Ground Down – Should marriages last forever?

Do you find some people wear you down over time? The tiny quirks shrugged away early in the relationship eventually become festering boils. We all seek companionship, yet it seems we’re not setup to tolerate the same people and situations for long. Comfort wears thin.

I recall my grandparents on my father’s side and their weekly visits. The performance changed little each time. Grandpop sat in a recliner staring into space, swirling his Seagrams while Nana kibitzed and helped Mom in the kitchen. I was just a kid but I vividly remember the look on Grandpop’s face. It was as if he were sedated, trapped in a room without an exit, and seriously contemplating how peaceful death would be.

What do I know? As I said, I was only a kid.

Every few minutes he’d instinctively defend himself, say something, and endure another lashing. If he ignored the wife, she said he never listened. If he voiced his opinion, she called him derogatory names in Italian (stugots). I assume my pop was used to the banter because it didn’t affect him. My mother dried the next dish and brought her husband another Bud.

I watched and wondered: Isn’t marriage supposed to be a happy union? Where’s the love and affection? I’d rather be alone than in misery. Maybe watching this scene damaged me–more than Linda Blair pissing on the floor in The Exorcist.

When my Nana passed, an interesting thing happened–Grandpop suddenly came back to life. His slouching shoulders squared, his subdued voice boomed, and his glassy stare cleared. The quick recovery, apparently, also involved another woman. The relatives were disturbed. It seems by their standards he hadn’t mourned sufficiently. (Nobody can set your time limit for mourning. You’re done when you’re done.) This new woman was regarded as evil. Nobody understood how he could go there so soon.

I didn’t see it that way. Sure, he loved his wife and shared decades of memories with her. Still, the air between them grew stale, as it often does between couples who have been together forever (although most won’t admit it). He didn’t kill his wife. She was oblivious to how the relationship was slowly killing him. Her departure was serendipitous. What a contrast to the formulaic scenes in romance films.

I blame the social pressures around the permanence of marriage. It works against nature. It must. Look at the statistics. Of the happily married minority, half of them are lying and heading down the dark path that consumed my grandfather. Most happy marriages have expiration dates, whether stamped on the certificate or not.

Why be sad about it? If your relationship continues blossoming in the fall, that’s awesome! If it doesn’t, might as well get back in line and try again. You should be improving along the way. Consider your past relationships as reps and sets towards strengthening your emotional fitness.

Let’s pledge to leave before we become zombies. Whether it’s a spouse, a job, or your hometown–when things start breaking bad, don’t be sad. Break away.

About the author

Author of humorous essays about relationships and lifestyles.


  1. I’m very happy that your Grandpop was able to find happiness as a widower. Your grandparents lived in a different time, Phil, when divorce was unacceptable.

    These are different times. Few people in the West are pressured into marriage or denied the choice to remain single. These days, people can “live in sin” if they choose, without any social repercussions. In fact, such relationships are widely accepted and even institutionally accommodated. That being the case, should you choose to get married, yes, I believe it should be forever. If you’re going to make a lifelong commitment before the community and the law (not to mention God, if that’s your cup of tea), keep that commitment. It’s not always about you.*

    *meaning “you” in the general sense, not “you” in the Phil Torcivia sense ;)

  2. I have to disagree with this post. I believe people grow apart and their relationships become stale because they are not growing themselves. People these days are looking for instant gratification and the excitement that a new relationship provides. In actuality they are just too lazy to invest the time and effort required to re-energize their current relationship. The banal acceptance of divorce in our culture allows for this kind of behvior without any stigma, to the detriment of families, children and the individuals involved.

    There is a great deal of research out there indicating that individuals who stay married are healthier and happier in the long run. However, these are individuals who are engaged in their relationships and continually growing and learning about themselves and enjoying their lives within those relationships.

    Everybody is responsible for their own happiness. I’m not against divorce per se, as long as there is a good reason, not just laziness.

  3. I was fascinated to find your blog entry…I’ve been thinking about this subject myself. The whole concept of marriage, and why we should expect it to be “forever” is interesting from an anthropological viewpoint. There is an interesting discussion here:

    Take away the religious aspects, and it is technically a matter of state – inheritance laws, legitimacy of progeny. In some cultures it is much more a matter of contract than of enduring love. Go see the Broadway play Chinglish for a fascinating look at culturally different views of marriage and love. Point being – not everyone around the globe has the starry eyed view that we Americans do about love lasting forever.

    It’s a tough discussion though. I’m surprised you haven’t gotten more outraged comments…Americans do not often want to hear this point of view. Does our concept of marriage need to evolve? Maybe. Is the discussion important and useful? Totally. Whatever stance you ultimately take, intelligent debate is always useful! :-)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.