Staying Married – An Accomplishment?


People make a big deal over wedding anniversaries as if the couple had achieved something astounding for staying married. I don’t get it.

Bidouze Stephane / 123RF Photo

George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush recently celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary. I found this out through a posting on Facebook that showed a photo of them together, with the caption, “Happy 71st anniversary to the longest married presidential couple in history, President George Bush and Barbara Bush.” A friend of mine shared the post and added her own caption, “What an accomplishment!”

I stopped to think about it for a minute, and then re-posted it with the comment: Is accomplishment really the appropriate word choice?

Maybe for this couple, but such praise is predictably bestowed on all long-time married couples. Sure, congratulate them on their anniversary and be happy for them. But is it an accomplishment or is it really the path of least resistance, or perhaps a deeply ingrained force of habit? If after being married 71 years, you’re still in love, that’s fantastic luck, but I wouldn’t call it an accomplishment – that’s like giving adults blue ribbons for perfect attendance.

To me, developing a vaccine is an accomplishment. Running a marathon is an accomplishment. Learning to walk again after a brain injury – something I have actually done – is an accomplishment. Raising good people is an accomplishment, I’ll give you that. Some of my friends have brought up children that became good adults; but others have raised kids who are now in treatment, dealing with the fallout of dysfunction, or in jail. Yet both are praised equally at anniversary time.

Society loves a good romance. How many public marriage proposals have you seen on TV (and possibly in real life) where as soon as the bystanders realize what’s happening, they all go “aaaaw” and cheer? Nobody applauds the woman who walks away from the marriage she started too young to pursue her talent as a world-class pianist. But when she sacrifices her career to raise her kids, and dazzles the family when she plays the piano at church, her martyrdom is glorious.

It’s a general consensus in society that marriage takes hard work. Society rewards those who stay together with approval and accolades of moral heroism. Those who don’t stay together are seen as lesser beings; they just couldn’t cut it. Even when the marriage holds one partner back, that partner’s sacrifice is seen as noble. If you can’t work out your differences, you failed. Even though our culture has become less like the traditional family model, the social sanctions haven’t adapted with the times.

People stay together for all kinds of reasons. They might have a particular gift they could share with the world but prefer to hide it in the convention of marriage. They might be naturally wired to be the marrying kind, and if that’s what they want, by all means do so. They might even be passionately in love with someone and give thanks every day for the extraordinary luck of crossing paths with their One.

So by all means, congratulate couples on their wedding anniversary. I’ll go to your 50th and recognize the happy event. But let’s not call it an accomplishment, unless they happen to be like Marie and Pierre Currie whose work together in a French research laboratory changed the world.

Kristin Noreen lives in Bellingham, WA where she enjoys a variety of home-based consulting jobs, volunteers in animal rescue, and regularly contributes to the Facebook forum, Community of Single People. She recently published a memoir,
On Silver Wings:  A Life Reconstructed that chronicles her recovery from a near-death bicycle accident. 


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One thought on “Staying Married – An Accomplishment?

  1. While “accomplishment” may not be the most appropriate word to use, I do believe that longevity in marriage is something worth celebrating. While marriage is definitely not for everybody, it remains the cornerstone of our society and the best environment to raise children. As the saying goes, “its a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.” While it is definitely wrong to shame us single folks for not participating in this great institution, those who build and maintain stable marriages, and consequently, families deserve our admiration and respect.

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