Marriage Matters Monday – Is Staying in Love a Choice?

Happy Monday! I checked out the WBLS-sponsored Bridal Expo at Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC on Saturday. I uncovered exciting new resources and connected with many (hopefully) new Triple B family members. While there I met and chatted up a photographer who shared that three of his wedding clients last year had hit splitsville before they even picked up their proofs! Is that bananas or what? It immediately reminded me of why I wanted a place on the site dedicated to marriage.

That gave me the final push I needed to share the below article by writer Alex Kuczynski. I read it in an issue of Harper’s Bazaar recently and was moved. FYI – I don’t know Alex from a can of paint but I dig this piece. Take your time and read in it’s entirety.

I’ll never forget learning the difference between a successful long-term marriage and a failed one. I was in a hair salon on Madison Avenue a week before my wedding, and the woman next to me getting highlights offered her advice. I knew her nephew, and she thought this was enough of a connection to be candid. “Don’t let it become like mine,” she said, sounding flatly unimpressed with herself. “It’s been 10 years, and we’ve had our children. Now we live in the same house and sleep in the same bed, but it’s not really a marriage.” She stopped and peered at me from under her tinfoils. “Don’t become brother and sister. Make a choice to be something else.”

Now that my husband and I have been together for 10 years, married more than eight, from time to time I pause to reflect on what that woman said. There is so much literature about making marriages work, and so much conversation about how much work it takes to have a good marriage, that it’s hard to believe anyone has a good marriage anymore. Instead, it sounds like we all have second jobs.

You never see happy marriages on television, of course. Satisfied, calm marriages don’t make for high ratings or good gossip. Most celebrities discuss how hard they work at their marriages; discussing an easy one doesn’t sell magazines. No one writes about his or her good marriage. Yawn. Memoirs sell off the wreckage of people’s lives, not the pleasant successes. Wreckage gets you on Oprah.

But the notion that we ought to choose to remain in love doesn’t wash with me anymore. Love is a commitment, but the idea of choosing to work at your marriage sounds like a drag. I’m going to write something that might irritate people, but here we go: Sometimes you luck out. Sometimes being married is easy. Sometimes — strike up the violins and cue the Hugh Grant voice-over — love chooses you.

Frankly, it should be easy. It should be a joy almost every day to be married, to feel relief and gratitude, and if it isn’t, you’re in the wrong marriage. The secret to a happy marriage isn’t hard work, as if we should behave like dogs gnawing over the bones of a relationship until we discover marrow. It’s not convincing yourself that every good marriage takes work and hauling yourselves to therapy twice a week until the wheels come off. The secret to a happy marriage is finding the right person and remaining faithful. Call me a boorish American bourgeois (and all my unhappily married friends in Europe will), but that’s pretty much it.

Beyond that, the ideal is to fall in love, then — surprise — to fall further in love each passing year, from the first phase of romantic love (which can last up to three years, say psychologists) to the attachment phase of love, the long, forever period when you either remain attached or become detached, like the woman under the tinfoil who felt like she was sleeping with her brother.

I’m bored with people who tick off with a dreary consistency all the noble tasks they do to make their marriage work, as if they should be congratulated for accepting the connubial call to arms. A few years ago, a friend told me she bought a Roomba as a relationship solver because neither she nor her husband could be bothered to vacuum the kitchen. I watched the dark little disk wander the linoleum floor until it stalled in a corner, and I thought to myself, “This relationship is doomed. These people don’t even like each other enough to make their apartment presentable to each other. That’s not hard work; that’s basic respect.” Two years later, they were divorced.

Imagine that your spouse might disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow. For so many people- — think of people in combat, war correspondents, police officers, emergency responders — that’s a terrifying, potentially sudden reality.

If that thought doesn’t cause enough panic and heartbreak and sorrow to overwhelm you, you’re in the wrong place with the wrong person.

As for the woman under the tinfoil, I e-mailed her nephew the other day. She made a choice. She’s still married.

Do you agree with Alex? Is staying in love — especially in a marriage — a choice? Does staying happy in a marriage always have to be a chore? I personally don’t think a couple not wanting to vacuum is doomed for divorce…

P.S. – The reason I have chosen to profile married couples like Steve & Sheona and Christy & Freddie here in Marriage Matters is because they’re still under 45. They listen to Jay-Z and probably shop at H&M. Yet they’ve been married over a decade. They’re accessible to twenty and thirty-somethings but just as Alex, they definitely have wisdom to share.

[Click here for original article.]

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    1. Thanks for sharing this article! It’s very well written but actually quite laughable to me. I have a very, very, happy marriage. I’ve found that although it’s so easy to love my husband and for him to love me back, it’s not easy to stay as happy as we like to be within our marriage. What I mean by this is that there are SO many negative factors of life pulling at a marriage and the bond between a husband and a wife that even when you’re the opposite of miserable it can take some hard work to maintain that happy place and rise above adversities that you face. Just because I’m not fighting with my husband over cooking and cleaning that doesn’t mean that I’m not working at making sure he finds peace at home after a long, rough, terrible day. Or, that I’m not working hard to organize finances with him and plan our future and savings so that we can move our happiness into a house. Either way you look at it, this is all considered “working” at my marriage. But it most certainly doesn’t feel like a second job. Love has chosen us and we’re merely working to make sure it never changes it’s mind. This article is way off base if you ask me. (Especially the vacuum cleaner part. Give. Me. A. Break!) She sounds awfully bitter for a happily married woman. (Just my two cents.)

    2. Bridgette Bridgette says:

      Charli, thanks for your candid comment and for sharing the piece over on ManWifeDog. Yeah, the vacuum reference was nuts but what I did find insightful was Alex’s points about popular culture’s focus on the “struggle” of marriage in the second and third grafs. As someone who has worked in magazines for a decade, I think she’s absolutely right about what sells as it pertains to marriage related content in media. I’ll admit that you raise a couple of points I missed regarding Alex making sweeping generalizations on what constitutes an unhappy marriage. To your point, my parents were happily married (over 20 years) until my father passed away but they had their share of arguments and I’m willing to bet some were over household duties. However their happy moments definitely outweighed the arguments and I was raised in a home filled with undeniable love and respect.

      My main takeaway from this piece is if you’re someone that generally sees life as “hard” and “a lot of work” as a single person and focus most or all of your energy on that work and not the joys that work brings you, you’re likely to view your marriage the same way. Practically all of the married couples I admire readily admit their marriages take hard work. But they also readily share how happy they are to have their spouse to put the hard work in with. (Which is what I think you’re essentially saying.) Life is in fact hard, on this we can agree. To me, this is an example where that trite but true saying is so fitting: The happiest people in life don’t have the most of everything, they make the most of what they have.

      But hey, what do I know? I’m not hitched. This is just my non-married two cents. ;-) Thanks again for the link love chica!

    3. This was a very thought-provoking article!
      I think I fall somewhere in the middle here. I think you have to “work” on love, but that doesn’t mean its easy or hard; its a day-to-day challenge to keep a spark, an interest, a flame going between two people.
      There are many out there who just think that they’re supposed to be married–so that’s what they do. They end up blaming a failed relationship on something or someone, when it wasn’t really a full-blown “marriage-able” relationship.
      I guess what I really think is that there are some great relationships and some great marriages out there. The two don’t always end up going hand-in-hand though.

    4. I really enjoyed reading this article. I always like to read/hear the perspectives of others. I totally agree with the portion of the article that stated, “Frankly, it [marriage] should be easy…”. Although I am not yet married, I am engaged, my fiancé and I have had this exact conversation. We reflected on how effortless our relationship is and how we don’t have to “work it” because it works. I have been blessed to have parents who have been married for over 30 years and they get stronger each year. So I have an up close and personal view of a successful marriage. My fiancé on the other hand had been married before and knows what doesn’t work (for him) and now knows exactly what does work (for him).
      Furthermore, he and I have always said that we didn’t fall in love with one another; we grew in love with one another. It’s our opinion that if one can fall IN love one can fall OUT of love. So with that being said, I do not believe staying in love is a choice, that choice to love someone should be made early on (or that situation would not have evolved into a “relationship”). Once that choice has been made (equally and mutually) a couple doesn’t have to choice to stay, there instead is a desire to stay.

    5. Hi,

      I have been in a relationship for about 4 years. It has been quite complicated with lots of ups and downs… And we broke up a few times. We always got back together but I was ready to give up the last time it happened. She talked me back into the relationship and we are back happily together.

      She and I are of different cultural background. I have been long term working overseas in her country and language was a huge problem, and still is to an extent. I believe this has seriously undermined our relationship but I have put lots of efforts to learn her mother tongue and now I speak it fluently. It helped. Together with her efforts to learn English, we are better on this front… Although it still is not perfect.

      I am writing because I am more and more considering going back to my home country, and the time for me to make a choice is approaching… Whether or not to go back home with her, this would mean getting married…
      And for some reason, it is not an easy decision for me… And I have come to think that love was also a matter of choice and especially if we are to envision getting married.

      I have been wondering if I loved her enough … I don’t seem able to feel strongly enough to be able to know …

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    1. […] yesterday about a controversial article on marriage that she read in Harper’s Bazaar. She posed the question, “Is staying in love a choice?”, which came directly from the title of the piece; a […]

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