As usual, my "gut" is sending me mixed messages.
November 30, 2006 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Did you marry someone despite misgivings and have actually it work?

We always hear about people who didn't "listen to their heart" and married someone despite misgivings, and ended up divorced or in unhappy marriages. But I wonder about those people - like me - who over-overanalyze everything and are never 100% sure how anything will work in the future. Do any of those people actually have happy, successful marriages? I always hear that "when it's the right person, you"ll just know" but that seems impossible because (1) if 50% of marriages end in divorce, than lots of those people who "just knew" were wrong anyway and (2) there are people - myself included - who don't tend to feel certain about any choices, especially huge ones with long term consequences.

As a tiny bit of background, I always wonder and doubt and I never feel any guarantees in life. However, in retrospect I can say that some of most successful decisions I have made, I had huge doubts about, because I was so nervous, and because I'm superstitious about assuming something good will happen to me. I'm currently in a wonderful relationship that does have its flaws (don't they all?), and usually I get very excited thinking about us growing old together, but other times I get petrified thinking about all the ways the relationship could spiral out of control, if x or y happened. We've been together almost 4 years, we're in our late 20s. But the question isn't really about my relationship, I'm just wondering if there are people who were nervous, had doubts, and it turned out wonderful just the same. (I've heard all the bad stories.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I really think that marriage comes to down to having two people who are committed to making it work, through really crappy times and good times. Waiting for "the one" is mythology - at some point you have to decide "yeah, I could wake up next to this person for 50 years and make it work. its go time".

On four years of marriage here btw, and we've had our close calls, but we're still making it and still love each other.

Everyone is petrified before they get married, btw - that part is normal.
posted by rsanheim at 8:47 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

The guy who turned into Hubby wasn't at all what I thought I was looking for, so I wondered if we were doing the right thing. But 13 years later, it's been pretty good overall.
posted by Quietgal at 9:04 AM on November 30, 2006

I agree w/ rsanheim.. I was not sure either time I got married. First one lasted 24 years, ended when she died. Second one in process now and so far, so good.

I love to ask this question of people:

If 50% of first marriages these days end in divorce, do you really think the other 50% are perfect?

Probably not, IMO. They are probably just not bad enough to end. So say happiness is normally distributed in this remaning 50% (unlikely, but it's a thought experiment.) This implies that half the remainder are in the "less than perfect" arena, yielding an overall chance of 1 in 4 that you will be happy and not end up divorced.

Pretty crappy odds.

People fall in love for one set of reasons. They marry for a different set. They stay married for a different set. It's not homogeneous.

There are no guarantees. The probability is that you'll divorce, likely more than once, IF you even bother to get married.

If you let that paralyze you, then whatever good you can expect to get from marriage will never be available to you, and no matter who you choose, you will develop stresses over the years that need to be accomodated. You'll either be good at it or lousy. The only difference is going to be the nature of the stresses, so I firmly believe that there is no Mr. Right (or Ms. Right).

That said, give your 'gut' credibility and some weight in your decision process. Don't try and over-analyze emotions... sometimes they just are not subject to analysis. That's the best you can do.

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 9:05 AM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

We rarely hear about people who "listened to their heart" and married someone with no misgivings, and ended up divorced or in unhappy marriages. But, there's A LOT of them out there.

Probably don't hear about them that much because it's harder to fess up to than "oh in my heart I knew she wasn't the one."

But yeah, basically what rsanheim said,
posted by milarepa at 9:14 AM on November 30, 2006

I've been married more than once, and I'm not going to say how many times because it's embarrassing, so this last time I was married I was pretty positive it wouldn't work out at all. My history of making relationships work was pretty abysmal and Lloyd's of London wouldn't have insured this relationship working out. We've been married 9 years and have no plans for separating-we've had some rough patches but we're stuck for the long haul.
posted by hollygoheavy at 9:20 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

As a tiny bit of background, I always wonder and doubt and I never feel any guarantees in life.

Sounds like you have a bit of work to on yourself. Maybe some therapy to work through these issues?

Nothing is guarantteed. The person you marry today isn't going to be the same person you're married to in 5 years. change happens.

The woman I'm cheerfully married is NOT who I though I would marry, which made me wonder what I was doing for a while. But now it makes perfect sense.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:21 AM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

My wife & I entered a relationship that had approximately 2% chance of working out, I figure. We had a child far earlier in our time together than I would necessarily recommend, and there were times, I will admit, where very little more than our son and the sheer nightmare of extricating our lives one from the other kept us together. We've come very close to separating (on both our parts).

That said, I made a commitment early on that I would make this work, because while I don't really believe in "the one," she's pretty damn great, and I'm willing to do the work. We've been together almost six years now (the first five or so of that unmarried). And Brandon above puts something very important in the foreground: you will both change over time. That's to be expected and, I think, looked forward to in some ways.

The only other thing I would say is something someone said to me about long term, committed relationships generally, but particularly when facing a rough patch: you decide what you're willing to forgive in your partner, and you always, always do so. Same, I think, goes for forgiving oneself.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:45 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

I completely sympathize, and yes, I am keenly aware of couples that were successful in their marriages despite initial misgivings (some of a very longstanding character). Things may spiral out of control, as you say, if X or Y happen. The one thing I would caution you about is this: if you presently detect trait A or B in your significant other, and your feelings about the marriage depend on the capacity of A or B to change, be very very cautious. It is far safer to assume that each of you will be as you were before, even if it is likely that you will change in all kinds of unanticipated ways.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:46 AM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

We rarely hear about people who "listened to their heart" and married someone with no misgivings, and ended up divorced or in unhappy marriages. But, there's A LOT of them out there.

My first husband, I had no doubts about. I married him thinking the world was a bed of sunshine and roses and blah blah blah. I attribute this to my age at the time (20) rather than the fact he was perfect for me. It was fine until I grew up a little and didn't think bongs and keggers were fun. It was a miserable, unhappy marriage until it turned into a (relieving) divorce.

I had too many doubts about the compatibility between me and my second husband to even date him until 10 years after I met him. Then again, we've only been married a little bit, so I can't speak to the forever and ever part, but this marriage has been so... painless compared to the one I had no doubts about. Then again, maybe it's just the older, wiser and more jaded me coming in with open eyes.
posted by Gucky at 10:58 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

The short answer: I went into a marriage with significant qualms, and it didn't work out. This was followed by a relationship which I was 100% positive would work out, and it didn't, either. But neither anecdote tells you much, because as you say, your question isn't really about your relationship, it's more about the nature of making decisions:

But I wonder about those people - like me - who over-overanalyze everything and are never 100% sure how anything will work in the future. ... I always wonder and doubt and I never feel any guarantees in life.

No one is 100% sure how everything will work in the future -- at least no one with any sense. Anyone who thinks they are 100% sure how everything will work out is delusional. We can learn to make pretty good decisions based on the best information we have at any one time (including our gut feelings), but really, there isn't any guarantee. Life is not a chess game. You can't strategize every decision with an eye to controlling all the possible ramifications, all the unknowable causes and effects. There's no one single move you can make to seal the game and put all uncertainty into check.

This is absolutely not to say that it's not possible to make good decisions (and avoid bad ones), or to learn to trust our instincts, or what have you. But expecting absolute certainty at all the key moments in our lives misses the point. Major decisions like college, marriage, children, etc. are not one-shot deals; they are simply the first steps on entirely new paths in our lives. The ultimate quality of a marriage (for example) is made by a series of choices, large and small, that happen every day over the course of years. It's not like you get married and then get to crack open the fortune cookie at the end of the wedding to see if you lucked out into getting a "good" marriage or "bad" one.

The key is not to expect certainty, but to learn to trust your own instincts and inner resources to believe that whatever happens in your life -- good or bad, in your control or not -- you will be able to handle it.
posted by scody at 11:06 AM on November 30, 2006 [7 favorites]

Memories are not reliable. By the time a couple divorces, they will be more likely think back to their decision to marry and see the misgivings that may have been minor at the time in an exaggerated light. Couples that stay together and are happy find that their minor misgivings became even more minor or disappeared as time went on, so that now they're just a fading memory, forgotten.

So I don't see how there is any way to answer this question that be at all objective without running a long-term study of people who get married. Does such a study exist?
posted by hazyjane at 12:03 PM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, i had plenty of doubts and so did my husband. We were young 23 & 24 with an unplanned baby and no money and both with heaps of baggage. We did have a rough time at the start with the odds stacked against us, and we separated for a while near the start, but both have us have worked really hard and we've been married 16.5 years and are each other's best friends. I can't imagine starting a huge committment like that and being sure from the start that this one person is the right one.
posted by b33j at 12:29 PM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

The wifey and I have been married almost 3 years, and it has been awesome. We initially had misgivings, our personalities are shockingly opposite, and we had very little in common (in terms of the "easy" stuff -- people we hung out with, music, movies,etc) initially in our relationship. People were mystified at our pairing, and some we actively challenging us, saying "Are you sure he/she is right for you?"

We have grown to love each other's "stuff". I now like old movies, I find opera tolerable, and I love getting into the stuff she is into (art, lit, museums, historical stuff). She listens to music from after the Renaissance now. She watches Bond movies. We really really like spending time together, just like we always have -- it has only gotten better. So yes, even though times have not always been hunky-dory, we have worked through the rough patches, and continue to get quarterly counseling just for "tune ups" to the overall marital machine. Being married to the right person is 100 times better than a fast car, a great job, etc.
posted by wonderwisdom at 1:18 PM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

People who get married without reservation because they found "the magical one" and went head over heals tend to repeat this cycle over and over when they discover the details of living together are much messier than anticipated.

Make sure you know yourself reasonably well enough to understand which of your personality traits are fixed and don't get mixed up with someone who won't mesh with these traits. Beyond that, marriage is a clean slate and you learn as you go. I don't believe that anything in life happens as if by magic or destiny.

I have been with the same person for 10 years, married for six. We actually got married, largely for legal, social, and familial reasons, not out of a need to establish urgently our commitment or to resolve any issues with our future together. It kind of happened casually because neither of us were oppossed to it and there were pressures from outside to do it. I can see the idea that marriage is this big, magic thing where you'll just "know it's the right thing" but that's just not how it was with us. We are really pretty happy, still. Our relationship is constantly evolving, we argue, we work hard, but I really never experience regret.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:00 PM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

If you are NOT worried that perhaps you're making a mistake when you get married, you don't take the institution seriously enough, imo.

On the morning of my wedding, my best man (my brother) was prepared. When I told him ten minutes before we were due to leave for the church that I thought I was getting cold feet, he gave me a beer and told me to drink it. I did and told him I was ready to go. So he got another beer and told me to drink that. So I did.

I hit the church feeling very little pain.

That was 22 years ago. We're still married.
posted by Doohickie at 5:16 PM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

I tend to be suspicious of two types of marriages/relationships when they are described to me by the participants:
"We never fight."
"I never had the slightest doubt about our marriage."
Both, to me, would seem to indicate either that the couple doesn't communicate honestly or that one or both participants are fatally deluded.

People are difficult. Two people in a relationship is going to have moments of challenge. I had doubts right down the aisle, and both my wife and I have daily occasional moments when we wonder whether we made the right decision.

The vast, vast majority of the time, though, we know we made the right decision, and that's why we're still married.

Been together since 1998, married in September 2002, had our first kid in February 2005.
posted by scrump at 5:39 PM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Kind of late to the thread, but my situation is kind of like b33j's in that when we got married almost 10 years ago, we were youngish and had an unplanned baby and no money. And in the very beginning, after about a year of dating, we had broken up once completely for a year because I got totally fed up with an aspect of his character that I admit still annoys me from time to time even now. But that year apart before actually getting married made me realize that I really missed him and the tons of other good things about him, and I try to remember that feeling when things get rough now, which they do since this is life. And I'm sure there are things about me that annoy the hell out of him, but I think he tries to do the same. So, like b33j, we're each other's best friends and we try to make things work. I agree with the people above who said that it takes effort on both sides. If being with your partner is worth that effort, then you stay.
posted by misozaki at 5:39 PM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Trust your instinct. Try this:
Get a coin. Decide on heads or tails - heads, yes, you'll get married and tails, no you won't. Toss the coin. Your very first reaction to the ouctome (don't even think about it for a second) will tell you what to do.

Your gut knows.
posted by dg at 6:51 PM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

How many challenges has your relationship faced so far, and how good a job have the two of you done in working them out? It doesn't have to be perfect; you just have to be compatible enough, be committed to working things out, and be able to work them out.
posted by kimota at 6:59 PM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

I always wonder and doubt and I never feel any guarantees in life.

I think this tells you quite a bit. If you're the kind of person who always has worries and doubts about important decisions, why would this one be any different?

I will also reiterate what many have said before: marriage is not a perfect union of perfectly matched people. Successful marriages are those in which the couple is committed not just to each other and to "love" but to making the relationship work despite the inevitable struggles. As my father advised me before my own marriage: "Divorce is only an option if you let it be." (He's been married for 34 years, myself just under four.)

If you're committed to working things out (and your spouse is too) then there's very little that can't be overcome. The fact is that in ten or 15 years, the two of you might be very different people than who you are now. By marrying, you're committing not just to your spouse as they are on the wedding day but they person that they eventually will grow into (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). That fact alone makes the certainty or doubt beforehand somewhat moot. The primary controlling factor is your mutual commitment to making the relationship work.
posted by camcgee at 12:16 PM on December 1, 2006 [5 favorites]

Trust your instinct. Try this:
Get a coin. Decide on heads or tails - heads, yes, you'll get married and tails, no you won't. Toss the coin. Your very first reaction to the ouctome (don't even think about it for a second) will tell you what to do.

This "solution" is often trotted out in threads of this nature, but I think it's inadequate for an issue of this nature. The coin flip is only going to tell you what you "want" based on how you're feeling that moment. Maybe you had a fight that morning, and are feeling a little less charitable. Maybe you heard of an old friend's marriage, and are feeling lonely about your own life. You can't base the decision on who you're going to marry based on a coin flip.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:00 PM on December 2, 2006 [3 favorites]

50% of ALL marriages end in divorce, only 25% of FIRST marriages end in divorce.

Divorced people get married again and get divorced again (probably because many of them still haven't learned to deal with the problems they had in their first, or subsequent, go round or they never had a fully formed sense of comitment in the first place). This skews the numbers.

The fact that you are concious of problems and you want them to work gives you a leg up. Couples' counseling, particularly of the pre-marital kind can really raise your sticking power.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:54 AM on December 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

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