How rare is a great marriage?

How rare is a great marriage? | Modern Mrs Darcy

I start a lot of posts like this …

I’ve been thinking about this for months.

(Heaven help me if I ever find myself needing to write about current events on short notice. I’m a slow processor and it takes me months to figure out what I think about anything.)

It was Jamie and Claire that first got me thinking about it. In Drums of Autumn (that’s Outlander #4 to the unitiated), Lord John admires their marriage, saying, “Do you know how rare such a thing is? That peculiar sort of mutual passion?” (“The one-sided kind,” he notes, “was common enough.”)

Nevermind that Jamie and Claire are fictional. It’s still a good question, though a hard one to discuss.

The topic of marital satisfaction tends to provoke knee-jerk reactions, so I’m wary of broaching the subject. But I think it’s a question worth exploring.

How rare is a great marriage?

I’ll start by saying: I don’t know. Nobody does for sure.

We do know this: the majority of marriages fail. According to psychologist Ty Tashiro, “Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages.”

I could cite you more stats, but they’re only so helpful. Most measure divorce rates, or marital longevity, and “not divorced” is not the same as “happily married.”

When I think about how rare a great marriage is or isn’t, I think first about my own marriage, and about the marriages around me. We have a high number of close friends who seem to be well-matched and happy. In those circles—and this is important—we talk about relationships. And not just the good stuff: importantly, the bad stuff isn’t taboo.

But that perception is only so helpful. Like attracts like, for one: happily married couples associate with other happily married couples. And our perception is limited.

Over the past few years, neighbors and acquaintances have divorced—some of them enduring ugly, heartbreaking messes—but no close friends.

Perception is faulty, of course: early in our marriage, we had a group of fellow newly-marrieds friends, seven or eight couples among us. We were flabbergasted when the first couple in our ranks got divorced. We had no idea they were struggling—notably, we didn’t talk about the bad stuff—until he moved out.

I would have guessed that they were happy, but he’d been sleeping on the sofa since their second month of marriage.

We see other marriages up close, marriages where both spouses are perpetually cranky, yet their marriages appear stable—maybe even happy. If there really is someone for everyone, maybe they’re perfect for each other.

I don’t know how rare a great marriage is or isn’t: but I do know this: it’s not the default position. It doesn’t happen by accident.

How rare is a great marriage? | Modern Mrs Darcy

Marriage expert John Gottman says two things distinguish happily married couples from unhappy ones: kindness and generosity. Happily married couples purposefully build cultures of appreciation and respect, one interaction at a time.

A great marriage requires intimacy, and therapists say intimacy itself is rare these days, even between spouses. (And even if spouses themselves are intimate, it strains the marriage if that is their only intimate relationship.) The bar is high for true intimacy, which has 7 necessary characteristics:

• emotional safety
• consistency
• love
• compassion
• understanding
• mutual respect
• freedom to be yourself

Reading that list, it’s not so hard for me to believe that only three in ten people who ever get married remain in healthy, happy marriages.

So why talk about this?

It’s worth knowing—whether you’re single or married—that great marriages are possible, but that not every married person is in a great marriage. Disbelieving the first is plain depressing; disbelieving the second makes it impossible to talk about relational struggles.

It’s also worth knowing that intimacy is hard, in or out of marriage. But most of us would be better off with a few more intimate relationships.

Great relationships aren’t the norm. They don’t happen by accident. But they’re worth working for.

I’d love to hear your thoughtful commentary on marriage, statistics, relationships, and intimacy in comments. 

How to deal with your crazy family (from an accidental expert).

How to deal with your crazy family (from an accidental expert) | Modern Mrs Darcy

From the archives, just in time for Thanksgiving. 

The holidays are almost here.  Can you believe it?

Some of you are counting down to long-awaited reunions with those you love.  Some of you are dreaming of turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie.  And some of you are thinking, “How am I going to deal with my crazy family?

If you’re in the last camp, and you’d like to keep the family drama to a minimum this holiday season, here are 7 tips to keep the peace.

1. Do a reality check—and do it now, before the big event. The stakes are higher over the holidays, so now’s the time to remind yourself to be realistic and keep your expectations reasonable. Now’s the time to think about what’s likely to be problematic, and what you can do about it.

2.  Get yourself ready. If your family gatherings tend to be stressful, make sure you are well prepared. Get enough sleep, eat some real food before you arrive, and don’t drink too much (coffee, alcohol, whatever).

3.  Talk with everyone. Those of you with giant families know what I’m talking about. If there are 30 people at an event it can be hard to actually speak to everyone: make sure you do it. (And of course, if you’re speaking with everyone that also indicates that you’re actually on speaking terms with everyone–which is a very good thing.) Make the effort to talk to your shy nephew, or chat up the girlfriend who hardly knows anyone.

4.  No baiting. If we want fireworks at our family gatherings, we can toss out Occupy Wall Street as conversation fodder. Or the presidential election. Or recycling! Passionate family members will rise to the challenge. If you don’t want fireworks at your holiday gathering, keep the peace by knowing what’s off limits.

5.  No trash talking. Don’t gossip about other family members. Period. This is really tempting for me over the holidays, because I’m always tempted to do some female bonding with my sisters-in-law over some juicy family gossip. That’s not a bad reason to gossip—but there are better reasons not to. Don’t do it.

6.  Be a good sport. Do what you can to go with the flow. If your family loves Trivial Pursuit, get ready to play some Trivial Pursuit.

7.  Be grateful. Find something to be thankful for. After some family gatherings, I’m grateful that I am blessed with such a wonderful family. After some family gatherings, I’m grateful that I get to go home with my husband—and not all those crazy people we just had dinner with.

Do you deal with family drama? What are your best tips for dealing with difficult family members?

P.S. My favorite Thanksgiving movie that you’ve never heard of.

On showing up.

cold water

As a parent to young kids, talk of “rites of passage” brings a wistful smile.

I think of things like first smile, first tooth, first steps. The first time watching Anne of Green Gables or Star Wars, the first time making s’mores around a campfire, the first sleepover with the cousins.

(I’m living in fear of the “firsts” I know are coming: first crush, first kiss, first heartbreak. I don’t want to talk about it.)

But there’s another kind of rite of passage, the kind that comes when our bodies predictably begin to fail: the first time your parent is seriously ill, the first terrifying 4:00 a.m. phone call, the first hopeless prognosis.

We’ve been living through our own rite of passage around here. This is no happy “first.” This is the scary kind.

This weekend we took an impromptu road trip to visit a loved one who’s been ill. We almost didn’t go. Because we left in a mad rush, we weren’t prepared and didn’t have anything to offer: no food, no family photos, not even a bottle of wine.

We went anyway.

The kids and I hit the grocery store first, where we did their shopping (and I picked up that bottle of wine). Then we made lunch and tried our darnedest not to make a giant mess like we usually do. I changed over the laundry while the kids took down all the Halloween decorations, then we headed outside to cut back the spent mums and frostbitten hostas.

I was folding freshly-laundered pillowcases into a tidy stack when Anne Lamott’s words from six months ago popped into my head:

People don’t need as many casseroles as you think. 

When people are hurting, we need to be there for them, even if we can’t “fix” anything for them. (Because of course we can’t.)

But here’s what we can do: Take them cups of cold water. Sit and feel awful with people. Do their laundry.

And that’s what we did.

*****     *****     *****

We’re back in town now, back to our regular routine. Part of that routine is visiting my grandmother every week or so.

We go almost every week, the kids and I. The kids always make her cards and drawings and we take them with us. Sometimes we bake things and bring them along. We sit and we chat. Sometimes we do a few chores.

She has a hard time moving around on her own, so we quite literally bring cups of cold water.

I try to prevent the kids from wrestling on the floor, and we stay until I start losing that battle.

I’ve been meaning to take her photos for months. (I haven’t even brought her pictures of our new house. Yikes.) I’ve shown her pictures on my phone, but when you’re in your eighties, iPhone photos don’t count.

I was telling this to a friend the other day, saying I didn’t know if I could show up without those photos one more time. She said, “You know, I don’t think it’s the pictures your grandmother really wants to see.”

*****     *****     *****

When I go to visit others, I’m so concerned about what I have to bring, what I have to offer. And when I don’t have anything to offer, I’m tempted to stay home, because what’s the point?

(I’ve been on the receiving end of this, too, and let me tell you: I was grateful for every casserole brought to us by a kind-hearted soul. But I was even more grateful that the food-bearer would sit on our sofa for a bit and chat for a bit, because I needed that. And I wept tears of gratitude for anyone who shined my sink or folded my laundry.)

But I’m thinking that Lamott is on to something: people don’t need as many casseroles as you think, but they need you to be there.

I’ll need you to show up for me the next time we get hit by a bolt from the blue, and you’ll need me during your own depressing rite of passage.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about showing up, casseroles, and laundry in comments. 

What are you proud of?

What are you proud of? | Modern Mrs Darcy

A few months ago, I was a guest on the Brilliant Business Moms podcast.

Beth Anne and Sarah asked me a question that has been rattling around in my head ever since.

It’s a question they ask every guest: “When it comes to your business, what is the one accomplishment that you are the most proud of?”

Honestly, I was surprised they asked that question. That question is fraught with peril … if you’re a woman.

There are so many ways to blow a question like that.

There are the obvious ways: you can outright brag, which is bad, or humble brag, which is worse.

Or you can sabotage yourself in a more subtle way. Unfortunately, for women, talking about your business successes undermines your likability. It’s much safer to defer, claiming luck or circumstance as the cause of our success, rather than anything we did. Naming a professional success we’re proud of is dangerous.

Maybe the question intrigues me not in spite of, but because of, these dangers. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back to it.

What are you proud of?

I felt conflicted when Beth Anne and Sarah asked me that question, but I can tell you exactly why I’m proud of my kids, my husband, my girlfriends, without the tiniest bit of hesitation.

But when it comes to myself, I’m stumped.

On the podcast, I hemmed and hawed and deferred a bit. I cited luck, time, and circumstance as a key factors, as women typically do. (In my defense: I believe it. I think Malcolm Gladwell’s on my side.)

I did make myself give a real answer to their question. It wasn’t easy, and I hope my likability index didn’t plummet because of it.

What are you proud of?

I can easily identify and articulate the things about myself that frustrate me, the areas where I fall short, the items that remain perpetually uncrossed on my to-do list. It’s much harder for me to even notice the times when I—in Webster’s words—”take pride in a job well done.”

But Sarah and Beth Anne’s question has made me think I need to pay more attention to the things I’m doing right.

What are you proud of?

I’m proud of myself for sitting my butt down in the chair to do the work and WRITE every single day, even though it doesn’t come easy to this INFP.

I’m proud that sometimes I write things you think are worth reading. 

I’m proud that in my personal life, I can point to times when I did not give up, even though it was really tempting, and I can see now that it was worth sticking it through.

I’m proud that just two days ago I bought a silly tray at the antique shop because I liked it. I am deeply satisfied that I conquered the perfectionistic impulses that too often paralyze me and bought it even though I didn’t have a master plan for it. 

What are you proud of? 

If you have no clue what you might possibly be proud of in yourself, come at it through the side door. Think about your friends, your family, your kids. Why are YOU proud of THEM? Easy enough, right?

Then turn the lens back to yourself. It’s easier that way.

So tell me: what are you proud of? (Anonymous comments welcome.)