all the time. It’s normal.”
Evan: “Unhealthy couples fight all the time. Healthy couples fight a lot less — and a lot quieter.”
Most people: “You should stay together through thick and thin because you made a vow.”
Evan: “If your relationship is draining you and is not supporting your happiness, what exactly is it for?”
When I say these things, people sit up and pay attention for multiple reasons.
I don’t know anybody else who preaches the concept that “relationships are easy,” so when you hear it, it comes as a bit of a shock to the system. Some people find it hopeful and encouraging.
Others, especially if they are in a relationship that involves a lot of fighting, breaking up, and long stretches of questioning your compatibility, get defensive. “Hey, that smug dating coach guy is attacking me. He’s saying I have a bad marriage. Well, fuck him! He doesn’t know anything. He’ll see how hard his marriage will be!”
And who knows? Maybe they’re right. I’ve only been married for ten years. Circumstances can change. Couples can grow apart. People face challenges that strain their relationship. Anything is possible.
Then again, my business has been challenged in the past few years.
We do have two kids who suck up a lot of time, attention and money.
I have faced anxiety, insomnia, and some mid-life existential crisis during my marriage.
There are some things I have trouble accepting about my wife and some things she has trouble accepting about me.
And yet, when I read your question, Jen, it doesn’t sound like ANYTHING that pertains to me. TEN BAD YEARS? Maybe that was normal for The Greatest Generation or the Baby Boomers, but I sure hope that GenX and Millennials aim higher.
I haven’t had one bad year with my wife.
I haven’t had one bad month with my wife.
I haven’t had one bad week with my wife.
I have had one bad day with my wife. A few times, actually.
But nothing that would remotely make me think that I’d be better off without her. Nothing that would make me question the foundation of our relationship. Nothing that would make me like her or love her less. Frankly, it’s unfathomable to me to consider.
I acknowledge that maybe I married a unicorn — or maybe my wife did — but that’s a bit too self-aggrandizing, even for me.
The fact is, my wife and I are normal people who are really honest, connected, and well-matched. It took a lot of searching but I’m confident we got it right and I’m certain we are not alone.
Believe me, I think it’s an impressive feat for couples to fight for their marriage — I’m grateful that my parents did for thirty years. I also know that my Mom is MUCH happier in her current marriage, which is WAY easier than the one with my Dad ever was.
When people tell you “relationships take work,” feel free to smile, nod and take solace that this is NOT how relationships have to be.
Few people are going to throw their marriage under the bus and admit they made the wrong choice 10, 20, or 30 years ago. It’s too painful to admit that a rocky relationship is unhealthy and perhaps there is an easier way to live. It’s too painful to look objectively at your marriage and wonder why it doesn’t bring more joy and instead brings pain.
God bless Michelle Obama for all she has done, but I’m going to break with her on this one. When people tell you “relationships take work,” feel free to smile, nod and take solace that this is NOT how relationships have to be.
You do NOT have to suffer for years at a time.
The people who do chose an incompatible partner a long time ago and are doing everything in their power to avoid facing the fact that life can be pretty darn blissful when you’re with the right person from the start.