Love is an important factor when deciding on a partner but, honestly, it does not conquer all. If that were true the statistics wouldn’t look so grim. According to the American Psychological Association, over half of first-time marriages in the U.S. will end in divorce. This bears the question: What’s going wrong here? It has been polled that the top reasons for these failures are 1. Getting in for the wrong reasons, 2. Lack of individual identity, and 3. Becoming lost in roles. However, we’ve known this for a while which bears the next questions: why do we keep getting married? And when we do, how do we keep screwing it up? My theory is that people are actually marrying an idea, not a person.

Over a month ago, I married the man I consider my best friend – corny, I know – but it has not always been easy. In fact, most days are not but every hardship is totally worth the growth that occurs afterwards. The thing about our relationship is that it was like so many that fail, entered into with a crap-ton of baggage and riddled with terrible communication. We cohabited for 4 years before we decided to get engaged and an additional year before we actually got hitched. Today, I never want to know a life without my husband but things weren’t always so smooth. We’ve done many things that nearly screwed our chances into a statistical demise yet somehow we not only survived but are thriving together. This may sound rather presumptuous given the odds against us. After all, couples who co-habitate before marriage are over 30% more likely to face divorce, my marriage is still pretty fresh, and we’re under 30. What makes me certain was not always so but eventually came to be. What is it you ask? The answer is complex yet simple: Realism.

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It is common that realism is regarded as synonymous with pessimism but I couldn’t disagree more. Realism is about likelihoods which has varying degrees dictated by  certain factors and what is realistic for one may not be so for another. Is it really possible to have a problem-free marriage over decades and remain in love? Perhaps but not likely. Can you really make a relationship work for the long haul under unfortunate circumstances? Absolutely! It’s quite obvious what the differences are when listening to the stories of more seasoned married couples. The successful ones are almost always rooted in realistic values and there are steps a couple must take to achieve this; a big one being the ability to move forward anew.

Realistically, no relationship has a future when stifled by the past. This means digging deep to ask and answer hard questions about our identity for ourselves and each other. We must learn to forgive offenders and let go of preconceived expectations of what the relationship is supposed to be. These perceptions are usually formulated by our need to control things as we wish to avoid pain we’ve experienced before or to live up to some false narrative. Although we may learn to draw healthy boundaries when we are honest about who we are what we want, we cannot expect anyone to fill out voids. We can only do that for ourselves. Otherwise, we will only notice their shortcomings and remain incomplete regardless of our relationships status. We must come to grips with our weaknesses and strive for improvement – notice I did not say perfection.

Truth is, life is messy, love is messy and problems are inevitable at one point or another. However, we greatly improve our chances when we know ourselves well enough to make choices in our truth. This allows us to enter into partnerships well-informed so that when hardships do occur, we realize them as opportunities for growth instead of resorting to shame, blame, and self-pity. And to be true with yourself and the ones you love, what’s more real than that?