Communication. Hobbies. Date nights. All are theoretically important for a healthy marriage — and often unattainable when we’re mired in the humdrum cycle of daily life and dirty laundry.
Let’s face it: For most of us, marriage isn’t a Viagra commercial packed with sun-kissed picnics on the beach. It’s carpools. Lost phone chargers. Demanding bosses. Messy houses, messy kids, messy lives. Sure, there might be the occasional date night or meandering late-night conversation. But raise your hand if you and your beloved spend many nights on your phones watching “Game of Thrones” until someone starts snoring.
I set out to discover what can help a marriage endure through those mundane, everyday moments. People were excited to talk — really excited. I got long e-mails with bullet points for keeping love alive. I received cathartic Facebook notes from people I hadn’t spoken to in 20 years.
Maybe it’s because there’s so much aspirational stuff out there about what makes marriages great. Swoony photos on Facebook and Instagram. Viral New York Times stories on the 36 questions you must ask your mate to spark true love. And, always, the prospect of divorce lurks — according to the American Psychological Association, up to 50 percent of US marriages will end.
Sometimes divorce is the best choice for a host of reasons, but few people enter marriage preparing for its demise, and most wonder what will make love last. Is it luck? Karma? Martini nights every third Tuesday? Here are a few insights from real-life couples and counselors.
When someone reveals their character, believe them. For many of us, “in sickness and in health” can seem like an abstraction. Not for West Roxbury’s Andrew and Ali Barton. Ali went into heart failure shortly after their marriage — while 21 weeks pregnant via IVF — and required a heart transplant after giving birth to their first child, Ethan. She’d been sick since meeting Andrew in 2010, and he regularly visited her in the hospital and assured her he’d be there even if she couldn’t have children, or had swollen limbs, or just needed to rest when they had plans with friends.
“If your marriage is based on just sex or attraction, you’re screwed. . . . To have your best friend to just be there, to listen, and love you, that was key for us,” Ali says.
Andrew agrees. “You take a vow for sickness and health. It should mean something,” he says. “She would do the same thing for me.”
Your partner makes you feel safe. Most couples fight. But those who endure have secure attachments to each other, says Danielle Green, a therapist at the New England Center for Couples and Families.
How do they build those attachments? By proving over and over again that they’re honest, even if that just means they follow through on getting a quote from the roofer or picking up the kids from school twice a week.
“The way we achieve this is by having the repeated experience that our partner is trustworthy, reliable, and they have our back,” Green says. “When the chips are down, you know you can easily turn to your partner and that the person is accessible to your needs.”
Instead of focusing on how much fun you have with someone or whether they have a lucrative job, evaluate how comfortable you feel.
“A lot of people go into relationships with their gut, thinking the honeymoon will last a lifetime, even though all the statistics show that half of marriages fail,” she says. “We think of ourselves as impervious.”
So get real: Do you feel safe? Can you be vulnerable? Do you truly trust your partner? If you’re not sure, heed the warning signs.
You’re aligned on the big issues. Lindsey and Kemi Fuentes-George are pretty different. She grew up in the South, a child of divorce, the type who analyzed her feelings. He grew up in the Caribbean with long-married parents, and over-sharing wasn’t in his wheelhouse.
“Where I grew up, men are kind of stoic and uncommunicative. You suffer silently,” Kemi says.
But despite the difference in their upbringing, they were on the same page since meeting at the University of Massachusetts more than 10 years ago.
“It was almost cosmic, like in World War II, where some old geezer says, ‘I saw her, and I knew she was the one!’ ” Lindsey says with a laugh. “I felt like I knew his heart from very early on, I knew he was in it with both feet, and we connected on the big things — kids, travel, how life would look in 10 years. I never doubted him as a person.”
The lesson: Shared backgrounds may be far less important than shared values and visions for the future.
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