Does Your Marriage Have an Expiration Date?

Wedding ringsWedding ringsIn the past year, more couples I know have split up than at any other time in my life. Part of me thinks this makes sense. And that I think that seems to suggest something deeper about the majority of marriages I've ever seen or been exposed to.

Allow me to explain.

I think most of us would agree that it's very hard to find The One. And I don't just mean The One who we will eventually marry - I mean a true, compatible, healthy-in-the-long-term match. Because more times than I can count - in the vast majority of married couples I've ever met, I'd wager - the person people marry isn't the right person for them. Or, maybe the person they marry was an alright person for them… back at age 25, when they had different values and ideas about life. But all too often it seems that, through no fault of their own, men and women alike choose to marry someone who is simply not a true, life-long healthy match for them - not someone that they can or should grow old with.

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I've seen this play out time and again. And when the match isn't right, whatever bond originally existed between the two people who got married begins to erode over time and expose the points of incompatibility, and conflicts and resentments naturally ensue and fester. They may have thought they loved this person, believed they did with every atom of their being 10 years prior. But 10 years and a kid or two on, the cracks aren't just showing, they're erupting into San Andreas Fault-sized fissures. And before we get into shame and blame, NO, it's not because they're a bad person, or because their spouse is a bad person. It's because they simply aren't fundamentally compatible, and no amount of couples counseling or individual therapy can erase that fundamental incompatibility. They cannot become different people - no one can do that, no matter how much they believe in the institution of marriage, or wish they could've worked it out.

I've long had a theory that a marriage between two fundamentally incompatible people can last just about 10 years, give or take. I'm basing this wholly on personal experience - I'm not a social scientist, I can't perform rocket surgery - but this pet theory of mine seems to bear out when I look around me at everyone splitting up these days, as they're all just now hitting that delicate Ten Year turning point. Now, this "10 Years Theory" could manifest in one marriage at 8 years 7 months, or it could be at 11 years 4 months, but we're talking an average here. Rounding up or down, 10 years seems the sweet (or, rather, sour) spot. The point at which things go KABLOOEY. Or… don't. What this means, I suppose, is that two people who should've never gotten married in the first place can, on average, stick it out and tolerate each other for about that long, but not much longer. And honestly, 10 years is a LONG TIME - so in an odd way this bodes well for the institution of marriage. That people are willing to stick it out that long in a bad marriage says a lot about just how committed we all are to try to make things work (especially when there are kids involved), even when they go terribly wrong.

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When I look at the marriages going KABLOOEY around me, I see that these are people I know who got hitched in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I'd put my own marriage in that grouping, and I think what I'm saying here is definitely relevant to my own experience: married in the early 2000s, loved each other, but really weren't compatible in fundamental ways that only became clear as the marriage wore on. Neither of us were or are "bad" people, we just aren't right for each other - not as a married couple. And it took a long time to accept that, because of course you want to fight to make it work - if not for yourself, than at least for the kid(s). But some things simply can't be worked through. After about 10 years, you realize that, and accept it.

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Tracey Gaughran-PerezTracey Gaughran-PerezTracey Gaughran-Perez, aka Sweetney, is a single mom, PhD dropout, prototypical Gen-Xer, and professional writer/editor. Tracey lives with her evil genius 8-year-old daughter (think the girl from "Little Miss Sunshine" meets Dr. Horrible) and several insane pets in the concrete wilds of beautiful Baltimore, Maryland, where she struggles to balance life, work, and motherhood.