Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Marriage, Career, and Happiness

Beth and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary (and our 41st year together) last week. It’s been a really, really great run! Whenever I’m asked what my greatest accomplishment is, the thing I’m most proud of, I instantly answer “our marriage”. Our wedding was fantastic; friends and family still tell us how special it was and how much fun they had. On that day a friend wished for us that our wedding day would be the day that we would love each other LEAST, because every day from then on would be the day that we loved each other MOST.

Until the next day.

So it’s not the wedding we celebrate on our anniversary, it’s the marriage itself. Time and again over the years we have had decisions to make, life decisions like where to live or what we might choose to prioritize in our family life. Like so many couples we had work-related decisions come up, especially when we were younger. Each time we chose “us”.

In my day job I have the sincere privilege of working alongside colleagues who are 10, 20 and sometimes 30 years younger than I am. (It is a privilege to work with colleagues senior to me as well!) They are so talented I am regularly awestruck. I thought of them as I read an extraordinary opinion piece by David Brooks in the Sunday Times 2 weeks ago, “Marriage, Not Career, Brings Happiness”. When I chat with them about plans, commitments they anticipate, I find myself in a similar position to that which Mr. Brooks described: most young adults give lots of thought to their career plans, but very little to how marriage (or a committed relationship of any kind) might be a part of their lives. Indeed, if you ask about how they are looking at the future you are likely to hear about not just career but the “where” of the career before you hear about marriage.

If you hear about it at all.

This is striking, probably because it is pretty much exactly the opposite of the way I, we, approached life as a young couple. Mind you, no one advised us on this, and for sure there wasn’t anything like the research now available to convince a young professional or couple to put marriage first. I’ll borrow a bit of information from Brooks. Sam Pelzman of the University of Chicago found that married people were 30 points happier than the unmarried. University of Virginia professor Brad Wilcox found that the odds that men and woman say they are “very happy” with their lives are a “staggering 545% higher for those who are happily married” compared with a matched population of peers who are not married or are unhappy in their marriages. The Harvard Study, the longest study of adult happiness, found similar results over the last 60 or so years (see: The Good Life by Waldinger and Schulz).

Does this mean that you can’t be successful in a career, or find happiness in your career if you have made your marriage your most important commitment? Of course not! I’ve had a great career, kind of like a play in 3 (so far) acts. Busy stay in town partner in a big group; stay in town building a new practice; busy (again) in town with a growing out of town speaker/consultant gig. I just made all of my career decisions in a universe centered around our marriage, and I feel awfully lucky that the career thing has turned out OK.

Brooks admits to “an unfortunate urge to sermonize”, and I feel a bit uncomfortable that this might be or get a bit “preachy”. I like Mr. Brooks’ advise on the front side of marriage: “Please respect the truism that if you have a great career and a crappy marriage you will be unhappy, but if you have a great marriage and a crappy career you will be happy. Please use your youthful years as a chance to have romantic relationships so you’ll have some practice when it comes time to wed…read books on how to decide whom to marry. Read George Elliot and Jane Austen. Start with the experts.”

Once you have married or entered into that committed relationship Beth and I do have two “not so secrets” that have worked for us these 38 years. The first is that marriage and all that goes into a marriage is NOT a 50/50 thing. You’re not splitting anything. It’s 100/100. It works best when both people in a committed relationship, marriage or otherwise, are each 100% committed to the success of the relationship. All of your chips in on the marriage bet every time the wheel spins. The second is never stop dating. You don’t have to stop courting your spouse after you say “I do”. We used to say that the Honeymoon isn’t over until you say it is. Starting with the birth of our second child we have been out on a date (without children) at least once a week, not Mom and Dad, just a boy and a girl in love. We celebrated 38 years by going out on a date, holding hands as we walked into the restaurant, more in love today than any day before.

But not quite as much in love as we will be tomorrow.

I’ll see you next week…

One Response to “Marriage, Career, and Happiness”

  1. September 13th, 2023 at 12:12 pm

    Maureen says:

    Really loved reading this one. You two are blessed with the ability to rely on each other that much and also in sharing the same values no doubt.

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