Recently, my husband and I celebrated our 10th anniversary together. Sometimes it seems like that whirlwind of our first year together is still fresh in my memory and other times, I can hardly remember what it was like to be that person!
I have been asked many times over the last decade how me “make it work”. I'm often met with the “wows” when I mention how long I've been with my husband. The divorce rates in our country are shockingly high (http://www.divorcerate.org/ ) so I guess it shouldn't surprise me that I get that reaction. But it does and it also makes me kind of sad. There is nothing in the world like having a strong marriage and it's something that I feel every couple deserves to have.
In our society today, there seems to this notion that a good marriage looks like a sitcom. You know what I mean, the idea that if it's “really real” all will be sunshine and cupcakes? That you'll wake up in love every day, that all arguments end with a heartwarming moral lesson and fabulous make-up sex? True love, according to apparent expectations, is all sparkles and roses. Here is where my readers would hear snorting if they could only “hear” my writing. PUHlease.
What a ridiculous load of crap. True love, marriage and everything that comes with it is hard work. Blood, sweat and tears hard work. My husband and I are not lucky, special or particularly gifted individuals. Nope. We are just committed to loving one another. I don't mean to make it sound as if it's a trivial thing; it's just that it's not terribly complicated. Simplicity and ease, however, do not necessarily go hand in hand. I am utterly thrilled with my marriage (most days, haha) but it hasn't always been that way and it wouldn't surprise me if, at some point in the future, I find myself questioning it again. See, I'm married to a person and that person, silly boy that he is, married me: another person. People are a pain in the ass, have you noticed?
Perhaps a good place to start with answering “what makes it work” is to define “True Love”. What the heck is true love, anyway? To be completely frank, if you are thinking of TWOO WUV, as perpetuated by Disney, it's a MYTH. True love isn't butterflies in the tummy (though they are nice) and it's not about knights in shining armor, good vs evil or pretty, pretty princesses that need rescuing. I'm sure many people have their own ideas about what true love really is so I'll just share mine and leave the definition open to comments. For me, true love between a man and a woman is completely impossible to put into words, lol. I will say that I knew it was real the first time I was so angry with my husband that I wanted, desperately, to bash his head in yet still couldn't imagine my life without him. I think what defines true love is the commitment. If it's not worth fighting tooth and nail for, it's not True Love. There's the butterflies-in-the-tummy love, which comes and goes along with hormonal surges and circumstances. I think it's fair to say that if that is NEVER present, we're in trouble. There is also the love that says, “I've picked your dirty socks up off the floor 16478980 times over the last 10 years and I will continue to do so, no matter how much it irritates me, because I love you”. Really, if that's not true love, I don't know what is!
Seriously, though, while the basic idea behind a healthy marriage (commitment) is simple, actually putting it into practice is anything but. I can't really say there is any one magic thing that will make a marriage work but there are a few things that most would agree are paramount to a healthy relationship. Those are communication, trust and a healthy sense of individuality.
I feel that trust and communication are two sides of the same coin. Without trust, there isn't any real communication and unfortunately, without communication it's nearly impossible (if not completely so) to build any trust. A friend of mine and I were talking a couple of weeks ago about this relationship that had sort of gone south for her. One of the things that was really bothering her was that her beau wouldn't really talk to her or open up about himself. I know that this is partly something that women are just more likely to do than men. We talk about everything! But men (at least in my experience) aren't as likely to open up and talk about how they feel and for most of us women that isn't cool. Why? Because we need to feel like he trusts US. It stands to reason that if someone won't open up to me, it's because they don't trust me enough to feel safe to do so. If a person doesn't trust me enough to be real with me, then I start to feel like maybe I shouldn't trust them, either. That's when communication utterly breaks down and when we're talking a marriage, well, a relationship like that isn't going to last. The flip side of this, though, is that women tend to broadcast their feelings in a myriad of ways, words being sort of at the bottom of the list. Yes, we talk. But we talk with our expressions, how we laugh, the way we tilt our head, hold our eyes or even how we smile.
In my marriage the feminine ability to “broadcast” with my whole body tends to get me into trouble because I find that I often expect him to just “get” what I want and when he's utterly clueless it frustrates me. I mean, it works with my “sisters”, right? My husband isn't one of my girlfriends so subtle communicators don't tend to register on his mandar. I have to be willing to take a deep breath, step back from my emotions and just talk plainly to him. One of my sisters made a good point to me, too: We can't expect him to just know what we want! No matter how badly I might want to just beam from my brain to his what it is I want or need him to do, it doesn't work.
She made another excellent point, regarding trust, that I have been musing on all day. She was talking about how being willing to just accept an apology even when she wants to make him pay (and we all struggle with this!) is a big factor in her marriage. It definitely is for me, too, and I suspect that it is for our husbands, as well. She made the point that intent is something we shouldn't loose sight of; we should be able to trust that our spouses aren't trying to hurt us or piss us off. I feel that we should also be willing to trust that our spouses really want to hear what we have to say and that they should be able to trust that the same is true of us. We see here, then, how trust and real communication are absolutely not mutually exclusive. Two sides, same coin.
What about that healthy sense of individuality? How does that fit into a marriage? Aren't the two supposed to become one? Isn't it all about creating a new family? Of course it is! Consider, though, an old-fashioned A-framed house. If the two main walls creating that house were smashed together in the middle, so that they touched from base to top, there wouldn't be a house, would there? Worse, the structure would just topple over and cease to be anything but a big mess. However, two strong, sturdy walls, tilted in towards each other, so that they “kiss” at the top, make a strong house. I think this principle holds true in a marriage. I think it's very important for each partner to have a strong sense of who they are without their partner because who they are all by themselves is all that they have to bring into their marriage. Not only that, but without a little self-preservation, one looses their sense of self and the marriage becomes suffocating. I think too many of us, men and women alike, forget that we love an individual. We didn't marry someone so that we could change them into us. They didn't marry us because we were them in a different package. Our individuality is what makes and keeps us interesting. I think accepting and being comfortable with my spouse having and interests of his own, that doesn't always include me, is another aspect of trust. I appreciate his tolerance of me doing the same, too. As such I never feel like I'm being squelched with him and I hope he feels the same. It hasn't always been that way. I think women are more prone to utterly freaking out over their man having a life of his own, particularly in the beginning of the relationship. For me, I was just afraid he'd leave. I had very little self esteem and was convinced he was settling and good God, what if he was out for hours because he secretly hates me?! Again with the trust,eh? I had to learn to trust, to let go. And when I did, lol, he was MUCH happier!
Thoughts? What makes your marriage/relationship strong?
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