What makes a marriage work?

Updated: Mar 20

Do you believe in happily ever after? I don't.

It is a dreamy night.

A beautiful woman with her white long dress is walking down the aisle, with the man she loves. The handsome groom walks his bride down the aisle and they start the first dance to their favorite love song. They gaze at each other’s eyes;

"I love you"

"I love you, too."

All the guests in this big, extravagant party wish the same thing for the newlywed couple: A happily ever after.

But is that really the case? Do all weddings lead to a happily ever after marriage?

What it takes to make a marriage work?

Is it enough to just “love” that person? How much love you need when they drive you crazy with small things? Where does all that love go, when you feel abandoned, threatened by this very person that you once trusted? Can love survive under the high pressure of work stress, family interventions, or the stress of a newborn? Can two good people have a terrible marriage?

These were the questions that I had in mind when I was young, long before I met my husband. I started thinking about marriage and relationships a long time ago because I have blessed with a family; my parents; who I can not nominate as the “the marriage of the year”...

“It is you, it is always you. You selfish man”

“You don’t love me, you don’t care about me,”

“I am not your servant, and one day I am going to leave you, I hope you will die on the street. “

"This is not my home, this is a prison!"

These are my mother’s words, that echoed in my mind when I thought about marriage. They terrified me as a kid, as a young woman, The idea of "marriage.”

The fact that two people, two good people, two highly educated people, two adults, who decided to get together on their own, start torturing each other every day - emotionally sometimes physically and stay in this torture willingly, live in hell on earth that they create? As if it is not enough to live in this hell, having a child in this chaos, and call this whole thing “a marriage”?

No no no! I don’t think so. Thanks, but I won’t get married I said, no way, ever.

Back then my idea about marriage was simply witnessing my parents’ marriage and not liking what I see.

Unbeknownst to me, Dr. John and Julie Gottman’s studied for a decade with couples and their research highlights the art and science behind couple relationships -- basically what makes a marriage work. If I would know their research, I would be able to say that my parents were “disasters” as they call; they had everything that they called the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Showing constant contempt to one another, criticizing each other all the time, defending themselves, and stonewalling.

They found that this is not the productive (and only) way to function in marriage. There is indeed another way not to end up as "disasters".

When I met with my husband Arda, 8 years ago, I knew this was the man that I would like to share my life with. He is a gentle and kind soul, that you can see his heart right through his eyes.

A man that looks into my eyes with love and tenderness.

A man that can never hurt someone intentionally.

A man that you can trust, a man that you can depend on and who cares deeply about me. I knew this was my man.

But even though I can feel it, I was cautious. I had to be the devil’s advocate. Having these observations from my parents and ideas about marriage, I didn’t want to live in misery and call it a marriage.

You might think this is brutal, and I sat down with him one day, not long after we started dating and told him, the truth about the marriage for me.

That I was scared to death, to find myself one day in a misery called marriage one day two unhappy people, staying together for whatever reasons they have, the reasons that are not enough to make them happy, and most importantly, ruin a child’s life with this unhappy environment.

I told him that I am not willing to be in that kind of relationship. For whatever the price is, and it doesn’t matter how much I love him, I would leave and he is free to leave. We are not obliged to stay with each other, under any circumstances unless we chose to.

This was the only rule. I didn’t ask for diamonds, a fancy wedding party or any of the material things that a wedding or marriage can bring. I didn’t want any of them.

I wanted a life long relationship that I can depend on, that I can raise a kid in a safe environment.

He was kind of shocked I guess, with my outspoken attitude about marriage and relationships. I am not sure if he got this all back then. I am sure he knows it by heart now.

And this brutal honestly was what made our marriage thrive in the past 2 years. After we moved the US, we had to live through very tough and dark times.

We had little money, we fought about our families of origins and how to place them in our own family, how to set boundaries as a couple, and how to handle our own gridlock conflicts. We had the most brutal fights ever, we crushed each other emotionally, we broke each other many times.

But then we reached out to one another.

Every time we were broken, we healed. For every bad word we said to each other, we asked forgiveness with five nice ones. Eventually, we were able to show and see each other's vulnerabilities, the sore spots and take responsibility to heal them. Even though we didn't open many of each other's psychological wounds, we stepped up to be there and heal those wounds with love for one another.

Through my own marriage, with conscious effort and a lot of thinking - I now know that it is not the conflicts itself that make a marriage disaster. It is the way you handle it. I learned that a good marriage is not about making no mistakes.

It is about making those mistakes that you regret and know how to make up for it. Understand why you did that mistake, and correct it over and over again, consciously. Not to copy the ways that our parents argued unconsciously, but find new and more productive ways to resolve conflict and stay connected.

Staying vulnerable, messy, and close.

To me, marriage is not just two people living together, sharing the same house.

Marriage is about two people becoming a team, deeply loving and respecting each other, deciding to share their lives, showing their deepest wounds with each other.

Not judging each other, but healing each other.

"Holding hands when the storm shakes you" and choosing that person over and over again when life gives you new challenges.

This would sound like a dream to be if someone told me when I was 15, listening to my parents argue from next room. If I only knew Gottman's... I am not sure if I would have been able to convince them to look into their own behavior... But I am glad that I know it now and work for better in my own marriage.



New York

Photo credit: Wix images