Have you ever noticed how fickle we’ve become in our relationships? Whatever the reason may be, we’ve become desensitized to meaningful, lasting relationships. When you consider the disposable nature of everything in our lives these days (oh it broke? No need to fix it, just get a new one! Oh it’s not broke but there’s a better model being introduced? Well then, sign me up!), it’s no wonder why our relationships suffer right along with our year-old smart phones.
Whether it is with our spouse, a friend, our extended family or even our kids, it seems to me that relationships have taken a hit. A big hit. Like a video game, it’s easier to hit start over with a brand new character than cede even an inkling of fault and work on an existing relationship that might be less than perfect. Given the selfish nature of our modern society, it’s not surprising that divorce is commonplace.
Beyond even that, the concept of a long-term relationship seems almost a fairy tale, something to dream about but never attain. Cohabitation is commonplace, and so is breaking up. It has become norm for most 20-somethings to cohabitate with several (maybe even more) “significant others” before ever considering taking the marriage plunge. You’d think, with that kind of shopping around, the marriage rate would look decent. Yet, even with shaky methods of data collecting, most polls show at the very least that the divorce rate has remained steady, and to my judgmental standards, high. Throw in the growing number of adults who simply don’t even consider marriage as a viable option, it seems the concept is about as antiquated as pong or the flip phone.
So, why is it so difficult for couples to find their groove, and make it all work? Why is our first inclination when paddling through troubled water to jump overboard and leave our partner to drown or make it to shore alone? What makes marriage such a difficult, pert near impossible task? The truth is, I don’t know. But I can at least offer up some ideas to giving it a better go at before deciding to lawyer up and split the china (and perhaps even the kids). So, here’s what I’ve learned over the years, through my own marriage, through observations of other marriages and by being a casual critic of society, in general (drum roll please):
- Marriage is hard, but doesn’t need to be so hard. Nobody who is making marriage work is going to say it’s easy, all the time. But it’s not rocket science. Don’t over think it, analyze every moment, every conversation, every decision. If something isn’t working, find a way to fix it and move on.
- Men and women are different, and those differences must be respected. Time and time (and time) again, our society tries to instill the false notion that marriage is a union of two identical beings with the same talents and skills. To me, it’s one of the main reasons marriages ultimately fail. Men have been tricked into believing they are no longer the bread winners and leaders of their marriage and family. Consequently, husbands become, at best, complacent- delegating many of their duties to their wives. Or, at worst, lazy- no longer willing or able to lead their marriage and family as they were made to do. Women have also been duped. Society tells wives that they must get the best degree, the best job, claw their way up the corporate ladder, make more money than, exert more power than, have a bigger opinion than their husband. In many marriages, the woman is now in charge of the finances, the kids, the meals AND works long hours making the same or more money than her husband. It’s too much to ask, and eventually the husband feels worthless and the wife wonders why she’s even in a marriage when she can do everything she’s currently doing, alone. It might seem like an old fashioned concept, but the best marriages are the ones in which a man and woman mutually respect and honor the traditional roles of a husband and wife.
- Marriage works best when both people are the opposite of selfish. If you look up antonyms for the word “selfish” you will find words like “caring”, “kind” and “benevolent”. Does that surprise you? Because many people think that when you aren’t selfish, you automatically become a doormat. Not so, especially in a marriage. When you work for and make decisions for the good of your spouse, it will come back to you, in surprising and wonderful ways. When you give more of yourself than you receive, you will find the universe has a natural way of creating equilibrium and your spouse will respond in the same manner.
- Kids matter. I’ve spoken on this before. There is no way of “consciously uncoupling” that is better for your kids than a strong, healthy marriage. Kids thrive when both parents love and respect one another within a marriage. When you bring kids into your marriage, they must be your ultimate priority, and gives you no better reason to make the marriage work. And not just “work”, but make the marriage flourish. Divorce hurts kids, period. Equally damaging to kids is a marriage based on lies, selfish intents and an argumentative spirit. Find a way to avoid both.
- A commitment means something. Don’t buy into the idea that your marriage is disposable. When the door of divorce is left open, or even cracked, every argument, every annoying habit, every bad day turns into a contemplation of whether divorce might be a viable solution. The best marriages begin with a strong commitment that divorce is not an option. The divorce door should be walled up with cement block on your wedding day, so that it’s never part of your marriage equation. Ever.
* Note- I speak strong words here, with the assumption that your marriage is between two, semi-normal, mostly common sensical human beings. If things like physical or sexual abuse, neglect, drugs, alcohol or a complete disregard of basic human needs is part of your marriage equation, then run, do not walk, out of that marriage. Now.
- Temptation is real. Do not believe that you and your spouse will look at one another every second of everyday and not wish that the other looked, smelled or acted differently, on at least some occasions. That being said, there are plenty of other people out there that might look, smell or act more appealing to you than your spouse. Temptation is a powerful force, so do not ever put yourself into a situation that you cannot readily exit from unscathed. When you are married, things like friendly flirting, co-worker lunches, singles bars, nights out with friends, etc. should be off the table. Ask anyone who has had an affair, and they will tell you that it all started “innocent enough”.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Minor decisions should remain minor decisions. When you find yourself arguing over blue or white paint, squash or zucchini for the garden, Red Lobster or Texas Roadhouse, STOP and take a few breaths. Never, ever let your selfish self try to win one these arguments. Winning isn’t everything.
- You will hate. I’m probably making a bold statement when I say that there really isn’t anything such as “one true love” or “soul mate”. When two people commit in a marriage, over time there will be moments when both of you, independently and on different occasions, look deeply into the other’s eyes and genuinely feel a form of hatred. We are imperfect, constantly evolving creatures. Whatever you do, don’t think those moments are indicative of your marriage. You’ll get over it, your spouse will get over it, and in general, you will love one another more often than you want to kill one another.
- The long-term reward is more important than the small victories. We live in an uber competitive society, so it’s natural to apply the same competitive spirit to our marriage. He wants Chinese for dinner but I want Italian, so naturally we both go into combat mode to see who will win, right? Apply #3 every time you think about putting on your boxing gloves, and see what happens. In the long haul of marriage, the small victories mean nothing compared to the ultimate goal of life long partnership based on mutual respect and honor.
- You can only change yourself, and sometimes you need to change. Many, many times I’ve heard a husband or wife say a version of this statement, “If he/she can’t accept me for who I am, then I need to consider leaving.” Or “I shouldn’t have to change for anybody. I have a right to be happy.” Newsflash- if you aren’t going to change for your spouse, than why the hell should your spouse change for you? You can’t have your cake and eat it too! If you want your marriage to work, and you can’t change anybody but yourself, then all you can do is change yourself to make your marriage work. And believe me, we all have things to change about ourselves.
- Sex matters. If you think sex is a natural occurrence between a husband and wife, you couldn’t be more wrong. Many a reader might be in a certain stage of marriage where this concept doesn’t yet apply, but at some point or another you will learn a fundamental truth about sex in marriage. Men want and think about sex differently than women. Period. Men need sex to feel close in the relationship, and women need to feel close in the relationship before wanting sex. While the two concepts seem to be polar opposites, they can work in equilibrium, if given the chance. The bottom line for both husband and wife is this- sex matters. Find your equilibrium so that sex is part of your marriage.
- Choose friends wisely. One quick note on this- if you have friends that do not value any one or more of the same things you value in your marriage, you are taking a huge risk. So find friends that mirror your values and priorities. Minimize exposure to couples that do not covet and desire the same things as you and your partner.
- Be different while trying to be the same. Recognize that no 2 humans are alike, therefore it is unrealistic to believe that your spouse will like knitting or you should like fishing. But, be open to at least tolerating your spouse’s tastes. Give one another room to enjoy separate hobbies, but value your similar hobbies first. In other words, don’t always be doing different things, but instead find things you enjoy doing together and make plans to keep doing those things over time.
- Family matters. Nothing brings a marriage together more than spending time with each other’s extended families, so long as those extended families aren’t completely mad or dysfunctional. When you make time for each other’s families you see your marriage as part of a bigger story, and it reminds you of its value and worth.
- Marriage matters. Finally, all of these things mean nothing if you do not go into a marriage with a firm belief that marriage matters. While it’s fine to use disposable plates or replace your perfectly functional cell phone every 2 years, your marriage is not disposable. Never enter into a marriage if you have real reservations about whether it will work. Sure, there might be a sense of panic or uncertainty on your wedding day, but day in and day out, your marriage matters. Make it matter and it will matter.