“So what’s the secret for getting a good marriage? asked my friend Ellen.
“Choose wisely and learn what it takes to stay happily married,” I blurted out. Yet many of us first need to believe that we can succeed in marriage.
It’s strange, when you think about it, how little planning is typically undertaken when it comes to decisions about marriage. Do romance and planning sound like concepts that don’t belong in the same sentence? In fact, both are needed for a good marriage.
Why shouldn’t planning happen?
The Case for Planning
No one expects anything else to go well without planning. Yet many people get married with little forethought, skate along for maybe half a century, then wonder why they’re less happy than they expected to be.
Marriage has changed in recent decades. In general, women no longer need a husband for financial security or to conform to society’s expectations. Also, given the current high rate of marriage failures, it’s no wonder that so many women who say they want marriage unconsciously block themselves from committing. The real issue is probably a fear that if they do marry, it won’t go well. It’s human nature to yearn for a life partner. Yet more singles than ever before are avoiding commitment.
About choosing wisely, if you think it’s supposed to be like a romantic movie in which you cross a crowded room to connect with the stranger whose eyes met yours, think again!
It’s not a matter of finding the right guy (or gal) and the magic should happen. It’s more about knowing that none of us is perfect, but we can still be quite wonderful. It’s about how we deal with what comes up. And it’s about finding someone with qualities we value who’s willing to work with us when issues arise. And they will.
Many lovely single women say it’s so hard to find a good partner. Here are a few examples.
An older woman I’d just met and I were seated with our husbands at a table in a cruise ship lounge, waiting for the entertainment to begin. She told me that her daughter, Emily, in her forties and still single, wasn’t interested in marriage. Anyway, that’s what Emily told her.
A bit later I met Emily. A public relations executive, she was very attractive, with clear skin, soft chin-length hair, and a ready smile. When we spoke privately, she looked me in the eye and confided, “I want to get married. My friends do, too.”
Susan, 35 years old with a 4-year-old daughter, does body work and teaches yoga. She usually says, “My life is fine.” Yet in rare moments of vulnerability, she asks, “Why can’t I meet a great man who accepts and really cares for me, and wants to be with me for life?”
Cindi, 29 years old, says it took her last relationship with a verbally abusive boyfriend to “make me see the light and stop pining for a partner.”
Cindi may or may not change her mind in time. But with the current high marriage failure rate, it’s understandable that many people would feel cautious about committing, especially if they, themselves, have experienced a failed marriage or if their parents got divorced or stayed in a bad marriage. My friend Ellen, who asked me for the secret recipe for a good marriage, is now in her early seventies. She had an early marriage to an abusive man, divorced him fairly quickly, and has avoided commitment since then, not for lack of interested men, but because she fears another disappointment.
By the way, many women do marry in their seventies and beyond. My own mother, of blessed memory, married again in her seventies, long after she and my father had divorced, and it turned out wonderfully for her and her new husband.
Many Women Secretly Want Marriage
Many women of all ages secretly hope to marry but are too bashful to say so — whether because it’s not popular to announce their desire, they fear being viewed as needy or desperate, or they lack confidence that they’ll succeed.
Recently published books (1) and articles (2) have been turning the old negative “spinsterhood” label on its head, touting the advantages of being able to live life on one’s own terms instead of being tethered to a partner. What fun it is to dine and travel with women friends! How lovely to enjoy one’s own company in solitude!
Marriage: Here to Stay
Personally, I believe in marriage. Of course, I also believe in a women’s right to choose to remain single.
I’m convinced that after existing for thousands of years, the institution is here to stay. Yet, given that some vocal and seemingly credible segments of the popular culture are painting marriage as outdated, it’s no wonder that so many single women are reluctant to say they want more out of life than freedom from being “tethered.”
The kind of marriage I believe in is emotionally and spiritually fulfilling. Such unions can be created by women who are willing to fill in gaps that may exist in themselves, so that their heads and hearts will be in the right place to attract — and be — a wonderful partner. By getting past what is holding them back from committing, by learning how to choose wisely, and by investing themselves in an ongoing way to keep the relationship thriving, they can create the kind of marriage they’ve always wanted.
After being single for quite a long time, and now married for almost 28 years, I can say that the trade-offs are well worth it — if you are willing to gain the tools for creating an emotionally and spiritually fulfilling relationship that lasts a lifetime.
(1) All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, by Rebecca Traister, and Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, by Kate Bolick are examples of currently popular books that promote the single lifestyle for women.
(2) “Going Solo — More Young Women Embrace Single Life,” by Sharyn Jackson, Minneapolis Star Tribune, republished in Marin Independent Journal, May 10, 2016.
(3) The book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, tells step by step how to hold a gentle, loosely structure conversation with positive communication skills to keep the relationship thriving.