Years ago, our friend Zach and his wife Zelda decided to divorce because of irreconcilable differences.
They weren’t fighting over money, sex, or in-laws. They didn’t hate each other. They just couldn’t figure out how to live together. Zach wanted to move to Los Angeles, while Zelda wanted to stay in New York City.
Zach worked in the entertainment industry; it seemed that all his potential jobs and all the people he needed to see were in L.A. Zelda had spent years on education and training in a specialized field, and had just received her professional certification. Because the requirements were different in California, if she moved she’d have to undergo additional training and pass another licensing exam. It would be close to two years before she’d be able to start work. Besides, she really, really liked New York and wasn’t fond of L.A.
A long-distance relationship wasn’t the kind of marriage either of them wanted. They’d already tried it, with Zach periodically staying a month or two in L.A., sometimes with a visit from Zelda halfway through. The long separations hadn’t had a positive effect on their relationship. Instead, they’d begun to feel that they could live without each other.
So they divorced, and Zach moved to Los Angeles.
It wasn’t long before he found a new love, someone he thought would be the perfect wife. But she turned out to be not quite what she seemed, and the relationship turned sour. In the midst of a very unpleasant breakup, Zach ruefully remarked, “I didn’t realize how good I had it with Zelda.”
I don’t know if Zach and Zelda could have saved their marriage. For both of them, career was the higher priority, so their careers determined the choices they made.
A lot of marriages suffer because one or both partners place a higher priority on something else, or because they aren’t really clear on what their priorities are.
Most of us have to work, and work nearly always requires a significant amount of time and energy. And it isn’t unreasonable to want a meaningful career that offers opportunities for achievement and personal fulfilment. Sometimes partners have to compromise, at least temporarily, in order to support both the relationship and each person’s dreams. It isn’t always easy.
Faced with a dilemma, it may help to ask if there are other possibilities we haven’t considered. What do we really want in the long term? Twenty, thirty, fifty years from now, what will we remember, and what will we regret?