Mar. 1st, 2017 10:22 pm
liv: Detail of quirky animals including a sheep, from an illuminated border (marriage)
[personal profile] liv
Five years ago, I married [personal profile] jack. At the time I'd never had a relationship lasting as much as five years, and now we are nine. Back in 2010, I spent a lot of time considering whether getting married to [personal profile] jack was really the right decision, but looking back I couldn't be more pleased with how it has turned out.

Also, a friend recently asked me for advice about marriage, from my perspective as a happily married person. I don't think I'm at all qualified to comment, because really five years together seems like a really short time. It's about 10% of the marriage I'm hoping for, and probably the easiest tenth, too. But anyway, it's a fun topic so I shall put some scattered thoughts here.

A few months ago some bloke on the internet, Mark Manson, crowd-sourced asking for marriage advice. And most of the conclusions of his collated suggestions are things I agree with; this may reflect that he asked lots of people who are from a similar culture to me, but anyway, I don't want to repeat what's in Manson's essay.

There are lots of reasons to get married, but a lot of my hesitation those years ago came from the fact that none of them seem to apply to me. I don't want or need the social status that comes with being married. I don't intend to have children so I don't need a partner who is legally committed to co-parenting with me. We were both already living independently so didn't need to be married in order to leave the parental home. And we both had good jobs and optmistic career plans, so didn't expect to rely on eachother for financial support. We weren't fulfilling any religious obligation; [personal profile] jack isn't Jewish so my marrying him is if anything frowned on rather than encouraged, and he has no religion which might favour his getting married. We're both citizens of the same country (and it's not a barbaric one where access to healthcare depends on marital status) so we don't need to be married to be able to live together.

In the end, the only reason we got married was because we wanted to make a public commitment to spending our lives together. We could've just announced it on social media and not got the state involved, and we did seriously consider that option, but in the end, we decided we did want the legal status. In some ways I'm a bit discouraged at how much this has meant our relationship gets taken seriously compared to people who just tell eachother and their relevant friends that they're together. Partly by random bureaucracy, partly by casual acquaintances such as work colleagues, but even by people quite important in our lives.

But the commitment, that's the thing I want to talk about, whether or not you have a ceremony and a legal status. I don't know what makes a successful long-term relationship, because I haven't actually reached a point I would describe as long-term. But I'm hopeful based on the years we've had together so far. The main reason is because [personal profile] jack has always and without exception been my partner. We work on stuff together, whether it's a small household chore or a difficult emotional conversation. We support eachother's goals, actively, not just words of encouragement but being part of a team. All these reasons that I'm still very happy in the relationship now were the same reasons I chose to bind my life to [personal profile] jack. Not because I was madly in love with him; I've been madly in love with various people before and since and that's not enough for me to regard them as potential life partners.

And maybe partnership is not enough either. One of the comments in the crowd-sourced advice article is that you have to know how to fight, how to live with profound disagreements. The truth is that [personal profile] jack and I have never had a serious disagreement, and I assume this won't hold for the next several decades, but it's true so far. I mean, sure, we get moody with eachother and snap at eachother from time to time, but we don't fight. And that's partly, I think, related to the absence of external pressures to be in a relationship. If money were tight we might fight over money, if we had massively incompatible life goals we would have to find a compromise, if one us became unable to contribute equally to our joint projects we'd have to find a way to deal with the unfairness without resentment. As it is, well, we've had a pretty easy ride; we chose eachother because we're pretty deeply compatible, and so far that has held true.

When I look at couples who have ended a long-term, meant to be committed relationship, there are some trends in the reasons. Some started out incompatible (at least in hindsight), but got married because of external pressures and fairly soon regretted it. Sometimes there's been cruelty and abuse, and nobody expects their partner to betray them but if it happens then there's no amount of advice about how to conduct a marriage that will help. Sometimes one partner has found another person they choose over the first person they made a commitment to. I like to think that wouldn't happen to us; if I met someone else I wouldn't leave [personal profile] jack for them. In some ways being poly is helpful because I can in fact appreciate the wonderfulness of other people, without needing to break up with [personal profile] jack. Though perhaps one could argue that it makes it more likely that I will leave the relationship for a new partner. It just seems impossible to imagine from here, though, I've made a commitment and I intend to stick to it.

Another reason is that the people in the marriage are not who they thought they were when the got married; the most extreme case is where one partner is not in fact the gender they were perceived as when they married and their spouse is monosexual to the point of not being able to handle a partner living as their real gender. Though I certainly know of a number of marriages that have survived one partner transitioning, I don't mean to imply that trans people can never have long-term relationships! I've also seen couples where they got married with compatible ideas about children and one of them has a complete change of heart, meaning that they have to choose between the relationship and parenting (or non-parenting) goals.

What I can't think of any examples of is a marriage that has ended because of adversity. Now maybe that's just a narrative thing; people won't say that they ended a relationship because their surrounding circumstances became unbearable and they were too stressed to continue together. (Other than marriages that end because one partner dies, but that's not exactly in anyone's control, and is always a risk you have to take if you choose to build your life around a relationship.) But still, it seems to me very striking that serious relationships don't end for external reasons, but because the couple are or become incompatible.

The Manson article talks about long term marital success depending on being able to handle some pretty serious life changes. Remember, if you’re going to spend decades together, some really heavy shit will hit (and break) the fan.. It's something I've seen in my circles, certainly, people who have radically changed in ways that might make them incompatible with their partner, but have managed to adapt to the new reality and keep the relationship. I don't at all know what enables couples to be able to do that, though. I expect mutual respect and good communication help, but I don't know if that's enough.

My suspicion, based on second-hand observation, not my own experience, is that the key factor is determination. It's, well, commitment. A wise friend observed to me that if you find yourself in a relationship that makes you unhappy, you have the choice to change the relationship and the circumstances, or to leave the relationship (or, I suppose, to continue being unhappy, but that doesn't seem like a good option). Now, I have to clarify that I couldn't be more pro divorce. I think divorce is an absolute pillar of civilization, and I completely support the Captain Awkward principle that anyone has the right to leave any relationship at any time for any reason. But, but, there is a cost. If you choose to leave because you're unhappy, then that absolutely is your right, but you don't get the chance at a really long-term connection or the benefits that brings.

So in the end, the advice that I gave to my friend was that a good marriage is partly a matter of luck, and partly a matter of picking the right person. But it's only partly luck; the people actually involved in the marriage have some control over whether the relationship is happy or not. I don't necessarily count time-limited relationships as failures, but if what a person wants is a forever relationship, then it's important to think about what may help towards that. And I don't know if I will get that myself, but the first five years have been really good and I'm looking forward to lots and lots more.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-03-01 11:13 pm (UTC)
redbird: SF Bay bridges, during rebuilding (bay bridges)
From: [personal profile] redbird
I suspect that some people find it easier not to frame a break-up as due to adversity, at least when talking to other people, because there are strong expectations to stick with a partner through tough times. Very few people are going to say "I left my partner because they became disabled," but they might say "because they changed too much" or "because they were demanding too much of me." And sometimes those stresses—things like serious health issues or poverty—cause ongoing arguments or worse, but there's no way of knowing ahead of time which of our partners will stick around for disability, or which of us will take out stress on the people we love.

I can't see myself making a long-term commitment to someone with seriously incompatible life goals (though, as you note, goals can change).

Also, "start with the right people" is probably true, but I find myself wishing for some sort of education in identifying who the right people are for a given person. (Someone could be absolutely wonderful, but want a partner to help them raise children, or want monogamy, either of which would mean they could be my good friend but not my life partner.)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-03-02 01:34 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
I think people are unlikely to attribute the breakup to the adversity because they see the problem as not the adversity, but how their partner reacted to the adversity.

My family home burned down when I was four and we lost everything. Neither of my parents would attribute to that catastrophe their ultimate divorce four years later. But it has become clear to me as an adult that that was the circumstance that revealed to my mother that she couldn't count on my father in a crisis – and having someone she could count on in a crisis was pretty core to what she wanted out of a spouse. So when she asked for the divorce four years later, it wasn't "You abandoned me to recover from the fire alone and that's why I want to divorce you", it was more like "I don't feel any longer you're a person worth making sacrifices to stay married to, and since you're now asking for me to make another sacrifice for your career, eh, know what? I'm out."

(no subject)

Date: 2017-03-02 11:04 am (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
It is sufficiently common for marriages to break up during or after cancer treatment, that Maggies Wallace offers couples counselling.

From gossip, I gather it's usually after, because either the well spouse waits until the sick spouse is better, so they don't feel too evil for leaving someone while they are very ill. Or the sick spouse starts getting well and thinking about the future and deciding they don't want the other person in it any more.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-03-03 03:31 pm (UTC)
atreic: (Default)
From: [personal profile] atreic
Although... this is interesting. 'Everyone knew' that divorce was a risk for parents whose child had cancer, because of the stress of dealing with the child's cancer. Then one of the Nordic countries did a population level study, where they looked at divorce rates in the parents of children with cancer (they had amazing data linkage from hospital records to birth certificates to marriage and divorce) And they found it wasn't statistically significantly different to the divorce rates in the population without cancer. Which definitely doesn't mean we shouldn't provide support and counsilling for parents whose kids have cancer, but it does mean that the common wisdom of 'what everyone knows' can be misleading - if divorce is quite common, then people will see cancer patients divorcing and put on extra support for them. (Warning, this anecdote based on a poster I read about 5 years ago, my brain thinks it's true, but it is fuzzy in my memory now)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-03-04 08:26 am (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
Thanks, this is fascinating :-)

Maggies Wallace aims to provide "support for everything else" i.e. non-medical support for cancer patients and their families, so providing support for patients considering divorce is entirely in their remit, even if it's "just" population-level incidence of divorce.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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