Kayla and Matt were the friendliest couple I’ve ever met.
Not just to other people, but to each other. They were in their early 30’s, with two small kids and a home business. They laughed at each others’ jokes, finished each others’ sentences, ate off of each others’ plates.
A little sickening, right? Especially for those of us married for years to husbands who migrate to their gender cluster at every social gathering.
Matt and Kayla floated between the camps of husbands and wives like one soul in two bodies. You could almost hate them for their level of simpatico.
I lost touch with Matt and Kayla when she began working full-time outside of the home. My marriage chugged right along. Sometimes slogging. Sometimes soaring (usually after really bad arguments). Most nights found us collapsed in bed after a typical day as parents in America: overscheduled and exhausted. We share the duties pretty equally in my household. My husband cooks and shops more than I do. I do the lion’s share of the cleaning. We share the chauffeuring responsibilities. I handle the heavy lifting when the kids are in trouble, but he’s right behind me for support.
Not always sexy, but it’s a partnership.
I reached out to Kayla and Matt on social media to invite them to a celebration. I could only find Matt’s profile on Facebook. Let’s get together, I said. It’s been too long. You and Kayla were always one of our favorite couples.
A week passed before Matt replied. He’d moved, he said. He and Kayla shared custody of the kids. They’d divorced two years before.
When you’re married and have kids, you meet a lot of couples. Some of them have “doom” written all over their union. It’s just a matter of time before the whole thing crashes down. You try not to look as the pieces flake off. Yours is the shoulder they cry on–one of them, anyway–when they finally call it quits.
Then there are the couples everyone else envies, the ones who seem so right for each other. Who find ways to have fun together. Who read the same books, or share the same hobbies. I wish we were more like them, you think as you watch them stroll hand in hand through the same door you and your husband fought over opening when you arrived.
Kayla and Matt weren’t the first great couple I’d seen end in divorce. Far from it. Most of the bad marriages I knew ended about 15 years in, after their best intentions of staying together for the good of the children had finally been abandoned. Sad, but expected.
The second wave hit a few years later.
Infidelity was involved in most instances. Substance abuse was the culprit in others. Marriage after marriage ended. “Another one bites the dust,” I said to one of my best friends. She and her husband were one of the few intact couples left, so my husband and I double-dated with them once or twice a month.
You can probably guess what happened next. But I’m going to tell you anyway.
Her husband had an affair with a younger woman. My friend stuck by her man, even when the husband revealed that the younger woman was pregnant. My friend still stood by him, but he deserted his wife and two kids and moved in with the girlfriend.
Just two months before, we’d gone kayaking together. Kayaking!
How do people change so much? How does the promise of “to have and to hold, from this day forward” become the legal division of two dissatisfied parties? What happened to Kayla and Matt?
And could it happen to me?
My husband and I are as opposite as Katherine and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. We fight like them, too. He’s a hot-head, and I’m a slow burner. He’s a dyslexic who butchers words. I’m an English major with an annoying habit of correcting language misuses. I love books and solitude; he loves sports and social events. One thing we have in common is we both are sure we’re always right.
Why are we still together? How have we not fallen?
Recently I clicked on a hyperlink that promised to divulge “the secret to a great marriage.” One common thread in long-lasting marriages, according to the article, is that spouses who try to see things from the other’s perspective stay married longer.
This makes sense to me. Because my husband and I have so few common attributes, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the heck the other one means. It’s a matter of survival.
A more unexpected finding, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, says that wives who have lower expectations when they wed experience more satisfaction in their marriage over time.
This also hits home. My husband and I married under the most un-propitious of circumstances, following a tragedy that affected every aspect of my life. In the early years of our marriage, with kids in diapers and him always working, I fantasized about divorce and separation. It got me through the day.
I was surprised to find myself growing to love him. I always knew he loved me, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with him.
But there’s something about the man who fathers your children. You want to love him. And if he’s a good husband, as mine is, he gives you reasons every day to be grateful you’re not in it alone.
I know how lucky I am. I just don’t know why.
What about you? If you’ve been married a long time, what keeps your romance alive? And if your marriage didn’t survive, do you have advice for other couples?