One of my favorite quotes about love and marriage comes from Oscar Wilde: A Man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her. While that saying makes me laugh, Wilde is also getting to something important: Marriage is tricky. And in today’s society where the martial woes of everyone from the Sanfords to Jon and Kate Gosselin are headline news, we are presented with every reason in the world to give up on our relationships — and fewer and fewer reasons to stay. While researching my most recent novel, I sat down and spoke to women, men, and married couples about why they do stay. And, sometimes, why they wished they had. This is the best advice I’ve found.
1. Love is a decision
Watching Governor Sanford stand up over these past weeks and speak about how he found his soul mate in his Argentinean lover reminded me of something Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and author, wrote about Sweat Lodges. She wrote that the only way to be in a Sweat Lodge — to experience all that it brings — is to sit far from the exit. Because if you sit too close, you will find a reason to use it. The same is true of any long-term relationship. If you decide to look for an exit, you will always be able to find it: whether it comes in the form of another lover, or another life. But the couples I spoke with who decided to commit to their marriages and relationships — to be present for them, to help them grow more sacred — told me that they were immeasurably rewarded for that decision. The more committed they grew to their marriages — the further they sat from the exit — the more joy and peace they found there.
2. There is No Weakness In Forgiveness
I’m not happy anymore; or I’m disappointed; or I have doubts. Three familiar catch phrases that free us up to not work to bring a relationship back to a positive place. In fact, we are conditioned these days to believe that the brave thing is to move on when the honeymoon is over. But that very standard makes it hard for any long-term relationship to survive inevitable disappointments. While some would argue that it is brave to pick up and start a new life when a relationship begins to ebb, the truly brave thing — the hard and valuable thing — is to figure out how to find a new flow together. As one couple, who is happily married after 40 years together, informed me, “The most invaluable gifts come on the other side of the bad periods. If we hadn’t forgiven each other for the hard times, we never would have experienced such good ones.”
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