My husband and I just celebrated our twenty-third wedding anniversary in July, and it is crazy to me that the time has gone by so fast! I certainly don’t feel old, but when I perused back through our wedding album a few weeks ago and saw how young we looked, I couldn’t deny that we are now much older and quite a bit more wizened than we were back then.
Like any other couple, over the years, my husband and I have worked hard to build a life together, and as in any marriage, there have been times when it has been far from easy. During the tough times there were many opportunities when one or both of us could have thrown in the towel, and admittedly a few times we almost did. The good news is that our marriage has also been tempered with many happy times, too, as well as help in the form of many blessings along the way that have made the really hard stuff much more tolerable to endure.
Looking back now at the pictures from our wedding day, I can say that like most young couples, we certainly had large helpings of ignorance, idealism, and naivety in our youthful relationship recipe. Challenges such as infertility, job losses, economic setbacks, and illness are all part of the long list of what has schooled us on our journey together.
Kat’s experience, though she is a fictional character, is not unusual. I know several couples who have looked up and seen each other clearly again for the first time after over two decades of raising the kids, and said, “Now what?!” I am not going to lie: it can be tough to remember, after years of focusing on raising children, building careers, and paying student loans, car payments, and mortgages, why we fell in love with our partners in the first place. I have often had times when I needed to consciously stop and remind myself that my husband is not just my coworker and we are not just trying to bang out a twenty year plus group project together; that he is actually someone who I knew and enjoyed long before little humans, who can at times seemingly suck their parents dry, showed up on the scene.
Four years ago, when writing A Good Kind of Crazy, I often found myself contemplating what makes some marriages work, while others fell apart. Kat thought that she and James had a good marriage, and their life together had been fairly steady and predictable. She and James seemed to get along, enjoy the same things, and have common goals. Even so, before James’ infidelity came to light, Kat knew that she felt unfulfilled, as though she had lost herself along the way. Nevertheless, she would have never fathomed that her anxiety about not knowing who she was anymore would have ever culminated into everything she had worked hard to build coming crashing down around her, nor that was what it would take in order to rediscover herself.
When I first realized that my husband and I were entering into our twenty-third year of marriage, I have to admit that I spent a good deal of the year waiting with bated breath. I had no reason to feel any more vulnerable during this past year, except for being superstitious: I wrote a book in which the main characters divorced at this point in their marriage, and I know that sometimes life can be stranger than fiction. Therefore, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would discover that I had somehow unwittingly foretold my future by writing A Good Kind of Crazy, as if my existence would suddenly become a case of life imitating art.
Even with our paltry twenty-three years of marriage compared to the really pro couples like both my husband’s, as well as my own parents, for example, who have made it to fifty years and beyond, some people do sometimes ask us how we have made this far, especially with all the difficult terrain we have traversed together through the years. It never fails, though, that every single time I am confronted with this question I feel woefully inadequate: I should know the answer why neither of us have thrown up our hands and slammed out the front door, but I don’t. All I know is that it hasn’t been for lack of opportunity, I can say that much.
Every time someone poses that question to me, however, I know that I can say that friendship and mutual respect are both imperative components to the answer. While important, even those aren’t always enough, as I know other couples who had that, too, and it wasn’t a guarantee.
Nevertheless, knowing that my husband and I were quickly approaching the same milestone year that Kat and James were in when everything fell apart for them, I felt compelled to write something helpful and good about marriage to perhaps combat the crazy “What ifs?” that would creep into my mind. Thankfully, my dear friend, Ms. Joanna Ortega, fellow author, as well as owner of the company Every Day First Class, has been much better at analyzing the data behind the “How?” and “Why?” some marriages survive for the long haul than I have, along with many other helpful tips about how to get the most out of this experience we call life, and so I knew she was the perfect person to tackle this issue as a guest on this particular blog post on the subject.
Just as a little background, on her website, http://www.everydayfirstclass.com, Ms. Ortega clearly states that her organization is “…committed to helping you learn to expect, demand and receive quality in every area of your life. By elevating your life on the inside and the outside, you can truly begin to live the life of your dreams, starting today. You don’t need anyone’s permission to live your best life now. It all comes down to your daily decisions. If you can learn to make better choices, many of the hassles you deal with on a day to day basis will start to take care of themselves. You don’t have to live a pattern of letting yourself down. You don’t have to settle. If you’re ready to say goodbye to mediocrity and start living the good life now, Everyday First Class is here to help. Better thoughts, better attitude, better choices, better every day. Join me in living a life of classy bliss!”
So, without further ado, please allow me to present some of the keys to a successful and fulfilling marriage Every Day First Class Style.
“What’s your secret?”
Couples who have been married for forty, fifty, even sixty years or more are often asked this question. What is the secret sauce that holds them together? In a time and place where divorce is common, even in longer term marriages, what is the magic that lets them weather the storms of life as a team? What makes a marriage truly a First Class experience?
While I endeavor to be happily married for that long (to the same person), my husband and I have only been married for eighteen years. But during that time we’ve noticed some things that do seem to make us different than couples we’ve known who have split up during this time. We collectively scratch our heads when people talk about how hard marriage is and how you have to fight for it. Why does this come so easy to us?
While I believe that “secret sauce” is going to be a little different for everyone, here are some factors I believe are part of the common denominator for any marriage to both last and to be happy. I’ve concluded that it’s not fiery passion or partner worship (you do not have to be Morticia and Gomez Addams). Instead, it’s the boring stuff; it’s the little daily things that make the difference.
A basis in friendship. Yawn. Everyone says this, right? Many couples claim to be best friends, then the next thing we know the relationship is over. What does it really mean to have a romantic relationship with its foundation on friendship?
For us, it means we make each other laugh. We have enough common interests to keep a conversation going all day long if we wanted, but silence is just as comfortable. My husband is the first person I want to share good news with. We celebrate together. We are tired together. We share the burden of life without ever blaming one or the other for any challenge. But most of all, we trust each other. If you cannot trust your partner (not just in sexual fidelity but in other ways as well) it will put a strain on the relationship that I do not believe can be successfully overcome long-term. True friends are always on the same side – a team of two.
Because we are friends, one of us is always willing to give in to the other in a conflict. If something is really important to him, I’ll relent. If he knows I’m passionate about this or that, he lets me have my way. The big problems show up in a relationship when being right becomes more important than being happy and neither party will defer to the other, or when only one partner is always the one giving in. Without balance, the teeter totter ceases to give joy to the riders.
Mutual Respect and common courtesy. Our society has become increasingly casual (in my opinion maybe a little too much so) and a lot of that attitude has been incorporated into our romantic relationships as well. It has creeped in to the extent that we seem to take each other for granted and lose the little things that are reminders that yes, this person does still value my presence.
It’s incredible to me how rude some couples are to each other. I’m not talking about playful banter or teasing, I mean straight up I-wouldn’t-treat-a-line-jumping-stranger-that-bad rude. My husband and I were once told that we didn’t have a “real relationship” because we didn’t straight up rip farts in front of each other without so much as a “brace yourself” to prepare the other person. While this may produce a fair amount of hilarity in a family setting (especially if you have little boys) being polite with your partner matters.
It’s the basics: please and thank you. Would you like a drink while I’m up? I know you got to bed late so I took care of the kids so you could sleep. You’ve had a rough week – let me do the cooking tonight. What can I do to help you? These simple demonstrations of respect and consideration are worth a whole garden full of roses, and they don’t cost a thing.
We have our own things. The first time I entered my future husband’s home, I was blown away by all the things we had in common. From his love of renaissance style anything to owning cats to all the CDs I saw in his music collection that I also had, it seemed we were two peas in a pod. But even though we had many common interests at first and then developed some of our own together, we still have our own things that are just for us.
My husband is a night owl and I own the morning. He loves online gaming with family and friends around the world and I’d rather learn something new with an e-course. He reads science fiction and fantasy and I dig a good self-help book. Again, I think striking a balance is key. Not enough together time can tax the bonds of any relationship, but familiarity can breed contempt.
In the same way, there’s no confusion about which of us is doing what job at home. Barring extreme circumstances, I do the dishes and he takes out the trash. If something needs fixed (especially one computer related), it’s his job, while I handle the finances and manage the family schedule. When we know and stick to what we each do best, teamwork really does make the dream work.
We are a team, but even on a team each player has their own job to do. It’s okay to not do everything together, and even better when you know exactly what to expect in the division of labor.
We finish each other’s sentences but we don’t read minds. My husband and I crack each other up when we are sitting in silence for a while and then one of us randomly says, “Oh, did you get that taken care of last week?” And the other somehow knows exactly what they mean without any meaningful context. We are just tuning into the same psychic radio station, the same station that makes us laugh at the same stupid jokes before we even get to the punch line.
Even with the ESP that comes with a long term relationship, our brains are not actually one in the same. It’s more of a Venn diagram, with me, him and the overlapping part in the middle where we are connected in a sometimes freaky way. It’s important to remember the other pieces – the parts that are uniquely me and uniquely him. That overlapping part is not 100% of the equation. Those other pieces do not talk to each other on their own and that requires us to use our other communication skills.
Many marital problems come about because we expect our partner to be a total mind reader. This is very detrimental, and this was a lesson we had to learn the hard way. Once we understood that our assumptions were not correct and mind reading was not part of each other’s skill sets, it was time to start talking. Now we get the importance of stating our expectations and needs, even if it’s awkward. More often than not, the honesty is appreciated and the information used appropriately.
If my husband asks me what I want for my birthday and I tell him I want a bottle of port and a two-hour bath, I am not disappointed when he doesn’t show up with a dozen roses and sapphire earrings. He gets me a nice bottle and takes our son to the game store while I chillax in a bubble bath all afternoon. Women are often the worst at this, expecting that our spouse “just know” what we really want. I recommend telling him what you want and saving him the stress of trying to perform a magic act and pull exactly what you want out of a hat. This works both ways – go easy on each other.
Marriage can be the most wonderful blessing of your life, or the most miserable curse. By remembering friendship, courtesy, managing expectations and having good open communication, your relationship can truly become – or get on the road to – a First Class Marriage.
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