Is marriage based on fate or decision?

Last week, writer Elizabeth Gilbert of popular memoir Eat, Pray and Love made an official announcement on her Facebook page that her and her husband are splitting up after 12 years. And this is after she wrote in length about her journey of finding a soulmate after a painful divorce in her next book, Committed: A Love Story.  She claims their split is “very amicable” and reasons are “very personal.”

And I believe her. These two words “amicable” and “personal” make absolute sense to me. After being married for almost 12 years myself, I can see how marriages can come to an end in an amicable way for personal reasons.

(Disclaimer: I know there are many unhealthy marriages that require one spouse to leave, for reasons like infidelity, abuse, manipulation, violence or addiction. For the sake of this reflection, I’m only considering healthy marriages that come to an end for various reasons, the ones that end amicably for “irreconcilable differences.”)

Is marriage based on fate or decision?

Recently I’ve been pondering upon this question a lot for reasons unknown to me. Perhaps it was triggered by the rise and fall of both old and new marriages around me or sappy Korean melodramas I’ve been known to secretly indulge in. And don’t even get me started on all the temporary celebrity marriages rampant in Hollywood. I’m not even discussing those type of faux marriages.

I’m talking about real, normal, healthy and once-constructive marriages that come to an end for various reasons. More and more, I find couples who call quits after being together for ten, twenty and even thirty years in what looks like a good marriage from the outside. They look very happy together for many years, and suddenly they announce divorce. I also come across middle aged and older couples who end up going their separate ways after their children are off to college.

These observations make me wonder, do these marriages not last because they were with the wrong person in the first place, or is it simply because they chose not to try any more? I don’t have a clear answer to this question but I’m starting to believe the latter.

These observations make me wonder, do these marriages not last because they were with the wrong person in the first place, or is it simply because they chose not to try any more? I don’t have a clear answer to this question but I’m starting to believe the latter.

Let me back track a bit. I used to once believe in things like soulmates, fate and destiny. In fact, I still do. The difference is, I used to once believe that these are the facets that lead two people to get married, have children and live happily ever after until death do them apart.

After being married for almost 12 years to a man who I’ve known since I was 16 years old, I no longer believe that marriage and fate are synonymous. This isn’t because our marriage isn’t good, it’s because I’m now a lot more realistic about what marriage entails. My husband and I have open discussions about this, and we both agree that there are much more to a successful marriage than a soulmate connection.

Nowadays, arguably 50% of marriages end up in divorce and I personally know that many of them once believed they were fated to be together forever. They certainly fell in love and felt all the emotions and passions that come with being in love. They were once truly, madly and passionately IN LOVE.

But somewhere along the way, the inevitable happened. Life happened, children happened, relocation happened, differences happened, loneliness happened, miscommunication happened– and the two people who once felt they were destined to be together made a decision to simply stop trying.

And between two emotionally healthy adults who know what they want, this mutual decision can absolutely be amicable and even constructive for everyone involved. I get it now; I just wish I began my marriage knowing all these things so I can be better prepared to deal with the variables that marriage throws at us.

To me, marriage is a choice. It’s a decision one makes when time is right, when the right person enters our lives at the right time. Sometimes this “time” is determined by our own logic and sometimes it’s determined by a greater force that we have no control over, such as relocation, age, pregnancy, or something as simple as the ticking biological clock.  I read in a recent article that even men feel such ticking of their biological clock in their mid 30’s to early 40’s when they begin to actively seek a mate to produce an offspring.

I guess some call this fate or destiny, but every fateful action always requires a conscious choice– a decision.

To me, marriage is a choice we make everyday when we wake up in the morning. We choose to love, we choose to be faithful, we choose to forgive, we choose to try, and we choose to be committed even when our choices are no longer led by romance and love. Sure the love and respect are there but such love takes a different form– that of partnership, loyalty, responsibility and family rather than the all-consuming, passionate, soulmate type of love we see in movies and popular love songs.

The catch is, our hearts no matter how old, are constantly tugged by such portrayals of love. The greatest literary classics all convey some form of celestial love and we continue to be drawn to movies, shows, songs, and stories that portray young lovers whose lives are forever changed by their union.

This space, this gap between the ideal and the real, is where many married people struggle as they make decisions to leave or stay every single day. Whatever you decide for your own marriage, there really seems to be no right or wrong answer. Whether you choose to love or to amicably walk away, the decision is understandable as long as it comes from a place of love, hope and self-awareness.

Is your marriage based on fate or decision? If you’re not married, are you looking for destiny to step in or will you make a conscious decision when time is right? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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7 thoughts on “Is marriage based on fate or decision?

  1. Oh I love this post!!!!!!!! I absolutely believe that there’s a point where fate comes in for meeting, but the rest, every day after is a choice. I learned actually from Michelle (Pantry Lane) that love is a choice. Every day it’s a choice, and one you have to fight for and choose, even when you don’t feel like it. Movies and books tell us otherwise. Self and our comfort and “loving yourself first” is repeatedly told to us, things that make it sound like giving up is OK, it’s just normal or part of life. I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts. xx

    1. I think for us women who have been married a long time, it’s easier to relate to the “love is a choice” perspective. In my teens and early 20’s, I really believed in the love at first sight, love until the end of days kind of ideals, but marriage and realities of life now makes me think otherwise. I definitely believe fate has something to do with it, I just don’t know if the term “soulmates” is fault free and transcendent as portrayed in movies. Maybe soulmates exist, but maybe a more realistic version of it? I was talking to my husband about this and was wondering what other women thought. Thanks for sharing your perspective Diana!

  2. I do believe in soulmates, but I believe some people split from their soulmates or end up divorced because they didn’t wait long enough and settled for the wrong person. People that divorce their soulmates I think generally do so because they – the person in question or their partner – aren’t putting in the effort. Marriage is a decision!

  3. Great article!! I absolutely believe in soulmates and that we are brought together with certain people for a reason. Sometimes fate and the idea that “this is happening for a reason” is the only way to explain many situations in life. It’s really how I function overall and cope with both good and bad life occurrences. While I believe in fate and soulmates, what we do when fate happens is based on our own decision making. We have free will to decide how we respond to what fate has brought our way.

  4. Love this, Angela. Sorry it took me so long to get around to reading this but thank you so much for sharing it and provoking our thoughts about all of it. Honestly, I don’t believe in fate anymore; I believe in God’s sovereignty. And I don’t believe in human “soulmates” anymore; I believe God is our only true “soulmate” for that’s how He intended it to be and created us to be. I know that sounds rather…fanatical (though I dislike the sound of the term) but it’s been a very freeing, uplifting and fulfilling process to get to this point. From my youthful romantic notions of destiny, fate and soulmates to an understanding and experience of something far greater than exists in the human, fleshly realm…it’s been a long and difficult road, but one which I’m eternally grateful for. I know you “get” what I’m saying or trying to say too. xoxo.

    1. Hi Anita, yes I totally “get” what you’re saying. Sometimes I think God put our earthly “soulmates” aka our husbands in our lives so we can become better people, more understanding of differences and forgiving of flaws. It’s always a work-in-progress and I often find marriage and motherhood challenging especially for independent personalities like myself. But I can say I’m definitely a much better person now than before and my heart is so much bigger than it was before marriage and kids. I LOVE that much better– I guess this is the ultimate goal right? To love each other, to love ourselves and to love God wholeheartedly.

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