A post at another good blog got me wondering, maybe the secret to staying married isn’t fixing or eliminating all of the relationship struggles, but simply riding the tough times out, instead?

Or another way to think about it is like a white water rafting adventure: The last thing you want to do in the rapids is jump or fall out of the boat!   By the time you reach still water, rather than jumping out, chances are you’ll want to simply paddle along and enjoy the peaceful calm before the next stretch choppy water.

See, life can be like that. Sometimes the “problems” in marriage and relationships aren’t really about the couple as much as they might be unhappiness or strife caused by other factors: a dead end or draining job, more bills than money, the trials parenting can bring, lack of quality couple time, lack of outside support, family of origin baggage, and so on. Sometimes there is no quick fix, or even no immediate fix at all. What’s needed is simply time and preserverence.

That seems to be what a study on marriage that tracked unhappy couples over a five year period says. It found that the couples who were happiest didn’t necessarily “solve” their problems, they just stuck it out. Even more telling, people in couples who split were less happy five years later than those who didn’t!

Consider the following study findings:

  • Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later. Just one out of five of unhappy spouses who divorced or separated had happily remarried in the same time period…
  • Many currently happily married spouses have had extended periods of marital unhappiness, often for quite serious reasons, including alcoholism, infidelity, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, depression, illness, and work reversals. Why did these marriages survive where other marriages did not? The marital endurance ethic appears to play a big role. Many spouses said that their marriages got happier, not because they and their partner resolved problems but because they stubbornly outlasted them. With time, they told us, many sources of conflict and distress eased. Spouses in this group also generally had a low opinion of the benefits of divorce, as well as friends and family members who supported the importance of staying married.
  • Spouses who turned their marriages around seldom reported that counseling played a key role.

So ladies, in marriage remember this simple but all too often overlooked strategy for dealing with issues and struggles — often you don’t have to “fix” those problems as much as you just have to ride out the rapids to calmer waters. And whatever you do, don’t jump out of the boat!

Sadly, in my family’s case this has certainly proven true. A year after I ended my 12 year marriage, my ex stopped drinking, finally left a work situation that had been a big part of his (and therefore our) unhappiness, and things evened out. Nine years later, I very much question if rather than creating additional conflict by continually focusing on “fixing” the problems, maybe had I simply hung in and been more constructive they might have resolved themselves? I will never know, but trust me it’s not something I would wish on anyone to wonder. If sharing my experience can help another, perhaps it is not in vain. I have many regrets. Don’t be like me. Don’t learn this the hard way.

Let those who have ears hear.