This year, my husband of 34 years and I both turned 64. We got cards for each other with the iconic Beatles song that said, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?” I could not help but reflect on how we both survived.

Robert Fulghum’s poem, “Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten” captured several things you learn in kindergarten that apply in marriage. Play fair and clean up your mess. But after that for marriage, it takes more than milk and cookies and a nap to get through it.

Marriage challenges every part of our being. You hook up with someone who may seem at the time to be the perfect partner for you. Then shortly after the honeymoon if you’re lucky and before it if you’re not, the curtain comes down. You wonder how you got yourself into this and what were you thinking.

 
 

The Illusive Search for Prince Charming

I came of age during the heady hippie days in the 60s. We traded in our view of Prince Charming for another even more unattainable romantic notion. We searched for the sensitive man who was not only as handsome as the illusive prince, but also kind and nurturing. In addition, he also had to be good at cooking and cleaning. If we could not find this Prince, it was surely because this creature was not alive on the planet. Did you engage in that search?

Twenty-year old me was right out there seeking this new majestic creature. I found a sweet guy, but that relationship ended because he felt I was “too strong.” So, to be sure that would not happen again, I found someone who was my match in being strong and confident. That of course went with a strong will. We were off to the altar. He’s a wonderful person, but you can imagine the kinds of head-on collisions we have faced over the last 30 years.

Challenges are the True Test of Love

To make things worse, over years of marriage, we were presented with herculean tasks, insurmountable obstacles and things we never could have ever guessed would happen. I won’t dump out our personal challenges here since I do want to stay married after I write this! But let’s say, we were guaranteed to have totally different ways of dealing with these challenges.

That’s why, I now have a wholly different opinion about what makes marriages survive the test of time. Lasting marriages are not necessarily the ones where couples have everything in common or compatibility in every way imaginable. The ones that last are the ones where both partners have decided to make a go of it. They have decided to stick it out.

That is why I found myself so relieved and validated when I read Alain de Botton’s article. It is all about our mortification at choosing the wrong partner. He writes “It might sound odd, but pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our romantic culture places upon marriage.”

Botton suggests that we seek to find the perfect person to save us from loneliness and suffering. However, we actually find ourselves suffering because of our sense of being let down or betrayed by that very belief.

He goes on to say “The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste, but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently. It is the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person.” And my favorite line is, “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”

So, what are the things that have helped along the way? A couple of good marriage counselors, as great marriage book by my sister who is a marriage counselor herself. She helped me pull through when things got toughest.

And of course, I need to give a little credit to my husband, Rito who like me, just kept at it. And I agree with Alain de Botton, our compatibility has grown over the years and we have shared a great life and are happy to be turning 64 together.

Did you find compatibility in your marriage? How did you work out your differences in a positive way? How did you deal with challenges and unexpected problems in your marriage? Please leave your comments below and let’s start a conversation.

Becki-Cohn-VargasBecki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D works as an independent consultant to schools and organizations with over 35 years as a teacher, principal, curriculum director, and superintendent in public education in California. With Dr. Dorothy Steele, she co-authored the book, Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn. Becki and her husband Rito are also working to develop an environmental research center on their private reserve in the Nicaraguan rain forest. They live in El Sobrante, California, and have three adult children.

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