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The other day I was seeing a client to whom I mentioned that it was our (Sue’s and my) 57th wedding anniversary.    To him I may as well have been claiming to have walked across the continent on my hands.   Twice divorced himself, he had no concept of a married couple that would still be together after, um, 57 years.   


Fifty seven years?  Really?   Wow! That’s a long time!   I didn’t know any marriage ever lasted that long.  So what’s the secret?


As one who’s been doing marital therapy for more than four decades and who has officiated more weddings as a pastor than I could ever remember, I maybe should have had a quick answer.  Something that popped into my mind right away; a quick and easy formula for success.  


What I instead said was more along the lines of “success in any endeavor is never simple.   Marriage is hard because it’s complicated, and it’s complicated because we as people are complicated.”


Probably not what he wanted to hear, assuming he even wanted an actual answer to his perhaps rhetorical question.    But the more I think about it, the more it’s what people generally need to hear if they’re ever hoping to find marital success.  


Expect it to be complicated.


No easy secrets.   No simple formula.  


Failure is easy and simple.   Success is hard and complicated.  


Failure is built on expectations of black/white, either/or, good/bad, right/wrong.   Marital failure is built on hopes of better not worse, richer not poorer, and health not sickness.   


Life doesn’t work that way.  Life is both/and.   Each one of us has a mix of strengths and weaknesses that develop over time.     Each of us stays the same in some ways and changes in others.   Not an either/or.   We all get better at some things and worse at others.  


It’s an unusual couple that never faces financial challenges.   Some days, weeks, months, and years are richer and some are poorer.    Prosperity and poverty are relative terms, but suffice it to say that in our own case of a 57 year marriage we started out in poverty and are now relatively prosperous.   Glad Sue didn’t give up on me those first 2-3 years.   We’ve had our share of both/and.  


Then there’s the matter of sickness and health.   Never a simple either/or.    Even the sickest among us have some healthy parts working just fine and capable of helping one’s partner.    I had an aunt and uncle who aged into their 90’s together with her going nearly deaf and him nearly blind.   Thankfully, he could help her out with his hearing and she could help him out with her good eyesight.   We’re each one a complicated mix of both sickness and health.  


So what’s the secret?


Probably that there is no secret.


It’s never that simple.   There’s no such thing as a good or a bad marriage.   Every marriage is both/and.   A blend of strengths and weaknesses maturing and changing over the course of time.   A blend of richer and poorer, sickness and health, happiness and unhappiness.  Expect the unexpected.  Expect marriage to be complicated, embrace differentness, accept the inevitability of change for both the better and worse, and realize there will be plenty of both good and bad times along the journey.   


And that’s just for starters.   There’s far more to it than that.


All success is built on failure.   We learn from our making of mistakes.   Our love and our likes are both valuable but they are often as different as day and night.   We fall into and out of likes, which have to do with our emotions (feelings change with constant frequency), but love is a decision to stay through the likes and dislikes and emotions and changes.    Likes are built on simple secrets.  Love is anything but simple.  


And anything but secretive.

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