It Took Me Three Marriages Before I Learned How To REALLY Love

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Life is a journey of creative growth and change. Marriage is the graduate program of life.

I’ve been married twice before,and have now been happily married to, Carlin for 35 years. Until recently I never really thought about the purpose of marriage. When I was in my 20s I married right out of college because we were “in love” and all our friends were getting married. It seemed like the thing to do. We had two wonderful children and life was good…until it wasn’t.

Following our divorce ten years later I got involved with a woman who slept with a gun under her pillow. My friends all told me to run like hell. For me the sex was out of this world, and the excitement was over the top. We married, if I were honest, because we were both out of our minds. Lust trumped whatever rationality we might have had. It lasted less than two years.

Before marrying again I decided to make an honest assessment of my life and tried to understand the real purpose of getting married. I acknowledged that my mother had been married twice before meeting my father. Was I living out her marriage history? Getting married in my 20s was greatly influenced by societal expectations and the next marriage was more about defying expectations than developing a real partnership. For us, “third time” is definitely the charm, but we’ve also learned some important lessons that might be helpful to others:

Getting married doesn’t mean you’re successful and getting divorced doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

We should get rid of the notion “until death do we part” and recognize that we get married for many reasons. Few of the reasons are likely to help our marriages last. Most of us are drawn to another and many choose to marry, some multiple times. We all stay together for some time and all marriages end, some by death, most through divorce. It’s time we let go of the guilt and shame thinking we’ve failed if we get divorced.

Until you are at least 37 years old, all marriages are trial marriages.

As a therapist and marriage and family counselor for more than 40 years I believe that age 37 is the first time we have an opportunity to be our own person, an adult who knows themselves well enough to consider a mature partnership. Until then we’re still learning, and  trying out riding with “training wheels.”  It would be nice if all marriage licenses for those under 37 came with an expiration date.

Getting married when we’re still “under-aged” is a great way to learn to know ourselves.

Age 37 is the youngest age at which we become an adult. Most of us take longer. Until we reach an age of maturity, generally from my experience between the ages of 37 and 44, the purpose of marriage is to learn to know ourselves. We find out what we love, what we hate, what we’re willing to fight for and what we’re willing to die for. We learn about love and we learn about loss.

Mature love is about the power of two, not about me and you.

When Carlin and I got together, fell in love, and made the decision to get married, she told me she was committing to the relationship not to me. Her words unsettled me. Being committed to “us” felt good to me, but not being committed to “me” felt threatening. When we’ve been at our best during our 35 year marriage, it has been when we were focused on “us”, and how we could nurture and support the relationship. When we’ve been most unhappy and in conflict occurred when we felt afraid, lost our focus on us, and cried out, “But what about me? Don’t my needs count?”

A passionate, creative marriage should be renewed, at least, every 15 years.

When I was young I thought marriage was about sex, love, intimacy and living happily ever after. Now I know it’s also about no-sex, fear, distance and about endings and new beginnings. It’s far more complex than I ever imagined and there are many more obstacles that can get in the way of real, lasting love. Carlin and I have dealt with medical challenges including breast cancer (hers) prostate enlargement (mine), atrial fibrillation (both of ours).

We’ve also changed through the years. We’ve raised children together and now it’s just the two of us. We bought a house on 22 acres in the hills of Mendocino where we’ve lived for 24 years, and now we’re selling our house and land and moving into town.

When we got married we had a purpose that included raising children and building a family life together. Fifteen years later when we re-evaluated our marriage and decided to get married again, we were focused on learning about how to have a functional relationship that could last a lifetime (unlike our parents and what we had experienced in our two previous marriages).

Our second re-marriage ceremony took place in  Czech Republic where our youngest son had gotten married and was living with his wife? and their children. The focus of this, (our third marriage to each other), is  on how to deepen our understanding of love and recognize and accept the challenges and joys of aging. Looking forward to our third re-marriage ceremony.

Life is truly a journey of creative growth and change. Marriage, I’ve found, is the graduate program of life. It teaches and challenges, demands and rewards. Please share your own experiences on this journey. We can all learn more about how to have real, lasting love.

My new book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, will be out next year. Visit my website and sign up for email updates for a sneak preview.

This article was originally published at MenAlive.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.