Between 50 and 100 years ago, most marriages ended in death. I don’t mean men bludgeoned their wives to death or that women poisoned their men. (Though that happened sometimes.) I mean they stayed together until death parted them. I believe these people were for the most part happy. They weren’t focused on answering the question of “Am I happy?” but were instead focused on where they were getting their next meal, and what they could do for their community, on God, and on their family. Happy in this case looked in our eyes like contentment. In today’s world the focus has changed. I think people are focused on being “happy”. Is there a difference between content and happy? Let’s hold that question and talk about something else for a minute.
Now let’s think about how many people each of these people who could stay married knew before they chose someone to marry. I think it’s safe to say many people interacted with and were most comfortable with people in their own social circles. Rich people met and courted other rich people. Middle class people mostly did the same and so on. Suppose these people knew a group of 10 to 20 others of the opposite sex fairly well. (They probably knew fewer of like age who also happened to be unattached). So a man would meet a one or two dozen women, would pick one, court her, and then try to get married. Maybe it took a second try to get the full buy-in, but think about what this means. Men chose a potential partner of similar circumstances, out of a selection of 20 or so unattached women. If that woman was interested, and her family approved, they got married, and stayed that way.
Think about what this means. If you get to meet a dozen or so girls, and get to pick one, you should be able to make a long term marriage out of it. In today’s world about half of marriages end in divorce. A lot of remarriages end the same way. So why is it when people meet so many more people, and have the ability to not only pick the same socio-economic group, but can also find someone with similar interests, party affiliation and so on and it still often ends badly? Why is this?
Back to happiness vs. contentment. Our culture today doesn’t stress duty to God, country, and family, but finding happiness. And what kinds of things does society say lead to happiness? A primary giver of happiness, we are told, is finding our “soul mate”, or “Mr. or Mrs. Right”. We should find our one and only match in the entire world whose job it is to fulfill us and make us happy. Our “soul mate” understands our needs and fulfills them without us having to even say anything. This romantic Hollywood concept is TOTAL CRAP. To be fair they also talk about “Love at first sight”. I will say I fell hard for my girl and we were married 10 months after meeting. Lots of, but not all, couples go through this infatuation phase. But at some point you look around and find yourself living with someone who may have little in common with you. My spouse and I are both middle class Americans, but in many other areas we are total opposites. So after being married, the infatuation ends, and conflict begins. Successful couples learn how to work through this conflict, understand the other person’s motives and reach comfortable compromise. Less successful couples build up a series of resentments, develop a number of demilitarized zones filled with mine fields and wonder if they made a big mistake. Many spouses then begin to hear the siren call of our “me, me, me” culture. No problem, they hear. You just didn’t find your soul mate. Just get a divorce, badly damage your children, ruin your finances, and look for the mate you were supposed to find.
Think about what I’m saying. Our culture used to be very much more a Christian culture. Christianity focuses on love as duty and sacrifice for others. When people attend a Christian church they hear messages of forgiveness, self-sacrifice, love of others, and duty. This is a philosophy where selfish humans try to put others first. In a duty driven culture, external family and society put pressure on struggling couples to work things out and stay together if they possibly can. You may say it’s good that people in an unhappy marriage can more easily get out of it. This is perhaps correct in cases where one partner is consistently abusive and refuses to reform, but could not be more wrong in most cases. Dozens of studies show children of broken families remain at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives. Divorced partners also suffer financially and emotionally. Overall, the trend of increasing divorces that is a result of our turning away from God is a destructive force on our culture.
Our formerly Christian culture is being replaced with the false Hollywood narrative where the focus is on romantic love, marital bliss, and self fulfillment as a “right”. No one possesses any duty except to take whatever is best for themselves. This inferior culture that values narcissism above duty encourages people to break up at the first sign of trouble, and, even worse, to break up when someone new and interesting shows up.
If you want to live happily ever after as a married couple, you must accept the fact the infatuation will wear off. Then you will find that your spouse is a flawed human. Your spouse will discover about the same time that you are far less perfect than you think you are. Conflict will occur. Resentment will build. If you don’t work to resolve conflict through commitment, communication, and compromise issues will continue to fester. Areas of your relationship will contain mine fields that you can no longer get through. Everyone hears it, but few understand. Marriage is work.
But marriage is work worth completing. Most of your satisfaction in life comes from accomplishments. Besides the accomplishment of making the marriage work, you are likely to end up wealthy and with some great children. Knowing this allows you to stop the search for ‘the one’. The falsehood of the perfect match is the holy grail of our time. All you really need is compatibility and there are hundreds of thousands of compatible people living in a city near you. So stop looking for unicorns, and find someone you like. Then learn to communicate, learn to really love, and begin your life together.