Happily Married?

I’ve just returned from the wedding of two twenty-somethings who, it was intimated by family members, had never kissed each other (or anyone else of the opposite sex for that matter) before the minister told the groom he could kiss his bride. 

This is all well and good, I think.  Rare and special in this day and age, so certainly worth commenting upon.  However, I would hate for anyone to get the impression that purity prior to such a commitment is any guarantee of marital happiness.

I think the words “happily married” should never be used together, mostly because I don’t know anyone who is happily married.  I know people who appear to be happy, and some of them are married.  But “happily married” implies that you are happy in your marriage and happy to be married to your spouse.  In my experience, this is rarely true, no matter what you experienced before you got married.

Being a virgin on your wedding day is no guarantee of anything for your future, except, I suppose, it gives your spouse less of your past to be concerned about.  With nothing to compare it to, it might also be hard to find fault with your spouse’s lovemaking technique, either, although dissatisfaction is dissatisfaction no matter which way you slice it.

My own parents were appalled when I decided to marry outside the religious faith I’d been raised in.  In their generation and culture, it wasn’t done.  My mother converted to marry my father.  Somehow they believed a shared religious faith would guarantee or at least strengthen the bond of marriage.  I have to look no further than my own family of origin to discover this is simply not true.

What is true is that there are no guarantees for any of us.  As my wise father used to say, “You put in your nickel and you take your chances.”  If you are still married after twenty or thirty or fifty years, it doesn’t mean you’re happily married.  All it really means is that you didn’t get divorced.

As part of the guestbook for this couple we were asked to offer them advice.  I had none to offer.  Not the wisdom of age and experience.  I advised them to muddle through it like the rest of us.

My twenty-something daughter thought I should have more to offer than that.  In her opinion I’ve been successfully married for almost thirty years.  But does a “successful” relationship translate into a “happy” relationship?  It’s a long-term relationship.  That doesn’t necessarily make it either successful or happy.  Don’t we all know couples who seem miserable with each other but who go on year after year?  And no, I’m not implying I’m miserable.  Far from it actually.

I think I’m a relatively happy individual, but that’s a choice I make.  I guess what I should have advised that young couple is don’t depend on your spouse to make you happy or to keep you happy.  If you’re looking for your happiness in another person or even in your most significant adult relationship, I don’t think you’ll find it.

Happiness is something you create for yourself, even in the confines of a less than ideal marriage.  You can’t let marriage define who you are and what your outlook is going to be.  You have to define those things for yourself.  And so does your spouse.  Can you enhance another person’s life by being the best you you can be?  Of course.  But you can’t make someone else happy.  And the sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be.

I think it would be best if we struck “happily married” from our vernacular.  I’m happy.  I’m also married.  But those are two entirely different things.