Every marriage goes through cycles. The truth is, you’ll never be able to stop working at making it work… but eventually, the work will seem much less like work because doing the things that make your marriage successful will begin to come naturally. The worst thing married people can do is lose themselves to other roles — especially parents. Losing yourself to your work, other obligations, or even the titles of “mommy” or “daddy” allows the life you committed to sharing with your spouse to become something other than your own and out of your control as a couple.
In denying yourself separation from the career identity, parenting identity, or other roles you occupy, you’re sacrificing the most essential part of marriage – the ability to be selfish (yes, it’s important to value your own desires!) and the ability to focus on your spouse and their desires. Life starts revolving around goals and deadlines that don’t involve your significant other. Diapers and midnight feedings… carpools, laundry, grocery shopping, scheduling, planning, budgeting, working, juggling… homework, playdates, parties, school projects… you both start to compromise your place in each other’s lives in order to make room for the abundance of other things.
After a while, you grow accustomed to dedicating all of your limited free time to business or PTA meetings, colleagues and bake sales, awards day ceremonies, and ensuring that everything remains in place so that all your plans to create the best possible place for yourself professionally and/or securing the future for your kids. Anyone want to tell me what is sexy, sensual, or seductive about any of that? I thought not.
When we give up parts of ourselves to other responsibilities to the point where they take priority over the relationship we have with our spouses, the old spontaneity dies. More importantly, the attention that you give to one another dies. The excitement you once had quickly goes missing. Nothing is fresh; nothing is new… and you fall into a mundane state of just simply “being” together instead of really BEING TOGETHER. The dissatisfaction of an ordinary existence starts to create resentments and perhaps even regrets — dealing with emotional, financial, or compatibility hardships take you to a place where you’re simply building memories you’d rather forget along the way. Eventually, every couple hits that wall where all of the frustrations and stresses just make staying together not seem worth the trouble anymore.
In our case, however, it happened to be those same exact things that convinced us that what we had was worth fighting for… it was all the things that made us want to give up that actually made us realize how much we meant to each other; how much we never wanted to let go. The turning point for us was the prospect of losing something we didn’t realize we had until we had to consider not having it anymore.
How do we stay interested in one another after nearly 15 years of marriage and over 18 years of being together? There are a few very simple answers to that question:
- We make time for each other. Notice I didn’t say find time. I said MAKE time.
- We consider one another.
- We are honest with one another.
- We communicate with one another.
There is no perfect marriage because there are no perfect people. We do fail sometimes to do even some of these things that we know are KEY to our marital happiness and success as a couple because we are HUMAN, but we make it a point to ensure that we at least maintain our focus. We try. When he says he wants to spend time with me, I don’t say I have something to finish up if it’s something I can actually put off until later. I stop and I give him my attention. The same goes for him. When I ask him to do something for me, he doesn’t make excuses. What it boils down to is that we do not allow anything else to overshadow our responsibility to each other.
We don’t sacrifice our marital happiness by forgetting that we each have needs. Mine are mostly emotional; his are mostly physical – that is just how we tick. Other couples may be different – it’s up to each person to learn their spouse and understand what their particular needs are. Making what is important to one another our top priority means that neither of us feel neglected. As simple as that is, it took us YEARS to figure out. Why? Because when we complained it nearly always ended in one – or both – of us getting defensive. His most frequently voiced complaint about me was that I was married to my computer — I work online and I easily become engulfed in my business. Mine was that he was married to himself and he wanted what HE wanted when HE wanted it, which bugged me. In reality, I did spend entirely too much time working and he wouldn’t communicate with me when he wanted to spend time with me – he would just expect me to know and then wait until he was extremely annoyed before communicating his displeasure through being an asshole, which of course always led to an argument.
We both felt like regardless of whether it was the kids or our own ambitions, “life” was seeming to choke the life out of our communication and taking all of our time and attention. So we decided something had to change. ALL of it had to change. The endless cycle was killing our intimacy and making both of us miserable, resentful, and doubtful about our future together. At times I’m sure we both questioned how we ended up being together when we seemed to not be compatible at all. The truth was that it had nothing to do with compatibility and everything to do with COMMUNICATION — being honest about how we felt and what we thought, being open about what we needed and what we weren’t getting from each other, presenting those ideas respectfully AND actually listening/hearing instead of always trying to justify ourselves, which got us nowhere.
It almost saddens me when people ask me how Barry and I have such a great marriage with so many kids because it’s hard to explain just how close we came to never knowing this life; never knowing this love… I hate when people compare their relationship to someone else’s because I know from experience that just because two people are great together and are very much in love NOW doesn’t mean it was always that way. I think we have a horrid habit of assuming that the present is indicative of how things have always been and that couldn’t be farther from the truth in most cases.
Most couples that are extremely close are that way because at one point, their relationship was on the verge of ending. They were forced to consider what was – and was not – important as well as what needed to be done to make things work that hadn’t worked before. Everything in life is about balance. Anyone who tells you their relationship has always been perfect is either a pathological liar or completely oblivious to everything that is going on around them and is simply in denial about the issues in their own household. There just simply isn’t such a thing as perfection, especially not when you have two identities merging as one. You have to have a sun and a moon; a yin and a yang; a light and a dark; a good and a bad; a love and a hate… the truth is nothing exists without its opposite and you can’t truly appreciate one without truly having known the other.
If you have been feeling like being together isn’t worth the effort anymore, maybe your time as come to do what every successful couple has done – go through the reevaluation stage. I think knowing that everyone goes through it makes it much easier to go through. No one ever really talked to me about what makes a successful marriage successful. My mom was single until after I was married. My sister has been married twice and isn’t married now. My brother has never been married. My younger sister was married briefly. The only successful marriage I ever witnessed was my grandparents, but neither of them ever talked to me about marriage. My husband and I got married when I was just barely 18 and he was just as ignorant about marriage as I was. We screwed it up royally for the first 2 years or so and the fact that we had 3 kids in our home by then didn’t help.
We struggled with ourselves. We struggled as parents. We struggled against one another. We struggled together. We struggled. A lot… until we eventually (after hating the sight of one another and actually preparing our divorce papers) we started getting it right every now and then. We started realizing how much we didn’t want to give up. We sat down and talked about what was wrong, which initially created resentments that only made things worse but the biggest thing we learned through learning to effectively communicate was that in order to have enough wisdom, respect, and insight to survive enjoy the rest of our lives together, we would first have to allow all of those stresses test the fabric of our bond so that we would know if we were strong enough to make it through anything. And we have – we’ve made it through everything.
The problem with so many couples these days is that no one wants to “waste their time” making things work. I remember a couple of years ago, one of Barry’s teammates said that when he gets married, he wants a marriage like ours. I get comments all the time from people who say how much in love they can tell we are. Those are great compliments; I love hearing things like that… but more than anything, those things remind me that there were several points our marriage was just a MESS. We actually almost divorced twice. And I don’t mean just making threats to get each other’s attention. I mean papers ready to file with the Chancery court. THAT close. What I learned from our experiences is that if people wouldn’t give up on each other so quickly they probably WOULD have a good love.
People have the wrong idea of what marriage is… too many people assume that if it is hard, it isn’t worth it when the truth is that it is actually those same hardships that end up MAKING it worth it in the long run. You want to know something interesting about our 18 year long relationship? About half of it SUCKED big time! It wasn’t all bad all the time – we have really great memories together all along the way, but those first few years were really hard! Looking back, though, I can say that if we had to go through 6-7 years of hard times, trust issues, arguments, and uncertainty in order to build a lifetime of secure, loving, unquestionable marital partnership, I’ll take it. I would do it all over again without hesitating.
I cannot imagine my life without my husband. There are still days when I want to scratch his eyes out with the dog’s nail clippers but it’s always over something small and we always end up laughing about our arguments when we’re done. The arguments are few and far between … and we don’t make as big of a deal out of things as we used to. The thing that makes me CRAZY most of the time is that he puts EVERYTHING on top of the fridge. He has done that for YEARS. I’m only 5’3.5″. I can’t SEE on top of the fridge nor can I REACH up there. But EVERY time I start looking for something that I cannot find (like my KEYS when I’m in a hurry), guess where it ends up being after I search EVERYWHERE it SHOULD have been? Yep, top of the fridge. As stupid as that seems, little things like that are actually the cause of MOST of our arguments because we’ve told one another little things like this a THOUSAND times and it ends up being an issue of consideration with both of us insisting to the other, “YOU DON’T LISTEN TO ANYTHING I SAY!” But I’ll take that argument any day over the one that starts with, “WHOSE PHONE NUMBER IS THIS ON YOUR BILL?” Because, yes, we’ve had those arguments in years past also… and regardless of what the actual issue is, it normally stems from the lack of fulfillment of one of three things:
- Consideration – when you stop to think about how everything might affect your spouse, you will make better decisions that impact your marriage positively. And you should stop to think about how everything might affect your spouse because even though you’re an individual, you are part of a team now. What you do WILL ultimately affect the outcome. Do you want to win together or lose each other?
- Quality time – when you stop spending time with one another – QUALITY TIME – you stop studying each other. You stop getting to know each other and what happens is you look up one day and realize you have no idea who this person is anymore. People change. Evolving is what we do as humans. Every few years, each of you will be completely different people. The key is – no matter how different you might be or how little you have in common at certain points, that you grow TOGETHER and never stop building the love between you.
- Communication – use your words. Sounds elementary, right? It’s not. Choose them wisely. Be purposeful with the things you say. If you can’t find a good way to say something, then wait to say it when you have thought about the best possible way to lay those thoughts out to your partner. Respect one another. Listen to one another. Sometimes, you’ll have to hear what your spouse is SAYING rather than how they are saying it. I’ve had to learn to listen to Barry’s heart at times rather than listening to his voice because he doesn’t always know how to say thing the way I would want to hear them, but he’s my husband and I’ve grown to understand what he means. That also goes both ways.
There are going to be times in your marriage when you feel like you’re growing apart. You’re going to have times that you question if your love is strong enough to keep it all together. You’re going to have times when you think the kids, the bills, or your jobs are going to be the death of your closeness and/or intimacy. Marriage takes work but if you stick in there through all the tough times, you will find that you get to a point where you look back and are grateful that God — or the universe, or your connection … whatever it is you base your belief system on — never allowed you to cave under the pressure. When you’re merging two lives into one, can you really ever expect things to go smoothly? No matter how alike two people are, you are always going to come in with your own preconceived ideas of what things should be like and heads are going to butt. That’s life. Move past it – together.
Don’t EVER compare your life to others; no matter how well you know someone, you’ll never know anything they don’t want you to know. Every couple has their troubles. Don’t accept advice about your life from people who are unaffected by the decisions you make because you will be the one who pays the price for accepting their misguided advice.
Not every relationship can be salvaged, of course. If you’re fighting alone and your partner consistently chooses to disregard your attempts at changing things, sometimes you have to just know when to let go… Sometimes we find ourselves attached to the idea of a person rather than the reality of a person and we end up trusting more in their words than in their actions which is unhealthy. But if you and your spouse love one another and are both making an honest EFFORT to make things work, don’t give up. Love is always worth the effort – and worth the time. Period.
*originally published April 16, 2010 | edited/updated January 5, 2016