Only one in three marriages in the United States reaches its twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. That means at least two out of three marriages fail to achieve the dream of living “happily ever after.” Among those couples who stay together “until death do us part,” many have achieved satisfying, and thriving marriages. Their secret includes each spouse finding and committing themselves to a life purpose.
The value of having a life purpose and its impact on our lives has been the focus of much research over the past two decades. Among the leading experts on the study of life purpose is Richard Leider, author of the bestselling book, The Power of Purpose:Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better. Lieder explains in his book, “Life purpose is what I’m meant to do and be while I’m here on the earth.”
No Substitute for a Life Purpose
Like many newly married couples, my wife and I found purpose in making each other happy, establishing a home together, supporting each other’s dreams, and having children. But this temporary purpose can’t substitute for the lack of a longer-lasting, life purpose.
Our lack of life purpose eventually contributed to our marriage drifting into troubled waters. The average duration of a first marriage in the United States before divorce is only eight years. We’d struggled to make it through three years. Unresolved conflicts ate away at our ability to make each other happy and support each other’s dreams.
We decided to meet with a marriage counselor. The counselor helped us discover how to steer our relationship into smoother waters. One of those solutions was to stop depending on each other for happiness.
A Reason for Automatic Happiness
Psychiatrist Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, is well-known as one of the modern proponents of the importance of having purpose and meaning in our lives. Frankl said, “One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’ Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically.”
Finding an enduring reason for happiness eludes many of us. But it is a worthwhile pursuit. Researchers have found that people who find their life purpose live longer, healthier and more satisfying lives than those who don’t. Having clarity around one’s life purpose influences decisions about what we eat, getting healthcare, and how and where we work. It also influences how we conduct our relationships, especially when those relationships run into trouble.
Leider has noticed that people with a clear purpose in life tend to focus their attention and concern away from themselves and to others. This focus on others is a key component to achieving satisfying relationships, especially in marriage.
One Key to a Satisfying Marriage
Marriage researcher John Gottman has found that a key component of satisfying marriages is the ability of spouses to develop a mutual understanding of each other on emotional level. This focus on each other’s interests builds trust and resilience that helps couples thrive and bounce back from marriage problems. It also lays a strong foundation for lasting friendship. It’s harder to walk away from a marriage in trouble when you’re most concerned about how it will affect your spouse.
Lieder offers the following formula for unlocking your life purpose:
1) Discover your gifts
Notice the things you do well, and do naturally, and love to do. There are your talents, or gifts.
2) Discover your passions
Notice what you’re deeply curious about, and feel strongly about. These are your passions.
3) Clarify your values
Notice where you spend your time and money by looking at your calendar and checkbook. This will reveal what’s most important to you. Is how you’re spending your resources at odds with what you say is important to you? You may need to align your actions and words.
Tie your gifts, passions and values together into a brief statement of your life purpose, or what Leider calls your “calling.” AARP’s lifereimagined.org website offers a free, online tool to guide you through these steps. Write and post your life purpose in a place where you can review it at least once a week. You might add it to your calendar or daily planner. It will become like a compass to guide you through life.
Invite your spouse to participate in this activity with you. As you each clarify your individual life purpose, make some time to discuss your discoveries with each other. Look for ways your individual life purposes connect, where they compliment each other, and where you can support each other in living out your calling. As you each embrace your reason for living, as Frankl said, you’ll become happy automatically, and that will contribute to a happier marriage.
A version of this post also appeared on LifeZette.com.