Editor’s Note: Today is World Marriage Day, right in the middle of Catholic Marriage Week, an important part of National Marriage Week! We will be publishing posts that celebrate the beauty of marriage from now until February 14th. Stay tuned!
“Nobility, a mantle quick to shrink!
Unless we add to it from day to day,
Time with its shears will trim off more and more.”
– The Divine Comedy: Paradiso XVI, 7-9
I suppose when a bachelor writes an essay with a title like this, he has to assume a fair amount of skepticism on the part of the audience. They’re liable to say “Uh, if you can’t even get a date, what exactly makes you think you know the secret to a happy marriage?” It’s a fair criticism (depressingly so), but I think the secret I will offer is one that any happily married couple will heartily endorse.
I don’t claim to have come up with this on my own by any means; this secret is one that has been whispered about by happy couples since Adam and Eve had a heart-to-heart with Seth before his wedding day. Like most true things, it’s so simple, yet so difficult that most of us prefer to look for something more complicated just to avoid it.
Ready? Here’s the secret: there is no secret. The secret to a happy marriage is not expecting there to be one.
Get an amazing marriage in just one week!
That is, don’t think that there will be any one thing you can do, or even one habit you can develop that will ensure a happy marriage, or one moment from which all will be right between you. Never think that the work of being married is finished.
The secret, in other words, is that marriage is not an event so much as a habit. It is something you simply have to set to every day of your lives until it becomes second nature. Day after day you wake up and consciously work on being the best husband or wife you can be that day.
We like shortcuts and we like instant results. Just look at the pop-up ads that might be cluttering your screen right now: “Get a great body in just thirty minutes a day!” “Learn French in one week!” “Instant IQ adjustment!” Most, if not all of these, are frauds; practically nothing worth having can be had via shortcut. If you want a great body, you’d better be prepared for weeks and weeks of hard work and discipline before you start to see something approaching what you want. If you want to learn another language, expect it to take you a good year of effort before you become fluent.We like shortcuts and instant results, but nothing worth having can be had via shortcut. Click To Tweet
You cannot make yourself a better person in an instant, anymore than you can develop a new skill in an instant. Like everything else in life, a successful marriage is the result of daily concentrated effort, not of a secret formula or key habit.
It’s a matter of rising each day prepared for the monotonous, tedious, difficult task of being a good husband or a good wife. It’s not glamorous, it’s not fast, and it’s not easy, but it’s the only sure path to our goal of a happy marriage.
Insights from a genie
I recommend tracking down the classic sixties sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, about a straight-laced astronaut who ends up the reluctant master of a sweet, bubbly genie. The show is cheesy and often kinda stupid, but also very sweet and very funny. One of the running themes of the show is that the hero, Major Nelson, wants to take his time and work for whatever he gets; he’s an astronaut working during the height of the space race and is used to hard work and discipline.
At the same time, Jeannie wants nothing more than to give him anything he wants immediately and can’t understand why he’s not interested in using her magic more often. Major Nelson knows (as his friend Major Healy doesn’t) that the time and effort put into acquiring what you want are what give it its value.
Moreover, the really important things in life—accomplishment, relationships, virtue, and so on—simply can’t be wished up by Jeannie’s powers. Nelson and Jeannie love each other, but they can’t simply wish for a perfect relationship. The ins and outs of making time for one another, respecting each other’s wishes, and working out how to live together are problems that can’t be solved by Jeannie’s magic.
The underlying theme of the show is that even if you could have anything you wanted instantly, you wouldn’t really want it, and anyway, the really important things, like your relationship with the people you love, have to simply be worked at day-by-day.
Secrets of the straight razor
I confess, this article is largely based on the insights of this essay on The Art of Manliness (a website I cannot recommend enough). The author there uses the analogy of a straight razor, which requires daily maintenance to be kept sharp, but which will last forever if properly cared for (and provides the best shave you’ll ever have) as an image for a man’s character—which likewise requires daily maintenance and steady, unvarying effort to maintain. The same can be said for a marriage; it’s not something you can do in an instant or permanently secure with a single secret—it’s something that has to be worked at every day for the rest of your life.The important things in life don't come pre-packaged—they have to be maintained every day.Click To Tweet
But then, that’s what life is: rising and working every day at your appointed task, the reward being the consummation of the work itself. The important things in life don’t come pre-packaged, but have to be tended and maintained every day of our lives. That’s how we enjoy them and what makes for a happy life. Our lives are comprised of what we do every day, and spending our lives in the care and maintenance of love and virtue and faith is what is meant by a happy life. That’s your happily ever after; to spend your life on the hard, never-ending task of tending and improving your relationship with the person you love.
Sounds like a pretty good life to me.