Emotional Health · Health · Marriage & Life Partners

What We Don’t Tell the Bride About Marriage

fordCecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for Women’s Voices in many articles over the years.


5365171326_518df426b6_zPhoto by JosephB via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Ada Calhoun’s article last week in The New York Times, “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give,” began with a story about her musician husband missing a flight to join her at a weekend conference in Minneapolis. He had overslept and their 8-year-old didn’t wake him until after the flight had left. The tickets had already been rescheduled once and hence paid for twice since he had a conflict and  . . . . well, you know.

You get the sense from Ms. Calhoun’s story that this is definitely not the first time this sort of thing has happened. Or the second. Her article, which talks about what she might really say at the weddings of her friends who promise each other “I will never let you down,” has been widely emailed since it appeared, and has generated enough letters from readers for a follow-up column. Calhoun says her mother suggested to her, “The way to stay married is not to get divorced.” Though she admits it may not be that simple, she recommends thinking long and hard before taking the lifelong vow, (as the playwright Congreve said, “Married in haste, we may repent at leisure.”) She’s not against divorce, per se, but she believes that human beings are faulty and flawed. Yes, they will let each other down. Would understanding that better in advance make things easier? When hearing couples makes these idealistic promises to each other, she wonders if they really understand what’s ahead.

Some of the readers of Calhoun’s column wrote that they were quite happy they had divorced and they were outraged at the idea of spending a lifetime with someone because they were “too poor to divorce,” like one couple she mentions.

My friend Susan has been married twice, and in both cases, she ran into the “epic flaws” that Calhoun would predict to her friends if she were to give an “honest” wedding toast. In the first case, Susan decided to get a divorce. She and her husband did not share the same values, although she thought they did when they married. He was inflexible and unwilling to change even the slightest thing about his behavior. Finally, they were not friends. She found him increasingly hard to talk to and self-involved. Even though they had a child together, she could not imagine a lifetime with him.

Susan’s second husband was also deeply flawed, of course, and like the first man was resistant to change. They ran into serious problems and unlike the first marriage there were no children, so divorce would have been less complicated. But the great difference was their shared values and deep friendship. “When he would disappoint me, or hurt me, it felt like I was off his radar for a while,” she said, “but with my first husband I wasn’t sure sometimes if I was even part of his universe.” Crucially, Susan and her second husband’s ability to talk to each other gave her a sense that she had a partner much like Calhoun’s musician husband.

Susan felt that she had made the right choice in both cases, but could that be confirmation bias, the human tendency to look for evidence that confirms choices we’ve already made? Not necessarily. I remember reading an entire issue of a women’s college alumnae magazine in the late 1970s devoted to the issue of divorce. There were heartbreaking interviews with women who bitterly regretted divorcing, which I’ve never forgotten because several of them emphasized so strongly that they felt they had made a bad decision.

Did these women wish that someone had told them to hang on through the rough years? Many of them said they had. It’s also interesting to note that this generation was at the forefront of the feminist revolution. At that time it was sometimes difficult for women to imagine finding an identity within the confines of traditional marriage, which was still deeply sexist. Things have changed considerably since then. Not only do most women work outside the home, it’s not uncommon for a wife to earn more than her husband. At home, however, there is still a lot of progress left to be made when it comes to equality.

Meanwhile, It’s sobering (and amusing) to imagine what married women, like Calhoun, might really say in their honest wedding toast: “He will disappoint you, early and often. There are many things about him that will never change. You will have the same argument over and over for years. One of you will do more of the emotional work and often it will be you. Children will rock your world. . .”

Calhoun’s husband eventually arrives with their son, joining her at her conference, somehow without having to pay for a third ticket, and she’s really happy to see them both. All is forgiven (though she does write this column about him!) because, in the end, she loves him, and his flaws don’t outweigh that. Sometimes, we need to say in our imaginary toasts, it’s really, really hard to remember that, but hang on to it if you can. It can take a lot patience, forbearance and maturity, but it may be worth it when he finally shows up.

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  • cheryl fleming photography July 30, 2015 at 9:09 am

    This article is spot on. I have heard many wedding toasts as a wedding photographer and never heard – yet a toast as above. Thanks for sharing. Cheryl Fleming