Why Trying to Stay Married Forever Could Kill Your Marriage

Before I got married, I was totally insecure.

And I thought getting married would finally absolve me of my torturously low self-esteem. I figured my anxiety would go away, because I’d no longer have to wonder if I was going to be loved forever. And I figured my loneliness would disappear, because we’d tangle our lives together.

I, um, miscalculated.

My fear and loneliness weren’t sacrificed to the marriage gods on our wedding altar. They survived our union. So, I did the only reasonable thing: I tried to guarantee our marriage would live forever, with anxious attention, constant conversation, and a taxing togetherness.

It wasn’t until later I realized: a marriage is like an orchid.

Orchids are a tropical, flowering plant, known for the vibrant color of their petals, their lush fragrances, and the vanilla bean they produce, which flavors our world. And, with the proper care, they are incredibly resilient—in the words of some botanists, “nearly immortal.” But they are most frequently killed by drowning. Anxious caretakers, aware the plant is of tropical origin, assume it must be watered all the time. In their attempt to ensure it will live, they accidentally kill it.

I almost killed my marriage by watering it too much.

Worried about how enduring it might (or might not) be, I showered it with too much attention. Too many demands for it to heal all my childhood wounds all at once. But mostly, I just poured upon it my demand for some certainty that it would live forever.

Thankfully, at times, my wife was like the sun, drying up all my extra moisture.

The years have come and gone, though, and these days I’m totally secure. Ahem. Okay, these days, I’m a little less insecure about myself, but I’m pretty secure about our marriage. I’m beginning to glimpse its immortality. I see it in the passing touches and looks and words and gentleness, and in how quickly our conflicts pass, as well. Which means, these days, I run the opposite risk:

The risk of watering our marriage too little.

Because I’m starting to believe our marriage might actually last forever, I’m in danger of not giving it enough of the attention it requires. This is actually one of the biggest and most common threats to marriage: we say we’ll stay together forever, and oftentimes we say it in front of people and the church and God, so we assume the deal is sealed.

And it leaves us a little too assured of its immortality.

There’s been a lot of speculation about why Protestant marriages are more likely than secular marriages to end in divorce. Well, speculate no further: when you believe the beautiful flower that is your marriage must and will certainly survive forever, you’re far less likely to water it as often as you need to. And then this potentially immortal thing shrivels up and dies.

So, instead of trying to ensure our marriages will last forever or, just as fatally, assuming they will do so, what if we focused on discerning just how often our marriages need to be watered?

Orchids need to be watered approximately once a week.

I think marriages need to be watered weekly, too.

One date a week. I know that sounds absurd. But you can find a way. Sell all your old albums so you can afford a babysitter. Or drink one cup of coffee, in the small, dark hours before the kids start demanding all the water from your watering can. Or go for a walk. Or go to therapy, where a weekly hour will be given to you for as long as you need it. Whatever it is, schedule the watering of your marriage like you’d schedule any other life-or-death event—put it on the friggin’ calendar. Make it happen.

Be ruthless about it.

And then, in that weekly watering hour, pay attention to what kind of soil your time is made of. In other words, check your ego at the door, because nothing vibrant and fragrant and immortal can grow in rocky soil made of hiddenness, defensiveness, and superiority.

And remember, nothing lives forever when all you care about is making it live forever, when all you water it with is talk about how to guarantee its survival. Instead, make sure the water you give it contains the most important nutrient of all:

Honesty. Transparency. Truthfulness.

But not the kind truthfulness we’ve started to value in our world—not the careless kind. Water it with the kind of truthfulness that looks like tenderness and feels like vulnerability. Water the orchid of your marriage with those good things. Weekly. And then watch it bloom.

Watch it become beautiful.

Watch it become immortal.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.