A Marriage That’s Good Enough

Corinne Colbert - Athens, Ohio
As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, June 4, 2007
Corinne Colbert

Writer and NPR listener Corinne Colbert knows her life isn’t perfect. But in a culture chasing what’s bigger, faster, and better, she believes it's okay to settle for--and appreciate--what you already have.

Age Group: 30 - 50
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My husband is not my best friend. He doesn’t complete me. In fact, he can be a self-absorbed jerk. We’re nearly polar opposites: He’s a lifetime member of the NRA who hates journalists, and I’m a lifelong liberal with a journalism degree. On the other hand, he doesn’t beat or emotionally abuse me. He doesn’t drink or chase other women. He’s a good provider. So I’m sticking with him.

Some people would call that “settling,” like it’s a bad thing. But I believe in settling.

According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary “To settle” means “to place in a desired state or order; to quiet, calm, or bring to rest; to make stable.” In short, it means that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Alas, too many of us buy into a different adage: that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. From movies to magazines to commercials, we’re told we should demand more from lives that are, for many of us, pretty good. We’re supposed to look better, eat better, find better jobs, be better lovers and parents and workers. A stable marriage isn’t enough; it’s supposed to be a fairy tale. Perfection is the goal.

But at what cost? Would I really be any happier if take up yoga and eat more soy? If my spouse wasn’t just my partner, but my soulmate? I doubt it.

Settling, in my sense, is about acceptance. I’m a pretty happy person, in large part because I’m honest with myself about what I have. My body isn’t bikini-worthy, but it’s healthy. I’ll never write for Rolling Stone as I once dreamed, but I am making a living as a writer. I yell at my sons and let them play too much GameCube, but I’m still a good mom.

Of course, some situations are worth improving. If your weight jeopardizes your health, exercise and change your eating habits. If your job makes you truly miserable, find a new one. If your marriage is toxic, end it. Chances are, though, you probably have what you need: a roof over your head, food on the table, a job that pays the bills, and family and friends. If you’re unhappy, ask yourself: Am I unhappy because I really don’t have what I need, or because I just want more?

So yes, I’m settling. Sure, I wish my husband would kiss me more often, tell me he loves me every day, and get as excited about my accomplishments as I do. Emptying the dishwasher without being asked and giving me unsolicited foot massages wouldn’t hurt, either.

All that would be nice, but it’s not necessary. I’m happy with my husband who, despite his flaws, is a caring father, capable of acts of stunning generosity and fiercely protective of his family. Thinking about him may not set me on fire as it used to, but after 17 years and two kids, our love is still warm. And I believe that’s good enough.

Newsletter writer Corinne Colbert lives with her family in Athens, Ohio. She is also president of her local parent-teachers organization, which often finds her talking with other mothers about their expectations of themselves and their marriages.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.