Marital Bliss or Marital Blues?

John F. Abess

Half of all marriages fail1. Put another way, half of all people anticipating the most satisfying, gratifying state imaginable end up watching it go up in smoke. Indeed, failed marriages may be the single most important factor in why the marriage rate for all states except Hawaii has been declining since 1990. It was only a little over 20 years ago that South Carolina actually led the nation in number of marriages per population (excluding Nevada—hello, Las Vegas!). We now rank number number 12.2 Think we could blame the influx of Yankees for this? (Please don’t blame me because I arrived in 1971 and, thankfully, I remain happily married.)   


In any case, the stats are clear. Formal recorded marriage is in decline in the U.S.


Also lending itself to the declining numbers: As of 2011, the median age for brides was 26.5 years and 28.7 years for grooms. Compare that to the 1960s, when the age was 20 and 23, respectively. In addition, African Americans are less likely to marry than Caucasians, and the less educated are less likely to marry than the more educated.3   


Regardless of whether you see these declining numbers as a simultaneous decline of the American family, and a problem—or believe they simply are what they are, and, hey, times they do change, don't they?—the bottom line remains unchanged. Marriage is difficult. It's not easy, it takes work, and some couples just won't make it. That will always be so. But for those of you who aspire someday to be successfully married, or remarried (and according to research, 61 percent of us still hope to4), I want to offer some ideas which I hope will make your dreams of a happy and enduring marriage come true.  




Know yourself. Though this is a simple statement, to actually understand one’s self is a complex undertaking, and probably, this is a lifelong process. However, prior to marriage, you should understand certain things about yourself: your aspirations in life; your personality strengths and shortcomings; even (and this sounds pretty weighty, but then, isn't a lifelong commitment?) what you believe to be your purpose for existing. What are your most important values? What is it that you stand for? The answers to these questions are extremely important because you want to find a marriage partner who views the world similarly. You want a partner with similar aspirations and values.   Why? If you have the same aspirations, you will be a team working together to achieve what you both identify as important.  And values form the basis of all decision making. If you and your partner have similar value sets, there's a better chance you'll agree on the most important decisions.  


Be comfortable with who you are. Before anyone is ready for marriage, he or she needs to already be happy and comfortable with themselves. For example, an individual with a significant insecurity or self-esteem problem might be looking to marriage as a solution for completing themselves. That's a tall order, and not realistic. More importantly, in such a case, the person is marrying for the wrong purpose. Chances of this marriage leading to the blues will be high.  


Understand that true love involves the concept of sacrifice. Hmmm… This could be frightening news for a lot of people. Sadly, there appear to be more people in our society now than ever before who are simply too wrapped up in themselves. Is this you? (This would be a fine topic for another blog.) The short of it is this: A person that is self-centered does not have what it takes to make a marriage work. Here's why: they lack the capacity to return love. Naturally, if you choose to marry one such person, you will likely end up suffering the blues.


Be ready and willing to give up the "I." Here is a test to help you know if you are ready for marriage. No matter the decision, ask yourself: “Is what I am thinking of doing going to be good for our relationship?” When single, we really only have ourselves to answer to when it comes to what we do and the decisions we make. Once married, that frame of reference must change. The “I” now becomes “the relationship.” Are you comfortable giving up the “I” and putting the “relationship” first? Every single decision you make must be filtered through a new logic gate. If you are not prepared to say goodbye to the “I” and hello to “the relationship,” you are setting yourself up for the blues.    


Know the other person. In Greek mythology, sirens are seductive female creatures luring sailors to their deaths with their beautiful voice and song. Naturally, there exist male sirens as well. My point? It is easy, easy, easy to say things and to behave in ways that are superficial, cunning, and deceptive. There is only ONE method of really knowing another person. That is to spend enough time with them to eventually allow them to reveal their true nature. Only in the long run will you be able to see behaviors and hear statements that reflect another person’s true values and personality. I recommend three years of close dating or courting, and including in that timeframe the opportunity to get to know their parents and siblings.  


I really hope you find these tips helpful. I have come to appreciate over the years that enduring relationships provide a tremendous amount of happiness. To be needed, to know you are loved, to have someone with whom you can share your innermost thoughts, hopes, and fears, to have someone who will support you, someone you can completely trust—this is surely one of life’s great treasures. For those of you who are happy not being married, that too is great. For those of you who sing the blues, may you ultimately find the happiness you seek. 


(photo by Dr. John F. Abess)