How to Become Successful at the Three Essential Marriages for Achieving a Great Life

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“Human beings are creatures of belonging which we achieve through three marriages. First, through relationship with other people and other things (particularly and very personally, to one other person in relationship or marriage); second, through work; and third, through an understanding of what it means to be themselves.” David Whyte, The Three Marriages: Reimaging Work, Self and Relationship.

            For more than fifty years I have helped people achieve success in all three kinds of relationships. Like many I married young. My wife and I were together for ten years and had two children before our marriage broke up. After a time of pain and healing, I fell in love again, and remarried. Looking back, I can see that one was a rebound relationship and it too ended.

            Endings are painful for everyone, but when you’re a marriage and family counselor who makes his living helping fix relationships, it is not only painful, but shameful as well. I talk about it on my website, MenAlive.com in an introductory video, “Confessions of a Twice-Divorced Marriage Counselor.” Fortunately, I got my own help, worked through unhealed trauma from my past, and learned what it truly takes to have a successful marriage. My wife, Carlin, and I have been happily married for forty-four years.

            We all want a life that is happy and joyful, but how to achieve success is not often clear and easy.

“If you have to make one life choice, right now, to set yourself on the path to future health and happiness, what would it be?”

This question was asked by two world-renowned social scientists, Robert Waldinger, MD and Marc Schulz, PhD.

            Dr. Waldinger is professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Study on Adult Development. Dr. Schultz is the associate director. The Harvard Study is the longest scientific study of happiness ever conducted. It began in 1938 and offers the most scientifically supported guidance for achieving a great life.

            The latest findings are reported in Waldinger’s and Schulz’s book, The Good Life: Lessons From The World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. In a 2007 survey, millennials were asked about their most important life goals. Seventy-six percent said that becoming rich was their number one goal. Fifty percent said a major goal was to become famous. More than a decade later, after millennials had spent more time as adults, similar questions were asked again. Fame was now lower on the list, but top goals again included things like making money, having a successful career, and becoming debt-free.

            What does the data from thousands of interviews over eighty-six years tell us? If we want a great life what is the one thing that is more important than others? The answer can be stated in three simple words: Create Good Relationships.

“In fact, good relationships are significant enough that if we had to take all eighty-six years of the Harvard Study,”

say Drs. Waldinger and Schulz,

“and boil it down to a single principle for living, one life investment that is supported by similar findings across a wide variety of other studies, it would be this:

            “Good Relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.”

The Three Marriages We Must Embrace to Have a Successful Life

            In his book The Three Marriages: Reimaging Work, Self and Relationship, David Whyte says,

“Despite our use of the word “marriage” only for a committed relationship between two people, “in reality everyone is committed consciously or unconsciously to three marriages.”

            Whyte goes on to say,

“There is that first marriage, the one we usually mean, to another; that second marriage, which can so often seem like a burden, to work or vocation; and that third and most likely hidden marriage to a core conversation inside ourselves. We can call these three separate commitments marriages because at their core they are usually lifelong commitments and, as I wish to illustrate, they involve vows made either consciously or unconsciously.”

            For most of my life I tried to find a balance between my work life and my love life. The truth is that I was much better at work than I was at love. It is not surprising. I had my first job when I was seven years old. My father had left when I was five, committed to a mental hospital after taking an overdose of sleeping pills because he had become increasingly stressed and depressed because he couldn’t make a living to support my mother and me.

            With my father gone, my mother had to find work outside the home. We had little money beyond what was needed for the essentials, so I learned early to work for anything I truly wanted. I got good at work, but like many who grew up without a father and mother at home, what I learned about having a healthy and happy married life was minimal and I was too busy hustling for my next job success to have time to wonder about what it meant to get to know my true self.

            For too many of us we feel like we are going up and down on a teeter-totter with our work and love lives competing for our attention while our personhood often gets neglected and forgotten. David Whyte offers us all a great service when he suggests this basic reality:

            “Each of those marriages, is at its heart, nonnegotiable. We should give up the attempt to balance one  against another, of, for instance, taking away from work to give more time to a partner, or vice versa, and start thinking of each marriage conversing with, questioning, or emboldening the other two.”

            With the framework of the three marriages, we can ask ourselves where we might need improvement. Here’s a little scale I find useful.

How would you rate yourself in all five areas? I feel successful in all five areas, but it has been a lifelong process of healing and learning. I still have a way to go yet, like all of us. My score was 24. How about yours?

Bringing It All Together

            For me, I have come to see achieving success at the three marriages as a true hero’s journey, one that lasts a lifetime. My wife, Carlin, is part Native American. In our area, there are several women who weave beautiful baskets made out of local materials that grow in nature. A well-known basket weaver described a well-made basket as a metaphor for creating a great life.

            Here’s how she describes the process.

“Our life is a basket woven from many different strands, each essential for a strong container. Each part of our life is one strand in this basket.It’s impossible to weave multiple strands at the same time; we need to attend to the strand that requires our attention without losing awareness of the others. Every strand will get our attention—just not all at the same time. I know I give attention to where I am most needed, knowing that I will then move on to the next demand. The basket holds my life as I strengthen individual strands. I’m no longer on a teeter-totter—I am weaving my life into something whole and lovely.”

            When I reflect on my own life, there are times when I must focus on my wife, Carlin, knowing that there are other parts of my life that will require my attention at another time. At other times, one of our five children or seventeen grandchildren all for my attention. Yet, I can’t ever forget my work and my commitment to my calling. Running through all these “strands of my basket” is my commitment to my deepest self, getting to know who I really am and learning to love the man I am with all my flaws as well as my gifts.

            I have written about how I have integrated these strands in the books I have written. If you are interested in learning about me and my work, I recommend, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man, 12 Rules for Good Men, and Long Live Men: The Moonshot Mission to Heal Men, Close the Lifespan Gap, and Offer Hope for Humanity.

            If you want to learn more about me and my relationship life, I recommend The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationship and Why the Best is Still to Come, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound, and Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Overcoming Romantic and Sexual Addictions.

            If you would like to take one of my on-line courses, I recommend:

            Navigating the 5 Stages of Love.

            Healing the Irritable Male Syndrome.

            Healing the Family Father Wound.

            If you would like to join our mission to improve the lives of men and their families, I recommend:

            The Moonshot for Mankind and Humanity.

            If you would like to do individual or couple counseling with me, drop me a note at Jed@MenAlive.com and put “Counseling” in the subject line. I will send you the information.             If you would like to receive my free weekly newsletter with updates and new articles, you can sign up here.

The post How to Become Successful at the Three Essential Marriages for Achieving a Great Life appeared first on MenAlive.

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