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Reflections on thirty years of marriage

The main thing that differentiates marriages that end in divorce from those that end when death-do-them-part is the sheer stubbornness of the parties involved….

–that and the access or lack thereof to a handy murder weapon.

In my twenty-six years practicing family law, I’ve yet to have a marital dissolution case end in murder–although a few, sadly, have ended in suicide. However, while there are common themes to what ends marriages–adultery; physical violence; reckless spending; untreated mental illness or substance abuse; outright contempt (in the emotional, not legal, sense)–I conclude that stubbornness distinguishes the spouses that remain together through the inevitable bad times from those who hire divorce lawyers. Such stubbornness isn’t necessarily a good thing: many folks continue in joyless marriages because they lack the courage to fix things or separate. But stubbornness is a necessary component of a lasting marriage.

Humans chose to marry because they find another individual with whom they envision building a life together. While marriage is not unique in the ability to bring moments of joy, for me, like many people, marriage can provide a sense of wholeness that was lacking prior to marriage. But humans change, and such change more often drives spouses apart than brings them together. Folks are likely never more compatible than around the time of their engagement, and any change is likely to make them less, rather than more, compatible. It takes effort and thought to incorporate this inevitable change into the structure of marriage, so that it becomes a strength. Without this effort, folks drift apart, either into divorce or a joyless marriage. The modern, self-actualizing, vision of marriage is extremely hard, but tremendously enriching if successful. And it definitely requires stubbornness.

I’ve spent the better part of my 50’s having resumed counseling in order to examine my life goals. Part of that process has been examining my relationship with my spouse, children, and parents. The conclusion I’ve reached–and wish I had reached years ago–is that we should enter marriage and have children not to be loved but to learn better how to love others. Too many folks enter marriage or become parents because they are looking for someone to love them–understandable but tragic. If one of the goals of modern marriage is self-actualization, the radical acceptance that marriage and parenting require is a pathway to such actualization. It is easy to love conditionally–although that really isn’t love at all. Loving unconditionally is hard. The mindfulness required to love one’s spouse (and children) unconditionally is the pathway to loving oneself unconditionally.

The theme of paradise lost recurs throughout the history of art. For most of us, our first experience of love is unconditional. Parents facing a colicky baby don’t attribute ill will to that baby–they simply try to comfort it. Yet, as we age, the folks who care about us also impose expectations upon us. A toddler throwing a temper tantrum is expected to change his behavior. Whereas ill will was not attributed to the baby, we assume ill will of this toddler without recognizing that he no more desires to be miserable than the colicky baby does. The paradise we’ve lost is the experience of that unconditional love. At it’s best, marriage can be the pathway to paradise regained. When our spouse loves us unconditionally–which does not relieve us of the consequences of our behavior–we can relearn how to love ourselves unconditionally. For me, this has been the greatest gift of thirty years of marriage. Mutual stubbornness has its rewards. Thank you Karen for the past thirty years.

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Five years ago I posted a blog commemorating my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary so I’ve long planned a blog commemorating my thirtieth. There’s a certain (as of five years ago, unexpected) symmetry with this anniversary. On my wedding day, I was half-way through law school. Thirty years later, my bride just completed the first half of her second year of law school. She is where I was thirty years ago. Thanks to my law practice, this anniversary will be more lavish than anything a law student could afford for his honeymoon (I post this blog from the old town section of Prague). So a gracious thank you to all my clients who made this possible.

Put Mr. Forman’s experience, knowledge, and dedication to your service for any of your South Carolina family law needs.

Retain Mr. Forman

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