Marrying the wrong person?

30 per cent of women get married to the wrong person, knowingly

US social worker and writer Jennifer Gauvain in her Huffington Post column recently wrote that 30 per cent of women ‘‘dated and eventually married the wrong guy’’.

She sent a survey to divorced women, asking: ‘

‘Did you know you were making a mistake as you were walking down the aisle?’’

Within days their in-boxes were jammed as close to 1000 women gave detailed accounts about why they knowingly dated and eventually married the wrong guys.

These were some of the reasons: ‘‘The self-imposed biological clock is starting to tick a little louder.’’ ‘‘Marriage will make the relationship better.’’ ‘It’s my last chance to get married and no one else will come along.’’

‘‘If it doesn’t work out I can always get a divorce.’’

And a lot of women make the same mistake the second time around, too, motivated by loneliness, fear, physical needs, or the difficulty of bringing up kids alone.

I’m pondering all this now as a divorced woman. My current partner and I have been together quite a while but have only just taken the plunge of moving in, which is a de facto marriage after all. Why do I think it would be different this time? It’s not like he couldn’t be ‘‘the wrong guy’’. There are enough issues to sink us: step-kids, ex’s, two very different cultures to navigate.

There are co-dependencies — things I make him do that I should do, and vice versa. There are the usual teething problems when lovers move in. ‘‘Oh! You look like THAT in the morning?’’

But I’ve grown to realise that ‘‘wrong’’ in relationships is a state of mind. Expectation has a lot to do with it. I’ve changed. I don’t have the peachy views of a 29-year-old. Also, we are not growing kids together — rather, getting our own through their last teenage years, and we will soon have freedom for frivolity. Finally, we’ve worked on ourselves and can say things like ‘‘I’m sorry I’m putting my stuff on you’’ or ‘‘I take responsibility for causing that’’. Yes, we really do! Thirty years of therapy between us and you’d kinda hope there’d be some self-awareness.

But, most importantly, there’s gratitude. We had both been alone a long time. We both like the joy of two. And we’re both grateful for the love. Maybe that’s the key to relationship success. Knowing the truth. No one is going to be right, not really. But if you don’t make them wrong, then you’ve married the right person.

I’ve also always reckoned that if you are happy 35 per cent of the time; average 35 per cent of the time and unhappy 30 per cent of the time, that’s the right combo 70 percent is  a good.

What’s your view?

Post in comments below



36 Responses to Marrying the wrong person?

  1. Anthony Wilson 6 September 2016 at 9:24 pm #

    Dear Ruth

    It isn’t often that one can pinpoint a moment in one’s life which had a profound and lasting impact. However, rereading your book from 1992 “The way we are” and some of the articles from the anthology of articles contained within, I can distinctly identify things I did and felt as a result of your experiences. I remember going to one of your working group discussions in the University of WA shortly before moving to New York in 1994. And today after coming home to Perth to bury my mother, I found myself walking around my now unrecognizable city and quoted you as you did TS Elliot. I have a close friend just turning 30 and I try to convey to her as much as possible about your grass is greener experience with your friend Lisa at the time. Thank you for the consistent life insights you bring.

  2. nomadd 3 February 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    I have never cried out for comfort or help and I have led a very adventurous life with many hardships.
    I am an atheist and don’t believe in God, you have to solve your own problems in life by whatever means possible.
    Both my parents who lived and died in the UK died in bed whilst fast asleep and I expect the same to happen to me. I have never been ill or sick at any time in my life.
    I believe the mind controls all health and the solving of any illnesses – negative thoughts produce ill health, sweep all such thoughts into the vastness of space, and make your mind think positive every minute of the day.
    Even when things seem blackest, just jump out of the frying pan into the fire and start again.
    I am a fatalist and accept whatever is thrown at me for a challenge, because I am an adventurist and nothing in this universe frightens me.
    Of course death must come, so what? Its no big deal. Here today, gone tomorrow.
    I want no sobbing when I do die, nor any remembrances. My body can be thrown to the sharks for all I care.

  3. Dismayed 29 October 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    Why are people looking for someone? Perhaps we should look within first, become happy with ourselves then if something or someone comes along, go with it. I cant help but think people who are looking for something dont like what they see in the mirror and believe it will be easier with a crutch/partner. Give me a strong independent thinker over needy anyday.

  4. Ruth Ostrow 12 October 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    Thank you Bryan for such a lovely and moving letter. I am sorry for your loss; and very happy to hear that you have a wonderful supportive relationship now

  5. Lucy 12 October 2011 at 2:26 am #

    Oh, and I don’t agree with the poppycock Geoff has written about love. It is full of human faults and failings and always under stress, always growing and changing. That’s the mystery and the one I’m happy with. No rhetoric please!!

  6. Lucy 12 October 2011 at 2:24 am #

    Oh, these comments have been so interesting. The 82 year old man who is travelling around Australia in a campervan and resented his anchor family preventing him from living in France!! Very honest comments, but I want to hear from him when his health becomes frail and he’s confined to the loneliness of infirmity. Please keep in touch with us, sir!! Family is an anchor, yes, but one we gladly attach because it brings us such love, joy and unconditional love. To me, this is what makes the world worthwhile and I live in Europe away from mine!!

  7. Bryan Grinton 12 October 2011 at 12:12 am #

    I am a man who “knowingly” married the wrong person. I was married for 25 years, had 4 kids and then my wife left me. Thanks to friends (female and some male) who listened to my grief, and a poem I wrote based on your articles in the Australian I recovered and unexpectadly met my true love. We have been married almost 6 years now and have been through horrendous pain with the death of my 18 year old daughter and other difficulties that seem insignificant now. We are totally happy. I didn’t really “knowingly” marry the wrong person at the time. I had doubts but had never experienced true love at the age of 19 and got caught up in the expectations of the times(1970’s)

  8. nomadd 10 October 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    I think the new age for women – feminism has left women in some ways in a worse position, since many men can now have their cake and eat it, without any commitment, and judging by the daily news this is happening.
    I have used the internet dating sources and have found that many educated women are not able to find a partner, nor marriage because most men do not want an educated woman, in fact many men resent their woman being educated.
    I am not at all like this and prefer educated women. Nevertheless, because of this I find that I can date women 20 years younger than myself with ease. Yet in my youth I was not able to do this.
    Despite this I very much support feminism as I think men have dominated this planet for thousands of years and have created a gigantic mess of this world today.
    Feminism will take generations to develop and become the norm, and naturally, men will resist this change for a long time to come.
    Eventually, I hope the future will be women from all countries, even Afghanistan, taking the lead and attempting to run and rule this world.
    Very often I notice that it is the women who divorce, whereas men seem to become shattered by this event and fall apart in disarray.
    In my situation I divorced my wife and marched on into the future with confidence, feeling no remorse whatsoever.

  9. Ruth Ostrow 9 October 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    I admire them too, but although I am “nomadic”I like the company of a companion. It makes my life feel richer.

  10. Ruth Ostrow 9 October 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    Thanks Theo very warm and touching words

  11. Theo 9 October 2011 at 10:56 pm #

    I’m always in a joyful state when I see a couple holding hands as they walk together, or hear about mutual love, or read a story like yours. Love is blissful and happy.
    I’ve been in love in the past, and the memories of it still give me great pleasure.
    Would I have known in my early life your dictum “even people who appear wrong can be right if we change our attitude”, my life would have taken a different turn.
    I’m still in love, but just in a different way.
    At the present I’m living alone and have been for a few short years. The tribulations and moments of contentment are perhaps different but as intense as in a relationship. I just have to work through them and enjoy every minute of it. Loving everybody helps me in my few moments of loneliness. And there is no jealousy associated with this universal love. It is one of many ways of enjoying my life at the present.
    Ruth, I would like to thank you for sharing your love. It is beautiful and always precious.
    All the best in your new adventure.

  12. Geoff 9 October 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    I’m sure we’d all like to be happy 100% of the time. But that probably isn’t a realistic expectation. Hell I’d settle for 99% 🙂

    Seems to me Ruth you’ve mixed things up here. One’s happiness shouldn’t (and doesn’t) depend on having a partner or being married.

    Love and marriage are not necessarily co-dependent. One doesn’t always lead to the other. The “happily ever after” fairytale, is just that. Something we aspire to, but nothing more. After all, in many cultures, love was not and is not a prerequisite to marriage.

    One can love and not consider marriage.

    One can survive a marriage breakdown, find love again and yet not want or expect marriage should automatically follow. Once bitten… so to speak. That doesn’t mean one is cynical about love, ever after, either.

    Love and marriage are different things. Just as love and lust are different things.

    Love is patient, love is kind.

    It does not envy, it does not boast,

    It is not proud.

    It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,

    It is not easily angered,

    It keeps no record of wrongs.

    Love does not delight in evil

    But rejoices with the truth.

    It always protects, always trusts,

    Always hopes, always perserveres.

    This quote from Corinthians is as good a measure as any (better than most) for those unsure if they are in love.

    I’m sure we all know that love does not require and engagement or a marriage to express itself fully.


    Love is the most powerful of all the emotions
    Friend and enemy
    It can leave you walking on air or drowning in the depths of desperation.
    As easily as it can light up your soul, it can rip out your heart and leave it abandoned, alone, yet still pathetically beating on the ground.

    Love is invisible.
    You can’t see it coming, you can’t see it go.
    It comes unannounced and unexpected.
    When it leaves, it always leaves a mark.

    It’s fickle and true.
    Can colour your life rosy with the warmth of happiness or turn it blue with cold stark sad emptiness.
    There is no halfway with love.
    You either embrace it or you don’t.

    Love can give you life, but love can also kill you.
    Without a blink, without hesitation, it will strike like a blow from a Blacksmiths hammer, on white-hot iron.
    It will reforge you.
    The strong and malleable survive, whilst the weak and fragile perish.

    The most painful love is unrequited.
    Sometimes it and the suffering it causes go unnoticed.
    Sometimes it leads to; scorn, rejection, disdain and ridicule.
    This love is merciless.

    Love is not sex.
    Physical desire is not love.
    Lust has many partners but Love has only room for one.
    It is demanding giving obsessive committed.

    Whereas marriage is a legal (sometimes religious) agreement /commitment joining 2 people in a partnership. Sometimes it encompasses love, sometimes love grows within it, sometimes it diminishes, but it is not caused by it.

    So the question of selecting the “wrong” partner for it is rather a moot one as both partners continue to change throughout their entire life. It takes more than love to make a marriage work.

  13. nomadd 9 October 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Hi Ruth, Glad to see you back with creative writing.
    I am a divorced male and I have no desire to ever get married again, nor do I wish to live with someone.
    I am perfectly happy living by myself, as I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. No more debating what to do.
    I am 82 now and when I look back I should never have got married in the first place as I love to mov e my abode constantly, and hate living in one place.
    Shortly I will once again travel around Australia with a camper trailer, a week here, and a week there.
    I resented being married with children as I was stuck in Australia, in reality I wanted to go back to Europe and live in France, my favourite country.
    In general I think women want something they can’t have, like family, relatives and security.
    In fact the best life is insecure and with never knowing what will happen next, because this makes life interesting.
    The Western worlds men and women are very unhappy, far too much security. I admire those souls who sail around the world solo, with daunting adventures, and terrifying futures.

  14. Servaas Hofmeyr 8 October 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    “No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that – even those brought up “in the Church”. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it. When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only–. Hence divorce, to provide the ‘if only’. And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst teh total possible chances, he ought most profitabely to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstances do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments,or His appearances.)” – JRR Tolkien in a letter to his son in 1941.

  15. Lucy 8 October 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    I was very interested in the comments of Part Time Parent. Getting a man to commit? Men have always ‘committed” over the centuries. The difference today? Sex on tap, without anything in return, no responsibilities, no love, no nothing. It ain’t rocket science. Why would you buy a cow and moo yourself? Consequences….

  16. lilian 8 October 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    Hi Ruth what a controversial article on marriage, things have certainly changed over the years. Good luck to you and your partner, you deserve it. I have lots of views on the subject, but will write them down so I remember in my next blog. thanks again for so much food for thought.

  17. Ruth Ostrow 8 October 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Hi all, I was single for a long time, both before my marriage, and again afterwards. And I agree it is very hard to find someone who ticks all the boxes. That’s why I think it is much more to do with attitude rather than perfection, acceptance not only of the other person, but also of ourselves.

  18. john 8 October 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    surely, living together is not the same as marriage. a committed relationship has to have more meaning than living together. marriage should involve a combined vision. but surely if you got together in the first place there was some attraction, so now the relationship needs to be forged. looking to input into relationship works for me, married 20 years with 7 kids.

  19. Spike 8 October 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Ruth, Good luck in your relationship. Statistically, the odds are stacked against you and your partner, but it’s still possible. My tip: always have realistic expectations.

    I was fortunate enough to marry well when I was still in my early twenties and am still so, kids in high teens. My wife and I both come from cultures that, although different, prepared young people for marriage. I feel this is missing in the modern western world and can’t be achieved by formal education. Here , wider society (extended family, churches, other social groups) definitely play an important role.

  20. Name (required) 8 October 2011 at 11:40 am #

    Gees Ruth, I never miss your column
    I love your work!!
    Other great column/opinion… cannot wait for next week

    Wishing you all the best

  21. Chris W 8 October 2011 at 10:29 am #

    30%, that doesn’t surprise. You have to feel doubly sorry for those poor men…
    If only women (and to a lesser degree, men) would enter relationships out of love and not selfishness.

  22. PartTimeParent 8 October 2011 at 9:55 am #

    The hard thing is GETTING A MAN TO COMMIT.

    City offices are full of single 30 and 40-something women, Men are staying well away.

    Every man knows what happens in divorce and he knows that with today’s ’empowered’ woman, that a world of pain that follows commitment.

    Wander around Kings Cross on a Friday or Sat night and you see many hen’s nights, but never a bucks night! Why? Because when a man commits, his friends don’t celebrate, they say “Are you really sure mate?”

    The tragedy is that 40 years of feminism has tipped the balance away from ‘fair’ so that men don’t want commitment. Consequently women have to pick one of the few ‘puppy-dog-boys’ willing to commit, or face a childless, lonely life.

  23. Howe Synnott 8 October 2011 at 8:13 am #

    The origins of a good relationship start in childhood, of course – well before you meet your partner. The ‘sense’ of how to have a successful relationship – which, amongst other things, requires ongoing effort and a genuine preparedness to compromise and ‘let go’ of one’s preferences and not to harbour resentments. However, for some particular personality types, there can never be an enduring and happy relationship. Their very nature precludes it.

  24. Lucy 8 October 2011 at 2:06 am #

    Ruth, you do look happy and I envy you – embarking on a new love affair is just wonderful: it’s what we all want!! But I think the person who said that love is not logical is spot on!! Oh, yes, how often has this happened to me – and I’ve been married nearly 40 years. I’ve fallen in love seriously 4 times during my long marriage, but these have never amounted to anything except huge pain for me. I freely discuss this with others, even my husband who says, “don’t get so emotionally involved”. But that, in itself, is a simplistic response. I would like you to explore, Ruth, the idea of why some people fall in love all the time and others don’t. That would be interesting too. Best wishes, Lucy.

  25. Ruth Ostrow 7 October 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    Yes that’s me, in love.

  26. Berry 7 October 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    Is that you Ruth? You look so happy!

  27. Ruth Ostrow 7 October 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    Yes, the statistic should include men. We all make the same errors of judgement due to loneliness and fear. But as I write in my article in The Australian, even people who appear wrong can be right if we change our attitude to things.

  28. Ruth Ostrow 7 October 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    It means you should go into counselling and see if you can do better as a couple

  29. Ruth Ostrow 7 October 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    Yes I answered that above. You have to look at the general way you feel most of the time when trouble is not at your door.

  30. Ruth Ostrow 7 October 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    Yes it’s not an exact science. But I guess I mean the majority of time, not taking into account life conflicts that clearly destabilise everything

  31. Accepting 7 October 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    I don’t think anyone is right. Its our attitude to ourselves and to life that creates good or bad relationships. We’ve been married 60 years and been grateful for each other every day of our lives. But then again we married in the days when people were more content, not always looking over the fence to greener grass.

  32. Selwyn 7 October 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    I thought it was right, she thought it was right. Everyone else told us it was wrong. They were right! We were wrong. Ahhh the beauty of hindsight.

  33. Lanny 7 October 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    Funnily I agree that you can’t make such blanket statements. We’ve just gone through a rough patch because our teenage child has been very rebellious and we have been fighting constantly about discipline issues. But now we are all close again. How can you gauge percentages when life is an ever shifting game? Loved the blog though. Looking forward to reading tomorrow.

  34. Meredith 7 October 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    Re your scale. It is logical. But love is not logical and you don’t seem to specify. I was never happy when my partner was suffering depression, so it was 10 per cent okay and 90 per cent terrible for a couple of years. But he is good now, and has been for a long time, and its good 90 per cent of the time. I think when there are troubled times, we have to stay and offer support as we want it in return. So you are being too simplstic.

  35. Unsure 7 October 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    I am happy 50/ 50 what does that mean?

  36. Sejan 7 October 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    Hi again Ruth,
    Seems to me that it isn’t just women who marry the wrong men. The divorce rate is very high, 40 per cent and so that would imply that lots of men also made a mistake, and probably knew it too. I am divorced, but I think we know secretly that maybe the person isn’t perfect. We just think that love will conquer all.

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