Formula for a Successful Marriage


Still Together After All These Years
Still Together After All These Years

Yesterday my friend Pat sent me a link to an article in the New York Times she knew I’d like called The All-or-Nothing Marriage. It asks the question, “Are marriages today better or worse than they used to be?”  Writer Eli J. Finkel writes,

“This vexing question is usually answered in one of two ways. According to the marital decline camp, marriage has weakened: Higher divorce rates reflect a lack of commitment and a decline of moral character that have harmed adults, children and society in general. But according to the marital resilience camp, though marriage has experienced disruptive changes like higher divorce rates, such developments are a sign that the institution has evolved to better respect individual autonomy, particularly for women. The true harm, by these lights, would have been for marriage to remain as confining as it was half a century ago.”

After studying the scholarly literature on marriage, Finkel offers a third view.

“Perhaps the most striking thing I learned is that the answer to whether today’s marriages are better or worse is “both”: The average marriage today is weaker than the average marriage of yore, in terms of both satisfaction and divorce rate, but the best marriages today are much stronger, in terms of both satisfaction and personal well-being, than the best marriages of yore.”

The reason for the success of the best marriages comes as no surprise to me: “Those individuals who can invest enough time and energy in their partnership are seeing unprecedented benefits.”  So Finkel’s magic formula for a successful marriage is T (time) + E (energy) = SM (successful marriage.)
Synchronistically, today is my husband’s birthday and I read this article immediately after wrapping his presents and signing his birthday card.  I don’t think he’ll mind if I share what I wrote with you:  “I can’t believe you’re 70, my darling.  Our love feels so much younger than that! Perhaps it’s because we’re just starting to get it right!!”  His response after reading it this morning was, “We are, aren’t we?”
As I wrote to Pat, obviously I didn’t mean ‘younger’ as in, naïve, unformed or immature (we were certainly that, having married at 20 and 21!), but light, youthful, rejuvenating, hopeful, free. As someone who has worked hard at my marriage and myself, I can tell you that both endeavors are paying off in a deeply satisfying way at this stage of my life.
When Fred and I met we could hardly have been more different.  He’s Irish/Italian, I’m Dutch/English. He was an extraverted, socially confident jock; I was an introverted, serious-minded student.  He was an outspoken “bad boy” who always said exactly what he thought;  I was a quiet and reserved “good girl” who kept my feelings and opinions to myself.
A recipe for disaster?  Many people probably thought so, yet here we are in our 70th year on Earth preparing to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary this summer.  So what’s our secret?  Part of it has to do with Finkel’s findings about the importance of Time and Energy to devote to our relationship. Somehow we both found work we love that gives us enough time to share a lifestyle we both enjoy.  Likewise, we both lucked into good health and plenty of energy. Believe me, we know how fortunate we are. As Finkel notes, so many people don’t have these luxuries!
But I’d like to add two more ingredients to Finkel’s equation that have been essential to us.  Despite our differences, the one thing we both share is a deep ‘Commitment’ to each other and our relationship.  Second, in mid-life I devoted my remaining years to a search for self-knowledge via a regular program of Inner Work. So what’s my magic formula for a Successful Marriage?

T & E + C & IW = SM

As Finkel writes,

“The bad news is that insofar as socioeconomic circumstances or individual choices undermine the investment of time and energy in our relationships, our marriages are likely to fall short of our era’s expectations. The good news is that our marriages can flourish today like never before. They just can’t do it on their own.”

This one’s for you, Fred.  Happy Birthday.
Photo Credit:  Amy Smith Photography
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11 Responses

  1. Dear Jean,
    As a woman who, a century ago who have been trapped in, or dead as a result of, an abusive marriage, I can’t describe how grateful I am that Marriage, as an institution, is weaker than it was then. I escaped from my first abusive marriage because he found someone younger and prettier and filed for divorce. I escaped from my second abusive marriage because I’d finally begun my Inner Work and knew I couldn’t live that way any longer and filed for divorce.
    Now almost 60, I’m remarried to a man who had also started his own Inner Work and has the same ability to Commit to our relationship. We’ve been together only 12 years, but it’s been better than all the preceding years—for both of us!
    Thank you for being one of my teachers along the way! I love your book as much as I loved your classes!
    With Much Gratitude, Melody LeBaron 407-716-6874 ~ inner and outer spaces supporting your best life

    1. Your story is very inspiring, Melody. Thank you for sharing it here. So many women have found themselves in your shoes and need to find the courage to follow your lead if at all possible! I loved teaching those classes and feel proud and grateful that you were one of my students. Blessings to you, my sister

  2. … thank you as always Jean for sharing your inspiring words. ‘Life is Difficult’. The coupling relationship of the maried state meaningfully matures as the relationship bonds. If we can overcome the stresses that midlife seems to impose on unfulflled expectations, it seems to me that the best is always yet to come. I wonder what the statistics are around Jung’s suggestion that the closer we are to being the psychological opposite of our partner, as you an your husband appear to be, the greater we are of integerating and accepting the ‘special’ gifts of each other as weage, which otherwise may well cause serious rifts in the relationship. I love and concur with your concluding thought … ‘in mid-life I devoted my remaining years to a search for self-knowledge via a regular program of Inner Work that is now paying off big time’ … Wow! Like a fine malt whiskey, the marriage bond becomes immeasurably more vauable as long as the seal remains intact. As a couple who share fifty years of marriage together this year; as a couple who are exteme psychological and typological opposites; and more significantly, as a couple who share not just the same birth date, but the same moment of our birth, (10,55 pm on the 11th June) Sheila and I wish you, Fred and family continued happiness, and many more blessings on your journey of return, from whence we all came. Andi

    1. I think you’re right on about hanging in there during mid-life, Andi. Certainly some marriages are terrible blunders, but when you can still remember why you fell in love in the first place and know you’ve got something worth trying to save, sometimes the best medicine is simple perseverance. I’d be interested in knowing the statistics on marriages between opposites too. I’ve heard that some of the online dating services focus on matching people based on similarities. I wonder if they count some of the really important qualities, like ego strength, commitment and perseverance as similarities. I’m truly amazed to learn that you and Sheila have the same birthdate and time. What are the odds of that happening? Fred and I wish you and Sheila continued happiness and blessings too. Perhaps we’ll all meet some day in the place from whence we all came. Wouldn’t that be fun? Jeanie

  3. Love your formula for a successful marriage!!! It sure does get easier as time goes by, if you are committed and are continuing to do some inner work. I am so grateful for Dale! I just thought I loved him when I married him. Now, I know I do!! So much more than I ever thought was possible. Remember when we re-did our wedding vows in the Holy Land where Jesus turned the water into wine? Love Shannon

    1. Thank you, Shannon. It does get easier, doesn’t it….after you get over the mid-life hump! I remember re-doing our wedding vows in Cana very well. What a special experience for all of us. Love, Jeanie

  4. Half Irish? You could have fooled me. But then Vic was all Italian with a name like Mansfield.
    A conscious, long-term, committed relationship is a psychological and spiritual opportunity. Vic and I called it, “The Path of Marriage.” In Hinduism, there was a wisdom path, a devotional path, a karma path and more. We wanted to add the path of marriage. Your formula is perfect–commitment and inner work + time and energy. Also flexibility and tolerance for this huge transitions that inevitably challenge the old patterns, such as having kids leave home or someone retiring. There is also some mysterious unconscious lure and connection sensed by the body but hard to articulate. Physical attraction? But it doesn’t have to do with age or illness or anything like that. Just deep compatibility on a physical level. What a gift your marriage is, Jeanie. Happy birthday, Fred, and joyous marriage adventures. Thanks for this piece.

    1. Thank you, Elaine. Yes, he pretty much missed most of the Irish but our daughter may have gotten some of it! Certainly flexibility and tolerance go into the marriage equation too. And patience! I guess we could go on and on.
      I want to thank you for your thoughtful and honest posts on your blog about your relationship with Vic. Reading them inspired and emboldened me to write this piece celebrating our marriage while I still can. Who knows what tomorrow holds? I also saw it as a special birthday gift for Fred. He saw it that way too, and was very touched by it.

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