Long marriages. “Breaking up and starting fresh, which everyone around you seems to be doing, can begin to look like a wonderful and altogether logical proposition. . .”
Humph. The title was attention-getting enough when a few years back Ada Calhoun wrote those words in her essay The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give. Now, it’s really got me wondering.
I first read Calhoun’s essay in the New York Times Modern Love, a column where people tell their stories about love, loss and redemption.
“…I only wish I could tell the newly weds that they will suffer occasionally in this marriage, and not only sitcom-grade squabbles, but possibly even dark-night-of-the-soul despair. . .I would go on to say (had I not by that point been thrown out of the banquet hall) that epic failure is part of being human…”
Because sometimes repeating something is, well, worth repeating, Ada then writes:
“Breaking up and starting fresh, which everyone around you seems to be doing, can begin to look like a wonderful and altogether logical proposition…And yet, he is still my person. And yet, I still love him…“
Why We See Some Long Marriages Breaking Up
In response, I blogged how, too often, couples counselor take on the initial despair of the couple and, in effect, quicken any doom. It’s critical that the therapist not get swept away in the couples’ crises, but encourage clients to explore Calhoun’s words of “And yet I still love him.”
Two years have gone by since Ada wrote that essay. This week, she published an update. I wonder though, Maybe it’s not an update? Maybe it’s more like an on-going sentiment. A long marriage.
Then, I wonder some more: Maybe it’s not a sentiment at all? Maybe, it’s a fear. One that she privately worries cannot be resolved and so, through her writing, she creates a peace of mind. With the title “To Stay Married, Embrace Change,” she writes:
“It’s unrealistic to expect your spouse to forever remain the same person you fell in love with.”
No doubt about that, right?
And, while sorting out the course of her love life, Calhoun cautions us to see Nostalgia for what it really is: Waxing more sentimental about the past than it probably actually was and then fueling our resentment toward the present, and certainly toward future change.
No doubt about that either.
I squirm a bit when, as if running out of time, she gives us this tip: “Being forever content with a spouse…requires finding ways to be happy with different versions of that person…”
If you’re scratching your head, good. I mean, exactly how do we get happy with different versions of our partners?
Three Ways To Long Marriages Breaking Up
I’m being mischievous when I write about three ways to break-up a long marriage. Stay with me; it’s not what you might think and I’ll explain. Meanwhile, whether you want a fresh start or not, master this:
Be less convinced about what you think about your partner.
After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. Frankly, none of us even know ourselves as well as we think. So, what else are you not seeing? As the Nobel-Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman puts it, “What you think is all there is” because our minds quickly jump to conclusions. Self-awareness takes cultivating.
But, that takes a lifetime. In the short-term, a “curious” place to start is with any of the following:
Damn, maybe you’re feeling pessimistic (I know I do sometimes). If so, maybe consider the four qualities that discourage happier versions of each other. Brace your self though.
At Wit’s End.
Worn out, as you give a sideways glance to your partner, recognize that ending a relationship might be the honest choice—whether you break up or not. End an old version of yourselves and start fresh for each other. A “long marriage breaking up” just might mean that you and your partner find yourselves saying what Calhoun’s friends say: “I’ve had at least three marriages. They’ve just all been with the same person.”