What exactly does it take to build a great marriage? Most of us are taught that one fine day we’ll meet our soulmate, and then all that’s left to do is tie the knot, start a family, and live happily ever after. But nothing could be further from the truth. A marriage is something you have to work at—and keep working at—every day until your children grow up and head out on their own.
When a loving couple exchanges vows, they’re effectively saying, “I pledge to put in the time and effort to make our relationship a success through all the years to come, right up to the moment when our last kid moves out of the house.”
Is this the most idealistic vision? No, but marriage isn’t always a storybook romance. It’s full of ups and downs. Anyone can make it through the good times. That’s the easy part! The true test is whether you can survive the rough patches, learning to make compromises with your partner so your kids can grow up in a home with two parents who are counting down the days until they can separate.
When that day comes—when you and your spouse have finished raising your children and can at long last split up without suffering enormous guilt—you’ll be thankful you did.
Patience, commitment, and about 18 years: This is what marriage asks of us. After getting into a heated argument with your husband or wife, it’s easy to do nothing and simply let the wounds fester. Maybe you don’t see eye-to-eye on household finances, your in-laws, or how to spend your free time. But if you both resolve to listen to each other and learn from these experiences, you’ll develop the emotional tools you need to keep things together for the remainder of your children’s youth.
Remember, that smiling couple you see holding hands and walking down the street didn’t get where they are by accident—they worked at it. There may have been times when they wanted to just pack their bags and walk out the door, but instead they put aside their differences, determined to stick with it for several more years before saying, “Fuck it, I’m done.”
After all, marriage is for the long haul: sometimes 20, 22, or even 25 years. It can take a couple decades or more for children to become independent adults, move out, and release their parents from the obligation of marriage. If you’re a married person expecting to become a mother or father this year (in which case, congrats!), it’s important to keep in mind that you’re committing yourself to a relationship with your spouse through at least 2033.
So lift up your head, put on a bold face, and remember that with the right attitude and resolve, you’ll be together from the day you say “I do” until the day you drop your youngest kid off at freshman orientation and can finally go home to separate beds.
Or until the day you drop them off at boarding school, which allows you to get out a lot sooner.
Marriage isn’t an easy thing to do. But in the end—when you’re well into middle age and can slap divorce papers on the kitchen table without seeing the broken, shattered look in your child’s eyes—you’ll realize it was all worth it.