The Secret of Growing a Loving and Lasting Marriage

the secret(104834)

An Unexpected Proposition

By: J. Marlando


It’s 2012 ladies and gentlemen. For a great many decades around 50% of marriages have been ending in divorce and family breakup. We have no idea how many couples are staying together for the kids, for the money, for whatever reasons beside love and happiness. We have no idea how many couples are living in the same house but estranged and simply going through the motions of togetherness. Not a pretty picture, I know but an honest one and one, I will add, that especially every young person who is experiencing that “I can’t live without him (or her)” feeling should be made aware of; inspired to understand and evaluate.

Why am I saying this so harshly? After all I have written on these subjects have I suddenly gone sour on love and romance? Absolutely not but we also need to look at the facts—we have a society populated with single moms, we have a vast number of moms and dads who are together but fighting and arguing half the time; we have little kids screaming and crying because their mothers and fathers are leaving each other and this can have negative effects on those kids…forever. Look, I know how it is—while I’ve had a great marriage for over 30 years, there was a time that I was the last person for family life; I was young and wild and it took me a long time to grow up. So I know about people not ready for committed relationships; I know how love and lust can get weaved together in a fury of romance only to end with someone’s broken heart and lots of sadness.

Yes, of course, there are exceptions and I hope you are one of them, I hope you married and are living a life of joyful togetherness that overcomes the problems that strike all of us as we stumble through life from the cradle to the grave. I honestly know couples who have been (happily) married over 50 years…yes, over fifty years who are as much in love as they were when they wed. While it is true that I don’t know many of them, I do know enough of them to know that this is also in all our possibilities but…what is their secret?

And this is what this article is setting out to share.

Painting the Backdrop

Before we go forward it is important for the reader to have an understanding of the history of marriage. While we are all raised with the fairytales, those stories of knights in shining armor and their unrelenting love for their true loves—not a hand full of those “true loves” were wives they were lovers and the stories about romantic adventures with lovely ladies, not marriage.

In this view, we need to take a brief tour throughout the history of the marital relationship to gain a glimpse of what it has really been like: The reasons to marry, after all, have not always been love…In fact, far from it.

Love as a reason to marry is actually fairly new to the human experience. We’ll talk about the transition to romance a little later butfirst, we will begin our historic jaunt into family life by going back to the days of old Babylon. Back then a wife was chosen for the practical reasons of delivering sons, to keep the household well supplied with wool, flax and food; to get up before dawn to serve her family, to work in the fields and keep working until late at night making garments for them to wear and to sell in the local markets and keep perfect books in addition to everything else. Incidentally, back then, the most common reason for divorce was barrenness but a husband could also divorce his wife for spending too much of his money or reduce her to the status of a slave if he chose.   

*The ancient Hebrew was most in favor of polygamy but surprisingly in many ancient societies, polyandry was not uncommon either. The Hebrews ancient custom was polyandrous, however, and a man, by custom, was to have many wives. Solomon is said to have had 700 of them. Nevertheless, most of these rather extravagant concepts of relationships were gone or at least going away by around 2,000 B.C.

By the time Athens was nearing its political and intellectual heyday nothing had improved for wives.  Women were married for housekeeping (house management, weaving, tailoring and so forth) and childbearing. Woman is the society had no rights and wives lived under the strict rules of their husbands not so unlike daughters did. And speaking of daughters, each newborn male and female were given an examination and like the Jewish custom any child—male or female—who was weak or had some kind of apparent flaw were usually taken to the slopes of Mount Taygetus and left to die. 

As for wives being given any affection, they were seldom even aloud to voice their opinions in the home but, as we recall, the typical, ancient male Athenian preferred other males when it came to romance. Wives were primarily necessitated by the want of heirs.

**By the time we reach Roman Italy of the 1st and 2nd century marriage was becoming a civic duty. Yet, there was little ceremony and nothing symbolic about early Roman marriage. Marriage was simply agreed upon by a couple and that was that! However, the agreement usually involved witnesses just in case the marriage was ever contested.

The reason many Roman men married was to obtain a dowry which was an honorable way to get rich and of course for heirs but, for the Roman, the idea was also to keep replenishing the ranks of the citizens. The state after all most virtually ruled both private and public life at the time.

For the Romans it was the duty of married couples to make babies but love making for pleasure clearly broke the old moral code. Indeed, by and large, wives were treated more like children by their husbands but, at the time, this was not insulting. Roman wives were being treated better and more respectfully than perhaps ever before in recent history. Nevertheless, it was not mandatory or important to most couples if they liked each other or not—how they performed their duties is all that mattered. Yet, it was also not uncommon for a husband and wife to actually get along and even have a loving relationship. The aspects of the (emotional) modern marriage was already creeping into committed relationships but love as being a criterion for marriage was still millenniums away.

When the Emperor Constantine allied himself with the Christian church around 310 A.D., (which would eventuate into being the successor of Rome) the Church would actually be ruling Roman life publicly…and privately by the 400s.

300 years earlier St. Paul had advocated celibacy and only a century later the Church was supporting that advocacy. To Paul, marriage was alright but it was better if a person could stay away from sexual intimacy. And so, soon enough it became mandatory for the priesthood to remain chaste but this had not happened overnight.  It had all started back in the year 386 when the pope created a degree that disallowed married presbyters and deacons from having intercourse with their wives. A few hundred years after that the prohibition of priests marrying became law.

Actually the church undermined family life and especially human sexuality—however, the church authority finally acknowledged that a married couple who used discipline and kept themselves from indulging too much in sex was still be able to obtain salvation. Historically it was the Church, however, that conjured guilt and shame for our natural and normal sexual drives which, I have always suspected, is probably at the root of untold sexual neurosis’ that are still affecting men and women to this day.

In any case, while at least a sprinkling of loving relationships between husband and wife occurred in ancient, Roman days the “love-connection” between committed couples became even more common place amidst the poor during the medieval period.

This does not mean that people were marring out of romantic love yet, only that in many instances love grew between couples who found themselves struggling together in a very hard and challenging world.

Yet, by the 1700s, a pride in family life was slowly taking precedence over pride in social duty. This is probably because the vast numbers of poor families felt that it was them against a very harsh and demanding world. There were a great many families in Europe then that had virtually nothing but…each other.

By the time of post-Civil War, Americans began moving further into the west and the hardships of those migrations were extreme. It was actually the American frontiersman who was first to credit women for their contributions and they certainly did their equal shares along those long wagon train trails and on the land and in unfolding family life across the prairies.

It was indeed the American frontiersmen to realize his wife was a partner and a friend not just a convenience. Indeed, it was this same frontiersman it was who created the rule that any man who struck a woman was a coward. And wife beating at the time in Europe and Eastern United States was not at all uncommon. Wife beating was not only common but was quietly appraised as socially acceptable in most instances. This changed in the American west and it was actually the placing of ladies on pedestals that begun on the frontier. As a result, even while boys were still favored because of their value in labor, girls were being loved ever as much by their fathers and mothers as their sons. And this too was most basically a historic first. Love, however, was still not the reason for a man and woman to marry. Shared labor and creating heirs were still the primary reasons to wed. However, in many homes, loving relationships did evolve but this was certainly the exception and not the rule. And, while a warmer and more empathetic relationship was occurring for couples by the second half of the 1800s, invariably male dominance ruled in the home as it did in society. The ‘father-knows-best” syndrome would not fully go away until after World War II.

Ever since the late 1880s women were certainly having their say and some even ruled the marital roost (in private) but mostly men were at the helm of public and private life simply because they were born male. And of course there were always those households (West and East) where men ruled their wives and children by brute force.

Love as the reason for marrying began to spread only after Freud and the advent of psychoanalysis; when it became commonly known that there was more to we humans than our persona selves, that we each had a psyche. Because of this the idea that we had emotional and psychological needs as well as physical needs dawned on us and this was a realization we had never before the early years of the 20th century.

By the time of motion pictures—especially when the talkies gained popularity love and marriage became extremely romanticized and so men and women began believing this was how it ought to be. Certainly the 1939 release of Gone with the Wind was a love story at its essence and there were just a virtual ton of other romance movies made during the 1940s and 50s. The most prevalent that comes to mind is Casa Blanca but there were many others and, for that matter, they are still being produced today. Yet, even into the 1950s, married couples that were interviewed by the thousands most generally said that they were not madly in love when they married although by then, love had become a major part of the courting process.

Anyway, by the 1960s and 70s marriage was virtually abandoned as a social necessity. Living together, one night stands and uncommitted romance became common place. Actually, even in view of the male reputation of being sexually promiscuous, the sexual revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s were female based. The diaphragm of the 1920s and the pill of the 1960s had worked wonders in taking away mental blocks from the ladies and for the first time in history permitted them the sexual aggressiveness that males had always enjoyed. Because of this, marriage, as we know it today, did not begin creeping back into the U.S. society until the 1980s.

Today as a modern society we are back to the starting line in terms of the divorce and family breakup statistics; back to the starting gate when it comes down to couples living unhappily ever after. Yet, as there has always been, there are those few married couples who really do live the fairytale; have great, happy, loving and lasting relationships in the wake of the normal problems and upsets that everyone else has. And so we ask again, what is their secret?

Observing the Surprising

Western men and women shiver at the thought of ever having an “arranged” marriage. How in the world, they say, could anyone marry someone else without knowing their likes and dislikes, understanding their personalities and so forth. Yet, even in our ultramodern times arranged marriages are not uncommon in places like India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Africa and in parts of Asia. I have personally known married couples who were married “by arrangement” by their parents and in one case where the couple did not even meet each other until their wedding day. This particular Indian couple had been married for 23 years when I met them. I also met a couple who told me that their marriage had been arranged when I was in Southeast Asia and they two had been married for years—fifteen as I recall. I didn’t think much about it at the time except for being curious and thinking boy, I would never want my parents picking out a bride for me. I met my friends from India a few years after this, however, and by then I was more analytical of their relationship and it was happy, at peace and appeared ever as loving as we’d all want our marriages to be. How could this be by people who were, if you will, forced by tradition to wed and truly had no idea what each other were like until after the wedding day?

Well, we westerners are far too headstrong than to ever permit anyone, including our parents or village priests, to choose our “forever” mate for us. However, with very few exceptions, the truth is that most couples that wed don’t (truly) know much more about their mates than those couples whose betrothals have been arranged. While it is true, we know what each other looks like, we have glimpses and so insight into each other’s personalities, the old saying proves true time and time again—we can’t really know anyone until we’ve lived with them a little while.

One problem is that the “the dating game” is packed with…well, games. It is no secret when we “like” someone in a romantic way we consciously and unconsciously tend to do all we can to be pleasing to them, to “win” them if you will. This is part of the human mating process. Birds fluff their feathers, bees dance, lions play and male mountain goats butt heads with other males to attract romance while we people act. Couples during the (serious) dating process pretend to be as much like each other as they can. This is called, “discovering compatibility” but mostly it is seeking compatibility; it’s the old “oh, we’re so much alike” routine that begins grounding the relationship in devotion and commitment.

All I am saying here is that we wear our best and most appealing personas when we are trying to win someone’s heart and mind: It is not only the fact that much of our wooing process is based on presentation but also projection. That is, we “project” our own shadow selves onto the other and, in the doing, create them a lot in our own image—it just seems like we’ve known each other forever, couples say to each other but, again, on both consciousness and unconscious levels, they are doing all they can to reflect the image that will be most appealing to their mate.

The truth is, however, while we know more about our future husband or wife than two people marrying from a parental or religious arrangement, we truly do not know that much more about our mates.

There is a rather sour old saying but one that strikes home for countless married couples. It tells us that: Marriage is like sitting in a hot bath, once we’re in it for a little while it’s not so hot anymore.

There is a rational reason for this. The first one is, after most every husband and wife sooner or later discovers that their mate is nothing like they are and are fully a distinct self. As I have said many times over, we need to realize that we have married another human being who is of a different gender, who was raised by different parents and treated differently by the society itself. They have different values in that no one values the same thing in exactly the same way. Both my wife and I, for example, love the flowers and vegetables in the garden but we “love” them in different ways, for different reasons and at different levels. Indeed, our brains project two different realities onto the same world.

While it is true that two male or two female friends will share much more of the same reality than a male and female friendship will deliver. After all, not even same genders perceive the world (or value it) in the same way. Reality is simply a personalized experience and in this realization, when we marry we are two people living in two distinct worlds that have evolved from our own histories as individuals. And, even if we both grew up in the same or similar environments—rich or poor—we will have conceived them (and have lived them) differently! Thus, John Gray’s famous observation, Women are From Venus and Men are From Mars, rings consistently true. And because this is psychologically, physically and physiologically true no matter if we marry out of choice or out of arrangement, not too long after the marriage ceremony we will most probably discover ourselves sharing life with a stranger…at least in many ways.

When we are privy to all this, we quickly gain greater understanding why at least 50% of marriages end up in divorce—I cannot count the times that I have heard the comment, he (or she) is just not the person I thought he (or she) was when we married.

Yet, as long as we are mature, thinking and feeling adults, we absolutely marry with the grand expectation of actually living “happily ever after.” And in modernism, this certainly is part of our major motivation to wed in the first place. If you will, to love and to hold…forever!

And so we ask again, what is the secret of doing this?

Marriage, a New View

First of all we need to deconstruct all of our myths about marriage—they do nothing but lead most people down Primrose Lane and suddenly two very well intended persons discover themselves in a relationship that is not making them very happy. I say most people because, as always there are exceptions but, “most people” is a very large number!

In doing this, we need to stop telling our children that marriage brings happiness and begin teaching them that it is our work to bring happiness to the marriage. I do not know who was first to say this but there is a saying that tells us, “Success in marriage is about more than finding the right person, it is about being the right person. And this is what we all need to grow up understanding. One of the most common attributes that I noticed in the (happy and contended) arranged marriages that I observed is that they were (and remain) two people both working at being the right person in the relationship.

We Westerners are capable of making some grave errors in growing our marital relationships and a major one is that, after marriage, we tend to confuse the meaning of compatibility with conformity. When we discover our mates are far more like themselves than ourselves we tend to label the relationship—non-compatible.  The loudest howling in a great number of failing relationships is, “Why can’t you see things my way?”

Our mates do not see most things as we see them most simply because they are not us.

And now I will share what I will call the most vital secret of having a happy and loving marriage of all. While we might feel deeply in love while dating, that period of the relationship when love and lust merge into desire one for the other usually diminishes as the world begins making its demands in our lives.…Most typically dating or, for that matter, even living together does not have the demands of accountability and responsibility of marriage. And those demands enter in every married life at every level of financial stability. And so, the real loving does not begin until AFTER the marriage.

The real loving is a progressive state of being; if we are actually ready for marriage we are ready to grow and grow our love in that relationship. Couples that marry beaming and blossoming with love’s passions and believe that those “passions” will not diminish over time or will not be corrupted by even the normal problems and challenges of daily life are, at best, naïve.

Each of us—male and female—have mood swings, we get sick, get scared, get bored, get frustrated, get tired, get bewildered, get cranky and get angry. Everyone needs to realize and expect this—there simply is not a two-peas-in-a-pod-relationship and there never has been. Remember your wife or husband lives in his or her own specific reality with values, needs and desires that are different than yours—some a little different, some a lot different but different nevertheless.

It is first of all and foremost important that you DO NOT judge your mate by yourself. The moment you do, you will begin a troubled marriage. Your goal as a husband or wife is to have tolerance for and to seek understanding of one another; to support and encourage each other to be all you can be and support…one another’s humanism.

It is also vital to realize that as a man you can NEVER know what it is like to be a woman in this world, and as a woman you can NEVER know what it is like to be a man in this world. You only think you can because you have your own feminine side as a male and your own masculine side as a female, but these qualities are NOT the same as actual femaleness or maleness. And so, you cannot live with your mate in anticipation or expectation of how he or she responds to life and living it. Your job is to do your utmost to make his or her life as easy, secure and comfortable as you can. When two people are doing only this much the marriage becomes bonded by loving action. Loving action, beyond all else, creates…trust. And trust is the key to a loving and lasting marriage; a happy marriage!

What are the criteria of marital trust?

A trustworthy mate does not belittle the other.

A trustworthy mate does not call the other names.

A trustworthy mate is both patient and understanding of the other.

A trustworthy mate is encouraging to the other.

A trustworthy mate supports the other.

A trustworthy mate is simply nice to the other.

A trustworthy mate does his or her best to assuage the wounds of daily life for the other.

A trustworthy mate loves in both words and actions.

A trustworthy mate is a trustworthy friend.

To trust and to be trustful is at the very roots of growing a forever relationship; a relationship that is grown on trust in friendship, trust in fidelity, trust in intimacy and trust in love. These are the four cornerstones of a great marriage.

And, the final trust is in the knowing that our mates know all about us and love us anyway.         


Trust then is the “secret” of a loving and lasting relationship but this is not a commodity that arrives with the wedding cake or unfolds on the honeymoon—this is something that is earned over time. Certainly there is certain amount of trust we all have when we marry and this trust feels fulfilled as we walk away from the alter entering a new life of togetherness. But angry words, deceitfulness, condescendence, verbal and/or physical cruelty, belittling and name calling all diminish the trust factor between couples in the modern marriage. As we have seen, throughout most of history marriage has never been dependent on an intimate relationship of love. Marriage has been about utility and productivity. Indeed, as said earlier, love in and of marriage is historically new; a 19th century phenomenon really and then not very wide spread until the 20th century. But, as I have taught for years, the martial relationship is the romantic, loving half of marriage, the other half, which is often missed or forgotten by couples, is about acquisition and finance. If children were only taught this much, we would see a vast reduction in broken marriages and so broken families. As long as we keep supporting the fairytales and romance of committed relationships, however, we will continue to raise our children to be as inept at martial relationships as most of their parents are.

In our culture the major issue of distrust is sexual, called stepping out, cheating and/or betraying but there are countless ways to betray our mates beside having a shadowy and dishonest affair: We are distrustful when we choose intolerance over tolerance, when we talk at our mates instead of to them or talk over our mates to get our own opinion across without to listening to them; we are distrustful when we belittle and name call or discourage our mates to do and accomplish, to be all they desire to be. We are distrustful when we choose to be anything other than kind or simply forget to be nice to the person we’re with.

We are untrustworthy also when we do not support our mates for having their own good times, their own successes and their own celebrations. One of the greatest acts of being non-trustworthy in marriage is to stand in the way of our mates simply being themselves. The working of the world has a manifold of demands for masking ourselves. After all, it is a “stage” as Shakespeare told us but home…home is where the masks are tossed aside, the shoes are flung off and we are denuded by the very joy of being who we are. This takes trust, trusting and trustworthiness. This is what makes a house or hut or shanty or mansion a home…and this is what makes a loving marriage.

*Tannahill, Reay *Sex in History *Stein and Day

**Veyne, Paul (Arthur Goldhammer translator) A History of Private Life *Harvard U.


Proist, Antonie and Bincent, Gerard Editor (Arthur Goldhammer translator) Harvard U.