Solving the marital equation


Marriage, like UFOs or eyeballs, is mysterious. Even those of us a couple of decades into it sometimes scratch our heads at how it really works and what makes it last. Last year, at a small town celebration, I met a tiny old woman who, along with her husband of 63 years, had just received the award for "married the longest." When I asked her the secret to their long marriage, she smiled up at me, revealing a single tooth in the middle of her upper jaw, and said, "Honey, I have absolutely no idea."

An article from last Tuesday's Wall Street Journal asks a similar question: "Why do some couples thrive, while others fizzle or flame out, despite their best intentions?" Interviewing long-married couples like Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter (63 years) and Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne (28 years), the anecdotal advice is summed as follows: Find the middle ground, be funny, keep (some) secrets, never give up, simply stay alive.

Crediting their long marriages to "some combination of hard work and sheer blind luck," the couples interviewed, except for a few anecdotal suggestions, seemed almost as perplexed as the one-toothed lady as to what has kept them married over the long haul.

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With Valentine's Day (or as some lonely sorts on Facebook called it: "Single Awareness Day") just behind us, scrutinizing long-lasting love may prove interesting and perhaps even marginally instructive, but how much of real sticking value do we learn from analyzing other people's marriages? And why is it that one couple, with everything in their favor, fails at marriage, while another couple, odds stacked against them to the stratosphere, succeeds?

Lack of information can't be the problem. The glut of marriage books on the market is proof enough of that. The internet, too, is a goldmine, rich with tips on keeping romance alive. If all we needed were "Five Ways to Revive Your Marriage by Friday," we'd be set. So, with more information available than ever before, why aren't we staying married longer? If weekly dates plus shared hobbies minus conflict multiplied by the years isn't equating to marital longevity, what is?

Christian marriages supposedly have the formula right (Husbands, love! Wives, respect!), yet divorce rates among Christian and non-Christian marriages run neck to neck, proving that despite having the right rhetoric, we haven't quite solved for X yet, either.

How two people with two histories and two sets of baggage added to two sets of expectations and two (usually opposite) personalities compounded by an exponential number of minute irritations multiplied by selfishness to the umpteenth power times any number of years computes to one flesh over one lifetime is truly a mystery. Those of us who want two to equal one might want to do the math and figure out what the missing factors might be.

Amy Henry
Amy Henry

Amy is a married mother of six and a WORLD correspondent from Kansas. Follow her other "scribbles" at Whole Mama or by reading her book Story Mama: What Children's Stories Teach Us About Life, Love and Mothering. Follow Amy on Twitter @wholemama.


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