Happily ever after?

Happily ever after?

My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last weekend.

Together since mum was 18, they are still in love. In every way.

Several years ago I was equally mortified and chuffed to walk in on them. Mortified because they invited me to stay for a cuppa afterwards and chuffed because they were still clearly into each other.

At their celebration on the weekend, dad said he believed that genuine friendship, the same values and similar beliefs meant their relationship had "not only survived but thrived".

Mum's explanation was simpler. "He's the love of my life, my soul mate and best friend".

Researchers have attempted to understand what makes a marriage. 

General rules of thumb include working hard at it, being kind and compassionate, celebrating life, taking chances and... not listening to the Beatles.

But marriage remains a mystery.

Even top researchers who claim they can predict, with 91 per cent accuracy, the chances of a marriage lasting have been criticised

We marry more often than not for love and many remain intensely in love even after decades

Yet 32 per cent of marriages are expected to end in divorce and it has been predicted that this may increase to 45 per cent over the next few decades. Separate to this, of those who stay together, not all are satisfied.

Finding your dream partner seems as rare as finding your dream job.

So should we just accept that, while dream marriages and dream jobs do exist, for most of us they're unlikely to happen?  

Is happily-ever-after just a fairy tale?

In their book Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce and Marriage authors Danielle and Astro Teller attempt to identify  what lies between the fantasy and a weary view of wedded life. 

"What we do tell people is that happy couples are really no different from unhappy couples," they say of society's narrative about marriage. 

"Either they have found some secret formula for happiness (and if you buy the right book/attend the right seminar/take the right product, you will be happy too!), or they have learned to lower their expectations to the point where they don't feel the sting of disappointment from incompatibility, loneliness, sexlessness or boredom." 

The problem with these perspectives is that they insinuate that a happy marriage is possible for all couples or that no marriage is great but that some people just have a better attitude.

"This narrative is not entirely without value," the Tellers say. "It is certainly true that marriages have ups and downs, and just because the passion has cooled temporarily, that is not a good reason to throw in the towel. Moreover, even the best marriages are not perfect."

Certainly, I've witnessed the gentle undulations of my parents' closeness as well some of the moments where the swell has seemed insurmountable.

"Every couple has problems," the Tellers reiterate. 

Despite imperfections existing in all couplings, the point is that not every relationship has the same potential to be great, they argue.

Instead, they suggest a new narrative:

"What we as a society should probably be telling married people is, 'If you have love, passion, companionship and equality in your marriage, you are wealthy beyond words. 

'If you don't, you have two choices. You can decide that your marriage is the best you're going to get and try to be content. Alternatively, you can leave your marriage to play the lottery of finding that perfect partner, accepting that you are unlikely to win and may have to stay single for the rest of your life.' "

It's not exactly the stuff of fairy tales but perhaps it's a narrative that is closer to reality; a more truthful perspective to base decisions of a lifetime on: decisions that might not lead to happy-ever-after, but happier-ever-after.