Author and journalist Susan Gregory Thomas has a new memoir out. It looks like a great read. An excerpt appeared earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal as their Saturday Essay. It broke my heart to read this from this Generation X latchkey kid, part of the 50% of her generation from split families:
“‘Whatever happens, we’re never going to get divorced.’ Over the course of 16 years, I said that often to my husband, especially after our children were born. Apparently, much of my generation feels at least roughly the same way: Divorce rates, which peaked around 1980, are now at their lowest level since 1970.”
But hers was not one of the marriages that survived. In spite of each of them marrying their best friend, in spite of testing their compatibility as roommates for eight years before they married, in spite of waiting until they were in their 30s to have children, they reached a point where they slept separately, talked only about logistics, and quietly seethed over all they were not getting from each other.
When you expect your spouse to be your best friend, you leave yourself very little room to get what you need. It is a triple-whammy to discover your children’s other parent, your lover, and your best friend all agree that what you want to do or talk about is not interesting. It puts you in danger of waiting until you are divorced or widowed to do the things you dream of or long to try. It lets you both see your mate as an obstacle, instead of the fervent supporter he or she longs to be.
When you expect your spouse to be a compatible roommate, you eliminate all the easy things you could use to practice finding Third Alternatives together. It is the creative Third Alternatives you discover for the really big differences in your life that make marriage so worth having, a source of so much growth and joy.
Expectations make such a mess of our marriages. Expect just one thing: love. The moment you notice it taking a back seat to avoiding disagreements or juggling parenting duties, drop everything and pay much closer attention to the tiniest ways your spouse shows you love. I cannot promise you will never get divorced, but it will certainly improve your chances of staying in love for the rest of your lives.
I am so, so, so sorry marriage fell apart for Susan Gregory Thomas, as it did for me. I look forward to reading In Spite of Everything and learning from her experience. Have you read it already? Is it as good a read as it looks?
This is a brilliant observation which so many people need to hear. Absolutely brilliant.