The Mathematics of Marriage

I was raised with the saying “It takes two to make a marriage.” This seems to me a true statement. It takes two to make any relationship at all, with the sole exception of parent/infant where the baby has no responsibilities in or to the relationship and never had to agree to it. My only point of disagreement with the statement that “it takes two to make a marriage” is that so many people misuse this statement to insist, when any marriage fails, it therefore has to be the fault of BOTH participants. That doesn’t add up.

IF it takes two to make a marriage, THEN the failure of even one of the two to do his/her part is all it takes to destroy that marriage.

Marriage = (1 + 1 = 2).
(1 + 1 = 2) cannot equal (1 + 0 = 1) or (2 – 1 = 1) because 2 cannot equal 1.
Said slightly differently, since Marriage = (1 + 1 + 2), all it takes is the absense or subtraction of 1 to destroy the truth of equation and NOT make a marriage.

One person, alone, cannot make a marriage. One person, alone, cannot make any relationship, since any and every relationship is, by definition, at least two people choosing to interact and respond to each other on a regular basis. One person can pursue another, unwilling person. One person may even be able to dominate and subdue another person, imprison them, even destroy them. Those are NOT “relationships” however, even though they might have started as such. If they have reached that point, they have ceased being relationships, according to my definition. Relationships, even bad ones, require at least two people choosing to interact with each other. Ideally, they do this with the goal of building a happy, healthy co-existence with each other and/or to succeed at building a family, a business, or some other mutual goal. Even when the people involved disagree on the details of their mutual goal, or how best to achieve it, or what they hope might grow from it, as long as they keep choosing to interact with each other, they are in a relationship together.

At the point where even one of the participants decides to bow out of a relationship, that relationship, as such, is over. The reason for this decision is irrelevant. Even if the person remains physically present, if s/he is no longer willing to work with the other person, there is no longer any actual relationship between them. In the future, things might change. Until that point, the relationship doesn’t exist. At this point even a legal marriage ceases to be a relationship for all emotional purposes, even if it remains recognized by law.

It is possible that both of the partners might have made mistakes or hurt each other in a marriage. I’d suggest this is even probable, since humans are fallible and such missteps often occur. That is why forgiveness becomes so vitally important in any healthy relationship. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible for both partners to have contributed to the failure of their marriage. I’m only pointing out that this isn’t necessary.

Given the mathematics, any marriage can fail even with a fully committed partner still pouring in all the effort s/he could, perhaps all or more than should have been required to build an outstandingly successful and happy marriage with an equally committed partner. If such a partner was so striving while the other partner gave up, or possibly never participated at all, then there was no way for that marriage to succeed. The marriage’s failure isn’t the fault of the partner who continued to sincerely try longer than the other. The absent partner renders the marriage a failure despite anything and everything the loving partner can do. It takes two to make a marriage, which means it only requires one of the two to destroy it.

I hope people will come to realize this and stop telling divorcees, reeling from the destruction of all their hopes and dreams for a marriage, heartbroken and mourning all the wasted time, effort, emotions, energy, and resources they fruitlessly poured into it throughout the years, that the marriage failed at least in part because of them. The good partner, who did her/his best, doesn’t need that guilt piled on top of all the rest that they are grieving, especially since it isn’t necessarily true.

It may be that the fault of the good partner was nothing more than trusting someone who was untrustworthy, which is something trustworthy people tend to do. Knowing how dependable they, themselves, are, they naturally expect others to be as well, until that expectation is disappointed in an individual. At that point, many good people may see it as an aberration. People tend to view themselves as the standard of “normal,” so a trustworthy person believes being honorable, dependable, etc., is normal. A person who proves himself otherwise to them seems to be an exception to the rule, until enough people have done so to convince them such behavior is more common than they had realized.

It may be that the good, honest partner, who understood the importance of clear communication in any relationship, was guilty of nothing more than believing someone who was lying to them. Are they truly foolish to trust their spouse? Is it so unreasonable to expect complete honesty in a marriage, where anything short of that can only be destructive? If you are partners working together toward mutual, shared goals, of course you are going to be honest with each other, because that is a fundamental requirement for success when working together. Someone who, in such a situation, falls prey to a liar pretending to be a partner, should not be blamed for failing to see that coming.

If you try to argue, as a divorce lawyer I knew once argued with me, that the good partner should have kept perpetually alert to the possibility of being intentionally abused by the other partner, whom they “foolishly” loved and trusted, then I’ll respond that this cannot be useful to building a good marriage. Love and trust are essential and should be present in a marriage unless and until they are provably destroyed, at which point the marriage is destroyed. Doubting a good partner is potentially worse than trusting a bad one, because it can unjustly and irrevocably destroy a wonderful relationship, full of potential for you both. That loss is worse that continuing to trust a deceiver for a little longer.

When you wrongly trust a deceiver, the worst of all the losses you suffer is only what you never really had – the dream of a loving relationship. How much worse is it to lose something wonderful that was truly yours, but needlessly doubted? By constantly looking for betrayal from a loving spouse, you set yourself up to imagine it where it doesn’t exist. You have, thereby, hurt not only yourself, all your hopes and dreams, but you have also betrayed your good partner, who was depending on you to keep faithful and loving so s/he could keep faithful and loving to you. It is horrible when good people are intentionally abused by their ill-chosen partners, but, once, an abuser has succeeded in being chosen as a partner, even through deceit, the good partner must give the marriage a real chance by remaining trusting and faithful until the evidence proves, beyond a doubt, that they are being abused. In the end, it isn’t a good partner’s fault if his/her partner acted despicably and destroyed their marriage, but it would be his/her fault if s/he unjustly suspected the innocent partner. Where the good partner seems to stay too long with someone who was abusing them, especially covertly (lying, cheating, and/or stealing, while hiding his/her activities, for instance) then the good partner should be held innocent of the destruction of the marriage and even honored for staying faithful and loving until the abuser’s evil was fully proved.

If someone insists that they did their best, that the failure of their marriage wasn’t their fault at all, allow that they may very well be telling the truth. One person, alone, can be the cause of a marriage’s failure, even with an excellent partner. You might be talking to a lying or self-deluded person, so reserve some doubt, privately, until you know for sure, but you might also be talking with an honest, good partner, who doesn’t deserve blame for something that, truly, they had no way at all to remedy.

If you are inclined to suspect they are lying because, for years, you heard their partner complaining about them behind their back, stop and question why the partner was complaining to you instead of working to improve the marriage with their partner. It is possible that the complainer was being abused, but more often the truly abused partner, who is trying desperately to hold the marriage together against mounting odds, isn’t bad-talking their spouse to others outside their marriage. In cases of severe abuse, it is more often the abusive partner who is intentionally trying to turn public opinion against his/her victim, in anticipation of worsening abuse and/or prior abuses coming to light. It is also part of trying to isolate the victim, removing any source of potential help, to keep the victim under his/her control. A good partner, who is struggling to make a marriage work, rarely will malign his/her spouse to others. Abusers commonly do.

If you are the divorced or divorcing person, listening to friends and family trying to tell you that you had to be at least partly to blame for the failure of your marriage, please understand that it isn’t necessarily so. These people may be well-meaning, but they are very possibly mistaken. Unless they can tell you exactly what you did wrong, or help you discover that element yourself, they may not be worth listening to on this subject. It might be best to politely ignore them.

Advice also worth rejecting is any that insists you should ignore the past and just move on. It is harmful to you to wallow in the misery of your failed marriage and divorce forever, but those experiences hold a treasure trove of useful information for you to build your future if/when you can uncover it from beneath all the pain. Everything you go through should be turned to good in your life, especially the tragic events. There are likely important lessons embedded in those experiences which, if you do not learn them this time, may be forced on you again through even worse experiences. It is worth the time and effort to examine, at various points in your life, the failure of your marriage, to see what you can learn from it. What, if anything, could you have done differently or better? The more emotional distance you get from the event, the clearer your understanding may be, so review it a few times at different points in your life.

Where you can find your fault, if any, you have found gold. It is exactly what you need to study, to learn how to improve, in order to make better relationships in the future. Where you have the fault, there you had the power but failed to use it wisely. Identifying where you had the power makes you that much more powerful going forward, and learning how to use it better improves your chances for future joy in current and future relationships. Your faults are not the prettiest images you can find of yourself, but they are the most useful for self-improvement.

If, however, every self-review keeps assuring you that you did, to the best of your ability at the time, everything you could, and the failure really wasn’t your fault, then accept that. Try to choose a better partner next time. Please keep your heart open and eager to love. For someone worthy of you, you may be the perfect partner with whom s/he can make a truly wonderful marriage. I trust that, when you are both ready, you will find each other. For both your sakes, and for the joy for all who love you, and the inspiration of all who know you, I wish for you that great happiness.