Some days, it seems like I spend an inordinate amount of time telling people — and myself — not to fret, that things will get better. Lots of people struggle.
My daughters are wondering how they’ll ever be able to afford to move out of the house, despite the fact that they are actively moving forward with their lives, working and going to college.
A close friend is battling debt incurred when she was diagnosed with a chronic blood disease that’s costly and saps her energy. She’s getting better physically but wonders how she’s ever going to be financially sound.
I have relatives who worry about their jobs and how stable their employment really is. They wonder whether, if things crumble, they’ll find anything comparable in a vastly changed job market.
Truth is, some of those things really are driven by factors over which one has little or no control at all.
On an individual basis, the average employee can only do his or her best at work and try to help the company succeed. The big picture, though, hinges on factors from who owns the business to what kind of work is being done. It relies on the marketplace and competition, among other things.
My pal can chip away at her medical debt and will eventually pay it off. The disease happened and all she can do is move forward and be grateful she survived.
And my smart, lovely daughters can control how hard they work in school and thus controll their grades. They can work hard — and live at home for a bit while they save and search for places where they can afford to live. They have to accept that they can’t control rising rents and the housing shortage.
But there’s one type of common struggle that research has pretty consistently said the average person can make better with a willingness to work through it: problems within a marriage. The most recent study I’ve seen, by sociologist Paul Amato and BYU assistant professor Spencer James, suggests that working on a marriage won’t just help it survive; it can lead to long-term happiness. The study is published in the book “Social Networks and the Life Course.”
Not ho-humness or grudgingly peaceful coexistence. Happiness.
To be clear, there are marriages that aren’t worth fighting for. If someone in a relationship is abusive, my advice is to hit the exit and don’t look back. It’s also very hard to live with someone who abuses drugs and alcohol and won’t seek or accept help. That’s a them problem you can’t be responsible to solve.
But unlike surviving many of life’s challenges, like the tight and exorbitant housing market or the fact that many careers are changing drastically, most marriages are amenable to change. And anyone married for very long knows most marriages have rough patches.
Writing about the research, I sought advice from experts and couples who’d been in marriages that might end in divorce but through effort became better. Became happy. The stunning thing was how simple some of their advice was — and how applicable it is to not just marriage, but other relationships and challenges.13 comments on this story
The first thing was honest conversation about feelings and frustrations and what aspects of the relationship were not subject to negotiation for each of the partners. We all have lines that simply can’t be crossed if a relationship is to survive. Those lines must be made known if they’re to be respected.
Willingness to bend a little in other areas for the partner’s benefit was key to marriage survival. So were empathy and a willingness to work at it. Some of the couples I talked to needed professional help to figure out how to save their marriage.
But the advice that came up most often, from both experts and those who fought for their marriages, surprised me in its simplicity.