Small Seeds of Hope: How We've Stayed Married
Let me say this at the beginning--ours is not a perfect marriage, by any means. We would never win a Most Amazing Couple of the Year award, or even Best Communicators in Charlottesville. We've both struggled in the marriage a lot at different times. But we are still married--and still in love--after 21 years (plus 9 years together before we got married). And in this day and age, that's rather remarkable.
My idea here is simply to share the things I think have helped us still be an "us"after all these years. But just a word before I go on. While I am quite old fashioned in my belief that marriage is meant to be a lifetime commitment, I am also very aware that there are toxic relationships and toxic people that one may need to leave behind. If there is verbal or physical abuse or violence, dishonesty, bullying, or two-timing, all bets--and all these suggestions--are off, as far as I am concerned. When these kinds of power distortions are present, the concepts I share here will--at best--not work, and at worst be used to further manipulate the less powerful partner. I expect these approaches and attitudes only work to strengthen a marriage if both partners are willing to be more fully present for the other, for themselves, and for the sake of the relationship, even if they do that tentatively or fearfully.
So, here's what has worked for us.
Humor. I am very thankful that we both have a good sense of humor, though in the early days it did not rise so easily as it does now. But humor, and the humility it engenders (so different from humiliation), has gotten us through a lot. I am so grateful that now, after all these years we are able to laugh pretty easily at our personal and relationship foibles. It does so much to lighten things up.
I am, of course, talking about shared humor here, not teasing someone in a nasty way or in an attempt to get the upper hand. That's another attempt at power mongering and is very unhealthy in my mind.
Playfulness. Certainly a cousin of humor, this can involve silly nicknames, goodnatured ribbing, little rituals, flirtation with each other, being willing to let loose and be childlike, even physical humor. One of my favorite professors told my Adult Development class about research which shows that this kind of playfulness is one indicator that a relationship is likely to last.
Please and thank you. This may sound a bit strange, but common courtesy is an important part of our marriage. A simple please, a remembered thank you, shows that we retain respect for each other, and don't take the other for granted. I've found that demands don't usually do much for marital harmony. Though I believe they do occasionally have their place--if one partner is consistently ignoring the expressed needs of the other, either consciously or unconsciously.
The illusion of the perfect romance. This may well be the most important of these principles for me. As I noted in an earlier post about the initial months of our relationship, I had a history of seriously obsessive fantasy relationships with men who weren't available as romantic partners. I bought into that shining ideal of the magical man, the magical relationship, that would make everything wonderful. At least in my imagined relationships. Although Hollywood and many other cultural institutions seem to be hellbent on driving the idea of the perfect relationship deep into our psyches, there is, in fact, no such thing. It is an illusion. It lures us onto the rocks of reality, then mocks us as fools for believing such an impossible idea. But I fell for it--again and again and again.
So I was incredibly grateful to read the following very powerful statement many years ago, written by people struggling with similar issues: We must constantly guard against the illusion of the perfect romance. This has been a clarion call for me, for years.
While I have--oh so thankfully--mostly recovered from that life-bruising illusion, it still raises its spectral head on occasion, reminding me to remain aware. Life is very imperfect. I am very imperfect. My husband is very imperfect. Any person I might ever, ever get involved with would be very, very imperfect. Don't attach illusory perfection to anyone, especially one who could conceivably be a romantic partner, in my mind or in reality. In this realm, the perfect is most certainly the enemy of the good.
Receiving. As I am sitting here writing this post, I can hear Lawrence outside mowing the lawn. That's fairly normal and reasonable. Except that he is mowing one of my areas. (It's a big, multifaceted lawn so we've divided it up into sections and split them as fairly as we can.) He knows that getting this blog out on time is important to me. And that rain is predicted for the next several days. And that I got a little overheated last time I mowed too much. In the past I might have rushed out, feeling guilty, and insisted he let me do it. But I know that, like me, he feels good when he gets to be generous, when I allow his generosity. I am also aware that it's scarier for me to receive than to give--I feel a lot more vulnerable. So I gulp a little and let him to give to me, as a way of honoring him and our relationship.
Well, I ended up writing almost twice as much as what I've shared here--I guess this topic is important to me! But in order to keep this to a reasonable length, I'm saving the rest for next time.
Dawn (and Lawrence)
Couple laughing, Pablo Merchan Montes, unSplash
Happily Ever After, unknown
Couple on bicycles, Everton Vila, unSplash
Dawn and Lawrence, by Andy Hawkes after the 2017 eclipse