“Maybe nothing lasts forever, even when you stay together.” —Sheryl Crow, “My Favorite Mistake”
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are divorcing. I don’t know them, of course; but, still, this news saddens me more than the average celebrity split. It’s difficult not to make judgmental speculations at first glance: They’re rich; they’re gorgeous; they have three beautiful children. How in the world could this relatable couple call it quits, especially with such high-profile stakes? If they can’t make it work, who can?
With the birth of my daughter three months ago, my marriage has undergone its most challenging transition to date. Sleep deprivation, the relentless demands of an infant and the frustrating helplessness of new parenthood don’t bring out the best in anyone, but I feel like my husband and I have weathered the journey remarkably well. Children change a marriage, yes; but we’re making spending time together a priority, and the joy we share in raising our baby girl has brought us closer than ever. I felt not the slightest inkling of doubt when I recently declared to a friend that we will never get divorced.
But doesn’t everyone think that? If we didn’t, who would ever get married? Yet, here we sit, with divorce claiming at least one in three marriages. So I ask in my best Carrie Bradshaw voice-over:
Can love really last forever?
Over dinner a few weeks ago, a friend of mine described his parents’ 57 years together as having been “an old-school marriage.” I pressed him to elaborate. “You know, not all that happy,” he said. “They’d never leave, but they didn’t always like each other.”
I knew what he meant. Both sets of my grandparents could be described as having had this type of marriage. Growing up, most of the older married couples I knew seemed more like teammates than romantic partners. None of my friends’ parents seemed passionately in love from my idealistic pre-teen perspective. The couples that seemed happiest were the childless ones. They’d take romantic European vacations, engage in expensive and esoteric hobbies together—they just seemed fully invested in each other. Of course, I never stopped to consider how the absence of child-related responsibilities might be the source of this blissful aura.
Thankfully, the modern marriage has many advantages. Couples are getting married later, leading to more mature relationships; women are more educated and have more career opportunities, empowering them to choose supportive partners who make them happy; and the women’s rights movement inspired a more equitable divide between men and women for household chores and child-rearing duties.
Still, keeping resentment out of a marriage is harder work once kids enter the picture. Score keeping is practically the name of the game during the newborn phase. (“I’ve had the baby since 7 a.m. and desperately need a nap. See you in two hours.” *drops mic*) It’s difficult to sacrifice alone time to reconnect with your partner when it might be your only down time all day. And children bring out unknown ambitions and opinions, unveiling new personas that might even surprise the people to which they belong. And, of course, time marches on. People change and evolve, their relationships trotting alongside with two discernible options: Keep the pace or fall behind.
I can’t say with absolute certainty that my marriage will survive the next 60+ years my husband and I will hopefully live. Just like any of life’s endeavors, I can’t control my outcomes, but I CAN control my choices. I will choose to make my marriage a priority. I will always, always choose to see the good in my husband, and I will choose to put my all into our life together. I will choose to turn toward my husband, even during hard times when I want to turn away. And I hope like hell it’ll be enough.