I have been married for over 50 years. Somewhere in the middle of that journey I left for a year and a half. I came back. Everyone marries a stranger, someone we think we know well until we start sharing the same space, breathing the same air, eating the same meals. Before long we ask ourselves, “who is this person?” Some have asked, “how did you stay married to the same person for a lifetime?” Here are my short answers to that question.
Love is never enough:
All that emotional and sexual energy which brought you together will change. In a long marriage it will always be there but will move backstage in this amazing marital drama. That energy will evolve into a spiritual glue; deep, subtle, often unspoken, less tangible. It will have to be nurtured to survive.
Surprise, surprise, your partner is far from perfect and is going to blow it sometimes, okay, maybe a lot. Well so are you. So you have a choice, you can do the blame game and carry that resentment around like a bunch of rocks, or you can set both of you free with the generous practice of forgiveness. Blame and resentment will grow like a cancer in your marriage, rob you of the joy you once had and create emotional insecurity in your children. Forgive the little things, forgive the big things and while you are at it, remember to forgive yourself.
Sometimes marriage is a lush well-watered beautiful, fruitful garden, sometimes it is a barren desert. Both are temporary. Many couples split during those barren times. They give up, stop trying, stop searching. I did but I came back. How to survive the desert? It’s the “better/ worse, richer/poorer, sickness/health, until death do us part” commitments made at the altar. There it is, the big C word, commitment. Your marriage, your family has more value than having your feelings met. Never stuff your feelings but sometimes we need to shelve them for a time and work on that relationship you were so excited about at the beginning.
Here are the toughest four words to describe a good marriage. You won’t like them. Ready?
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!! What if, think about it, what if your partner’s needs are more important than your own and yours more important than theirs? Here is the conflict, the only way you can effectively love and support your partner and children is to take care of yourself, to be confident, physically, and emotionally strong. To love them for a lifetime you must learn to love yourself. I used to tell kids in my classroom, “get yourself together then give yourself away.” Those four words have to be believed and practiced by both.
Not much to say here except that conflicts about money have blown up many good marriages. Look at the Money link, create and agree on a plan together. Find common ground on your priorities and know that both of you will blow it once in a while. Okay, maybe twice in a while.
What if, by some weird fluke of nature, you were no longer able to speak cruel, angry, blaming, or critical words to or about your partner. The only words left for you to use were encouraging, affectionate, and kind words. You could still honestly express your deepest feelings, deal with and even strongly disagree on events and issues, but the conflicts would be resolved much like getting your car repaired, or seeing a doctor. They are events you just have to work through without it becoming personal. Words will build or break a marriage. Never use them as bullets, use them as blessings. Words can be dangerous, choose them well.
If marriage is not about you then you won’t get your way all the time. Issues can sometimes become a subtle quest for power or a preservation of ego. Respect your partner’s abilities and interests as you develop your own. Your partner will mature and change over the years. So will you. Work on finding the ever-changing middle ground between you. Compromise is about sacrifice, never about winning as argument. Negotiate until both of you lose a little and gain a little.
Whoo, hoo, fun times in the sack. There are the first two or three years, then there is the rest of your life. As partners change so will sex. Talk about it. Remember, their needs and desires are more important than your own. Never ever use it as a bribe or abstinence as a threat. Experiment, laugh, and always accept your partner’s body for what it is, not some artificial ideal. If you cheat it could destroy your partner, your children, your career, your safety, your financial security and your own soul. No excuses, don’t cheat.
Habits and Peeves:
We all have behaviors, good and bad, healthy or not, even gross or not, and we have done them for such a long time we do without thinking. When you get married those habits become very visible to your partner, for better or worse. Their good habits might inspire you to examine your own. Their bad habits might gross you out. Talk about them. Speak the truth in love. Encourage each other to become the best versions of yourselves.
You will never know what love is until you hold that first child in your arms and look at that innocent face. Their life, physically, emotionally, morally, intellectually, creatively, and spiritually is in your hands. They will become a reflection of you by default as they watch and listen to you. And they will become the person you pro-actively teach, guide, challenge and discipline. They can become a successful, well-balanced adult in spite of you or because of you. They will make you proud, or they will embarrass you. It is completely up to you.
There is the religion thing: church, synagogue, mosque thing, and then there is true spirituality. They are not the same. Religion is about the “doing,” go to services, contributing time and resources to your chosen group. Spirituality is about a personal and private relationship with God. If you and your partner come from different backgrounds but choose to practice a religion you will need to have the “compromise/negotiate” conversations. Most religions will teach you and your children about good values: decency, respect, tolerance, generosity, self-control, and many more. If you are going to include religion in your marriage and family, find a place where both of you can grow spiritually.
Of course the money is important, but those hours spent working take away from time with your partner and your children. That is not a bad thing. We all have a need to do something in life outside of marriage and family that we can call our own, where we can make a contribution to society and provide for the needs of our family, something that gives us a sense of purpose. This is where setting priorities is critical. It is pretty simple, family first, then work. Work is very necessary for the wellbeing of your family, but too much work will erode the very relationships which are most important. It is a balance where negotiation, compromise and sacrifice are always present.