life · marriage

They did not live happily ever after

(The following article authored by myself originally appeared on the magazine Yliopisto-Lehti)

“The purpose of marriage is not being happy”. My colleague stares at me with eyes wide open, not knowing what to say, when I state that while having lunch with her. “Then what is?”, she asks, opening a life theme I have pondered upon since childhood, while witnessing my parents, still married after a lifetime.

Since childhood, we are conditioned to associate marriage with happiness. Fairytales end as soon as prince and princess are wed and summarise a life together by “they lived happily ever after”. Later movies come in, protagonists divorce and claim “I wasn’t happy anymore”.

Who marries with the expectation that marriage will grant them individual happiness is doomed to swallow a hard reality pill. The goal of marriage is to create a family (with or without children) capable of living in harmony. In a way, the goal is marriage itself, and making sure it lasts until “death do us apart”. Long ages of unhappiness are sure to happen in a shared lifetime.

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For me it was crucial to witness my parents’ marriage. There were happy times and intense arguments. Times when they were so in harmony, they seemed to waltz with each other in daily life. Others when they spoke different languages. It was always clear their common goal was building, preserving, fostering our family.

My pragmatic approach is in truth extremely idealistic. Individual happiness and couple harmony should be pursued as incentive, not goals. Love as you know at the start of the relationship is bound to end: what is left are values and the commitment to defend family.

These are the fundamental ingredients, despite not sufficient. Like in anything, you need a pinch of good luck.

So, no, you will not live happily ever after, but you will live together, which, as far as I am concerned, is much better.

***
Do you agree with my point of view? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment. If you liked this post, you may like also:
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4 thoughts on “They did not live happily ever after

  1. I agree yet disagree. Perhaps “individual happiness” should not be the goal of a marriage as there are two people involved. However, happiness should be a factor. If you’re not happy in yourself, you can’t be happy with another person, nor is it fair to depend on that person to provide your happiness. That being said, simply making a marriage work til death do you part is not a good aim. I’ve seen too many people stay in loveless, unhappy marriages because they don’t believe in divorce, or they don’t want to raise their children on their own.

    My husband and I have been married for 11 years and, while not every second has been full of fairytale magic, we’ve had more happy times than sad. I think the most important part of a marriage is communication. You have to be able to tell your spouse what you need and expect while also hearing their point of view. Sure, you’ll have disappointments and sad times, but if you can depend on each other to be there, it halves the troubles. Trying new things, having fun, and laughing together help keep a marriage happy and strong.

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    1. Thank you for this deep and beautiful comment. I agree happiness is important as motivator. And unfortunately there are factors we cannot control (what if a tragedy strikes? Even good marriages may not survive). I think my main point is that my generation has grown very easy to displease. Everything is focused on individual happiness. Most people end marriages of years or with kids after merely months of unhappiness. That’s setting the bar too high for a marriage, in my opinion.
      As you mentioned, communication is key. And even being humble enough to say when something is broken there and seek for external help. 🙂

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  2. Building on Emily’s comment, a thought I ran across when learning about Islamic marriage is that non-muslim western people seem to focus a lot on communication, but Islamic marriage views the basis as “ihtiram”, respect. In a long marriage, you don’t need to and you shouldn’t communicate everything, and there will be times of more distance, but as long as you can and decide to respect your significant other, there is a path forward and you can continue together. Sometimes, it’s the spouse who causes a rift in that respect with their own behavior, but perhaps more often than we’d like, we are the ones who forget to respect our partners, deciding instead to project our own feelings of disappointment and unhappiness unto the other and putting them down in our minds for not living up to unrealistic standards. Sometimes, just taking a step back and looking at our partners as separate, whole human beings can bring back that feeling of respect.

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    1. I love the different point of view. I am not familiar with the muslim view on marriage but from what you say it sounds similar to what I was trying to communicate in the article.
      I appreciate also the last part of your comment, it’s totally true. It’s very tempting to shift the focus and center everything on ourselves and focus on our expectations more than accepting our better half. In this I feel communication can be key to stay aligned and not “diverge”.

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