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December 09, 2009

A Happy Marriage

Ann and Rob - Just Married - June 26 2007 Writer Elizabeth Weil is writing a memoir about a marriage improvement project she and her husband of eleven years embarked upon called No Cheating, No Dying because ...

I read ten pages worth of it courtesy of the New York Times and I really never understood her reasoning behind her need to improve something that was good, though I totally get wanting to write about it later. 

But a lot of other people - and by people I mean women - read the same piece and came to so many off-base characterizations, conclusions about the state of matrimony (an unsurprising number of single women are against it) and just blatantly self-serving opinionated and vaguely high school mean girl nonsense, that I felt compelled to give my own - not an expert here by any stretch of the imagination - opinion.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

From where does this absurd need for perfectionism about all things relationship come? Some of us are a wee bit too old to have been weaned on Disney princesses, so I am at a loss. Weil's marriage, by her own admission, was a good one. A "companionate marriage" - whatever the hell that means - although according to some of her critics it is precisely the reason to avoid marriage for its modern alternative - living together and/or serial monogamy. Comfort and mutual understanding are apparently less important than the Sex and the City uncertainty and high drama that passes for love these days.

I've been married twice. My first marriage lasted six years and produced a single child before my husband died. Because of the last bit, I had to admit I chuckled a bit about the "no dying" clause in the title of Weil's book as it's the one thing you can't "proof" your marriage against. Aside from the dying part, it was a good marriage. We were happy and "companionate".

My second marriage is half way through its third year. Some would argue that it is too new, and my first marriage too short, for me to claim any kind of expertise on the subject of being married at all, but I think that no one can really claim to be an expert at anything until they have at least done it once, which I have, and if the "until death do you part" is the gold standard - I did it better than a lot of people. But what constitutes "better" or "good" or even "great"? Aren't we really talking about eye of the beholder stuff?

I was not surprised by the vehement attack on Weil. No one likes a show-off. She has the kind of real, normal marriage - even if it is not perfect - that inspires envy. Even while tmi-ing, she clearly paints a picture of what marriage is, and what it isn't, and that whatever intangible makes some relationships work while others do not, hers clearly has it. 

What makes a happy marriage then? Weil doesn't really say although I would wager a guess that mucking about with self-help books and therapy in an attempt to improve upon a good marriage probably wouldn't make her top ten list anymore.

She talks instead about the many things that play into a good relationship: communication, boundaries, sex, and commitment, but in each instance nothing is really settled upon as the key. There is no magic bullet.

Amanda Marcotte at DoubleX came away with the idea that marriage is too much work when it should be romantic and effortless. But is work really all that much work when you love what you do? I know that my husband and I work at our relationship, but that "work" is really fun because it centers on doing things with and for each other that make each of us happy. 

What I found most interesting in everything I read in and relating to Weil's piece was a female abhorrence - to the point of obsession - of dependency. Love is dependency? Marriage strips women of their selves? Are we living in Victorian England? One of the nicest things about love and marriage is being able to depend on the other person. So much about life is not so reliable really, it's a welcome thing when one finds someone who wants to be there for you for as long as destiny will allow.

Both of my husbands possess one similar quality: the feeling that I was home. I was safe. I was wanted and loved, and most of all, that I could be completely and utterly me without worry. Is that the definition of a happy marriage? In my experience, I think so. That and lounging about on Sunday mornings and having a shower big enough for two. But I am a simple person. I don't seek to improve upon my husband because he is pretty awesome as he is and I am not worried about our marriage because if I have learned anything at all about the state of that union - fixing what isn't in need of repair is wasted effort that could have been put to better use like baking scones, laying down new hardwood flooring or having long conversations about the latest political conspiracy theory.

Unless you are writing a book about it, and then that's okay.

This is an original 50 Something Moms Post by Ann Bibby of Care2 and anniegirl1138.


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