WE do not find contentment in marriage or relationships by finding the ‘right person’. Rather, we are more likely to be happy when we try to be the right person when we are with what appears to be the wrong person.
When it comes to such relationships, it’s not always about finding the right person, but about becoming the right person. As the Crosby Stills Nash song goes “If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with”.
There are few things in life that are loaded with quite as much expectation as marriage. We grow up thinking the hardest part will be finding Mr or Mrs Right, who we assume will be the key to a happy life. The more ‘right’ a person is for us, we think, the happier we will be. But sometimes, as you well know, we choose someone we think is right only to conclude that we were perhaps only half right!
This isn’t always because we have committed to the “wrong” person. It’s because our expectations are often idealistic and do not match the human reality. These unrealistic expectations can cause havoc if we let them. This is because we often expect the other person to fill a gap within us. A gap that can never really be filled from the outside.
The purpose of marriage is not about whether you find and keep your ideal mate. Marriage is about what you do when you discover that you can be with Mr. Right and still be unhappy. Or, you can be with Mr. Half-Right and still be happy! The challenge of married life is how to be at peace when you discover that he or she is apparently the ‘wrong person’. Did you ever think that he may be Mr. Right, but you are, in fact, acting like Mrs. Wrong! (“I never knew when I married ‘Mrs. Right’ that it meant I’d be ‘Mr. Always Wrong’”, quipped comedian Rodney Dangerfield).
We choose romantic partners because of a subconscious “love radar” that seems to tell us that a certain person suits us. These are cues, ideas, and suggestions we pick up over time to piece together a picture of the right partner. We gather these through experiences: familiarity, family ties, failed relationships, trauma, other people’s beliefs, and our own ideas about who we are and what we should do in life. Then, of course, there’s sexual attraction, which people often confuse with compatibility.
We attach ourselves to people who most significantly mirror our strengths and wounds. We do this because there’s comfort in the familiar, and because the essential purpose of long-term partnership is to assist us in growth. If our lives are about becoming ourselves, then our closest partners can be our greatest teachers.
The thing about marriage is that it’s not meant to make you feel happy in that sun-shining, movie-ending kind of way. It’s meant to make you aware of yourself, and the more deeply you can grow, the better you become.
It’s counterintuitive, but the less you expect marriage to make you happy, the more it will.
It is our ongoing relationships that can really teach us the most. Our interactions within our families show us who we are, how we behave, and what we are doing. Family relationships can be the most enlightening medium for self-awareness. There are few people who show you who you really are as much as your own family. There is no relationship that does this more than marriage.
Your life partner is an asset to you in the evolution of your growth as a person. You can choose to see marriage as an opportunity. Marriage gives us someone to walk with, but it does not give us the path. When you view your partner less as your savior and more as the person you get to hang out with until you die, you’re more likely to forgive their shortcomings and accept that they’re not, and never will be, perfect.
Our partners don’t exist to meet our every emotional need. They exist to be companions — separate, but equal — at once our responsibility, and yet very much out of our control. Learning to love them better is essential. It gives so much more than it takes. When we can strip away the assumption that they should be different from who they are, we find something better underneath: harmony. Which is what we’ve been hungry for all along.
Marriage will not always make you happy, but it will do something else. It will give you an opportunity to find happiness in peace, in letting go, in learning what’s worth fighting for, in figuring out how to love an imperfect person, in seeing what commitment is and what compromise feels like.
Marriage won’t do the work for you. The real work is not about finding the right person. It’s about becoming the right person. About being the right person. That’s not easy.