Today is my anniversary! Twelve years ago, in front of a small group of loved ones on a gorgeous Saturday, I vowed my friendship and love to an amazing woman. Near the end of the vows, I said, “It is my intention to be with you forever….” That’s everyone’s intention, right? So, why does it seem so rare that people actually pull off this trick of staying married forever? Beyond that, why is it even more rare to stay happily married forever, with the friendship and love still flowing? Well, I’ve only been at it for twelve years, so I can’t claim any great expertise or mastery on the topic of a lasting marriage. But, at least at this point, it feels like we are ready to press on to our Forever, walking the Road of Life hand-in-hand. I sure hope so.
Marriage is a challenge. Whoever tells you otherwise is a liar. For almost everyone I meet, I can, within a few minutes, tell you about a dozen reasons why I would not want to be married to them. It is simply a challenge to live cohesively with someone for any extended period. It is why, for most of us, we love it when our friends or relatives come for a visit, but we also secretly love it when they leave.
And I am the worst. There is no way I could be married to me. I am spoiled. I hold everyone to very high standards. I am opinionated. I am stubborn. I am sure that I am always right. And, possibly most challenging in a marriage, I am hypersensitive; I take everything to heart. All of that makes for a combustible mix of “Difficult to Live With”. I would not wish me upon anyone. My wife, needless to say, is a saint.
I never thought I would marry. Before I met my wife, I was too blissful in my singlehood to think of marriage as an option. I just liked being alone and devoting my life to personal improvement: learning and growing spiritually and intellectually. I guess I thought marriage would stifle that learning and development. As it turns out, marriage has taught me a few things that no amount of book-learning or meditation ever could. For a guy who naturally prefers solitude, twelve years in a marriage—and nearly seven as a father—come with lessons that are only understood intellectually but never mastered, that must be re-learned and practiced every single day.
The first lesson that I practice—and fail at—every day is the importance of continuing to act like my partner’s best friend and biggest fan. I think so much of this lesson that when I was asked to officiate at my sister’s wedding a few years ago, I chose it as the main focus of my sermon. It is easy in the euphoric beginning to be the biggest fan and the best friend. The “in love” part is still in full effect, and the personality and behavioral idiosyncrasies—as well as their contrasting viewpoints on what cleanliness looks like, how much time with in-laws is enough, how to spend your money, what to watch on television, how frequently to have date night (and “date night”), where do your shoes go when you come inside, and how to raise children, to name a few—have not been in your face EVERY SINGLE DAY without pause. The challenge is to be able to pull off the “How would the biggest fan act?” and “How would a best friend act?” every day, even while swimming in the pool of all these potential triggers. The lesson I am learning—and trying to remind myself every day—is to ask those questions and be sure that I can answer with my head held high. It is a challenge.
Another daily challenge of a lesson for me in my super-sensitivity is to not take umbrage at every seeming slight or unfairness—“Why do I have to cook so often?” or “Why don’t you acknowledge me for all I do?” or “That comment was passive-aggressive”—because letting all of that stuff stick only makes you bitter and more thin-skinned the next time, as though you are always building a case against your partner. Building a case against them—just like “keeping score” on the dishes or the cleaning or the gifts—is a recipe for disaster. It only makes you more resentful, and only makes them more defensive and distrusting, seeing your love as conditional. I am all for communicating your needs and letting your partner know when they have hurt you—I need to work on that one rather than writing it in my journal—but I have definitely come to see what a terrible waste of energy it is to hold onto every little grievance, or even to take them seriously. Choosing every one makes you a constant victim and makes your partner feel like they can’t do anything right. Neither of those roles is fun to play.
One role that is good to play is Yourself. I am learning—and trying to put into practice—the lesson to let your partner be who they are, even the stuff you would rather change. Challenge them, sure, and help them see if they are being destructive, but sometimes you just have to understand that they aren’t there for you to mold them. Just love them and accept them. Affirm that you love unconditionally. Feed whatever parts work for you while still accepting the rest.
Probably the greater lesson that binds these other lessons together—and actually bonds each of our individual lives together—is the supreme importance of CHOICE in all of this. You have to CHOOSE the right attitude, CHOOSE to be forgiving, CHOOSE to be a fan, CHOOSE to not be petty or snarky. It seems way easier to let a marriage drift into unloving, spiteful oblivion—which I believe it would do if left to its own devices—than it is to CHOOSE to do the daily work of cooperating, forgiving, and supporting. But what do you want? You have to do the things—CHOOSE the things—that get you what you want. If you want marriage to work, CHOOSE to do the things that make it work. Of course, it still requires your partner choosing to do the same, but start with yourself. You have control of that much.
Yes, as a grizzled veteran of twelve years in the marriage game—were those the easy dozen or the difficult dozen???—my takeaways seem to come down to some really simple concepts: appreciation, forgiveness, acceptance, and the absolute necessity of choosing the right attitude. Hey, those sound like my takeaways from LIFE! Oh, what a tangled web we weave. In the end, good principles transcend all institutions and never go out of style. I can only hope that I have the fortitude to keep these lessons front and center for all of my days to come. If I can do that, I can earn my “happily ever after”.
How about you? What lessons do you take from your most intimate relationship? Open up your journal and dive deep into what makes it go and what makes it stall out. How equal is your partnership? If you had to name a percentage, how much of the load do you feel like you are carrying when it comes to keeping the relationship going? How much of the physical load (e.g., keeping up the house, taking care of kids, etc.)? How about the emotional load? Financial? Is one of you clearly the rock, or does that role get passed back and forth depending on the situation? How long have you been in this relationship? If you had to guess, is it going to last until death do you part? How confident are you in that guess, and what dictates that level of confidence? How good of a job do you do at being your partner’s biggest fan? How about their best friend? Are you doing better or worse at it now than you used to? If worse, why do you think it turned? What can you do to better act like the biggest fan and best friend? How sensitive are you to perceived slights by your partner? How much do you feel like you are keeping score against them and building a case? Does that serve you in any positive ways? How well do you do at allowing your partner to be themselves? How consistent are you in the attitude you choose for the day? Do you usually go more positive and forgiving, or do you tend toward the negative and unforgiving side? What principles guide your relationship? How is that working out for you? If you could choose other principles—(hint: you can!)—what would they be? Do you think it’s up to you how long and strong your relationship goes? What’s your prediction? Beyond just lasting, what have you learned about how to make it happy? Leave me a reply and let me know: What have you learned, and how far is that going to take you?
Go and love,