Friday, January 27, 2012

Thoughts on Marriage and Tips to Make Yours Work

The rash of bloggers announcing that they are getting divorced has set my wheels turning. Not like Mir was talking about a couple of days ago. Her points are spot on, but what I'm talking about is different.

When I was a child, my parents were separated for a couple of years. While the wheres and whys and hows aren't my story to tell, living through that taught me an important lesson about marriage.

"No one can know what is in a marriage but the two people that are in it." (Quote by my mom, about 30 years ago.)

My parents put their marriage back together, and will be celebrating their 50 year wedding anniversary in a couple of years. (Actually a year and a half to be exact. After 50 years, who's counting, right? Well, we are, to tell you the truth.)

50 years. That's not counting the 7 1/2 that they dated.

But look at that sentence up there.

I can complain about the socks that don't quite meet the hamper or the sleeping that HD does on the couch every evening because every wife complains about that stuff, right? But it's the things that you don't see and hear that keep my marriage together.

My parents visit a lot and sometimes, through laughter, my mother will say "I don't know how you can stay married to him." Which is to say: "I don't know what is in your marriage, but that's ok because it's yours." Understand: my mother loves my husband and he loves her. But my relationship with my husband is MINE. The quirks that I deal with might be your deal-breaker, and the things that you laugh about just might make me punch your husband in the throat. If I lived with him, that is.

I'm the one that he tells his deepest thoughts to. He's the only one that can comfort me when I'm feeling sad. I'm the one that he wants to celebrate his successes with and he's the one I want by my side each night as I fall asleep.

That's what a marriage is about. Those are the things that make it work regardless of what it looks like on the outside. What we overlook in our partners is what makes our intimacy.

If you don't like ironing your husband's shirts, fine. I do. I do it because it's one small thing to help him in his day, making his load lighter. My husband typically cooks on the weekends, partially because he enjoys cooking, but also because he knows it gives me a welcome break from the kitchen. It's what makes US work.

What makes your marriage work? Does he support you in your career? Does he bathe the babies each night and tuck them in bed so you get an hour of alone time? Do you share a passion for stamp collecting? My advice is: take those things and embrace them. Use those things to re-kindle your relationship at every turn. Use them to connect and then find other ways to make your relationship flourish, building on those connections.

For instance, do you love going out to dinner; just the two of you? Great, then plan a weekend away and 'tour' the local restaurants. Any location will do; it doesn't have to be a fancy big city or break the bank. Or go to your near by "A Taste Of" festival to sample the best of your local restaurants. Use this formula for anything that you both enjoy. OR, if it's something that your partner loves and you're not quite sold, maybe do it anyway. With fresh eyes, you just might find part of it that you love.

What about the little things? When I said that I iron my husband's shirts I wasn't kidding. Several years ago our marriage was struggling. Not awful, but our boys were very young, our girl was a busy tweenager, and we almost never connected in any way. So I started looking for books on the subject. One book suggested finding little things that would help your husband in his day. Light bulb moment: if I kept on top of his ironing, he would have shirts every morning, then he wouldn't have to huff and puff around the bedroom during my last hour of sleep. Win-Win. He gets out of the house with no frustration, I get a little more sleep. I know it's not a big thing, but it really helps my husband when he doesn't have to search for the shirt that he wants to wear. He starts his day happy, or at least not grumpy! What does that mean for your marriage? I don't know, but could you make his lunch? get the coffee ready to brew? pick up his dry cleaning? What ever 'it' is, it should be something that is just for him, that will show him that you're thinking of just him and trying to help him out, that will mean something in his day. Do it without being asked to, without saying anything about it and asking nothing in return.

Do these things only apply to wives? Absolutely not. Men, you should be doing things for your wife that she will appreciate. Flowers? Washing her car? Scrubbing a toilet? Taking the kids to soccer practice?  Cooking dinner? Doing the grocery shopping? Pouring her a glass of wine at the end of a particularly trying day? There is something that will make her heart sing. Figure it out and do it.

Is every marriage worth saving? No, there are horrible situations out there that involve abuse, drug use, and infidelity, and I can't say that getting out of those situations is wrong. But is dropping everything at the first sign of trouble the answer either? I don't necessarily think so.

When I was in college, I remember sitting around with my girlfriends talking about relationships. Inevitably, one girl would say something along the lines of "Oh, if he ever cheated on me, even just kissing someone else, he'd be gone in a heartbeat, no questions asked!" While I totally understand the sentiment I'm not sure I can get in line with those kinds of absolutes. We are all human and we all make mistakes. The saying "You don't know what you'd do unless you've walked in those shoes," comes to mind. I don't know what I'd do in that situation, but I can tell you at this exact moment, while it would be devastating, I highly doubt that my first call would be to a divorce lawyer.

I get so sad when I see marriages that are struggling or don't work. Not because I think I do it better. Not because I think that they haven't tried.  But because I know how good it can be. I wish that for every marriage.

This post has been submitted to Yeah Write #43.

Headless Mom


Janah said...

Love this post! I get frustrated every time I hear about a divorce lately because I wonder how much the couple tried to make things work before immediately calling their lawyer. Big ups to you guys for putting in the work in order to make it work! xoxo

Anna See said...

What a great post! I was talking to a friend about how this yesterday. xo

Liz@thisfullhouse said...

DAYUM! You write good. I agree, you never know.

However, my husband comes from a family of 5 kids, 3 of whom are divorced (2 of them, twice) and, well, I wonder how much of it is because they are older and grew up in the "me" generation. Also, his parents never fought in front of the kids. I'm not saying it's okay (having witnessed quite a few and watching my grandmother get smacked across the room, growing up) just that I don't believe their kids learned how to deal with conflict. It was just easier to walk away.

Either way, divorce is never easy. Then again, I don't know of any marriage that is. So, yes, you just NEVER know for sure.

Rocks In The Wash said...

What a great post; I loved it! I do have to say that the "little things" we do for one another truly do make a difference!

Debby@Just Breathe said...

Great post. So happy that you have some important things worked out.
I know for a fact that I said exactly what your friends said about cheating but when it happens your heart changes. I applaud you for ironing his shirts!

headless girl :] said...

I love reading these things - it makes my heart happy.

Thanks for working at things and pushing through the hard times. It means a lot to this little girl :)

Shannon said...

That comment from headless girl made my heart happy. Amazing post. Perhaps relationship building is your calling?

Just Margaret said...

This is an amazing piece...a thoughtful and honest reflection.

My mom always told me the same thing about couples, too. Reading that part made me smile. :)

Heather E said...

OH, this post hit close to home. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing by leaving, if I couldn't try harder. I don't know but I miss those little things about marriage that you were talking about- I used to DO those things, my husband used to do those too. I wonder when it stopped, or when I stopped noticing as much.

anymommy said...

You are so right, we just can not know, but marriage is effort and a decision to wake up and focus on the love. No one is free of their own little annoyances.

I read a quote by a famous comedian once that I think about almost every day. He said to wake up and look yourself in the mirror every morning and say out loud, "I'm no picnic." Most mornings, I do and it helps me embrace what's precious and let some of the other stuff slide.

Anyway, I'm rambling, but I really liked this post.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I loved this. So many thoughts and discussions that I've been having myself... I especially relate to the heightened tolerance for mistakes. I know that in college I would have thought there was only ONE answer to the question of how to deal with cheating. But life is so much more complicated now - so much more is at stake.

I love that you iron your husbands shirts as a means of letting him know you care. It's sweet AND practical.

I think I'll go tweet/FB this now...

Melisa Wells said...

I have kept this post in my Reader, starred, so I would be able to come back and comment when I had a moment. I LOVE this post. The best marriages are those that are made of couples who are good at respect, teamwork, and compromise. Though my hubby has a few *minor* habits that I label "pet peeves" (don't ask: I won't tell you!), I know that the reverse is true too. I take care of all of the household details like scheduling doctors appointments and stuff, and he has cleaned the bathtubs 99% of the time since my first pregnancy in 1991-92. (He does way more than that, but that's just an example!)

I think that many people today don't fight for marriage like they do other things, and it's a shame.

P.S. I love when my friends are in great marriages. I'm so happy for you. :)

Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms said...

I love that you steer away from absolutes. I think it's true in parenting too---never say never. I like that your commitment shines through. Long marriages are equal parts love and work. --Erin

Kim Pugliano said...

DEAD ON. It's MY marriage; you don't have to understand how or why it works. Just know that he is my everything and I am his and we work together for each other and live to love one another.

Great words.

David Wiley said...

Great advice to anyone in a relationship. My fiancee and I have had a very successful start to our lives together because we both do some of those little things. And I know she appreciates when I pitch in with the housework every week.

Ado said...

I'm from California so basically all my friends except me and my one other friend are divorced. There is a permission in my hometown - almost an expectation - that if and when it gets hard, you leave. And you know what? I despise that permissiveness. I moved. Even the marriage therapists are under the spell of that movement. It's an immature one.
What your parents did was - awesome. And rare.
Your post was really good and I appreciated it. Marriage is between the two people involved and even close friends don't "know" what that dynamic really is - just you two do.

Lenore Diane said...

In my opinion, marriage is a full time job, and some days are easier than others.
I was ready to divorce my husband two years ago, hiring a lawyer and getting the paperwork. Though counseling and sheer determination we stayed together.
However, every couple and every marriage is different.


Bravo! What an excellent post! I agree with so much of what you've said here. I think sometimes people hate to admit that marriages take work. They expect it to be all hearts and rainbows and the moment its not they're ready to kick their partner to the curb.

Anonymous said...

Ah, did I need to read this today!! Perfect timing (for me) and what a well written, thoughtful post. Very true, everything you said. You never know what is going on between two people. Marriage is the hardest work (harder than parenting, I think) but it is the work that makes it worthwhile. Most of the time ;-)

Kate F. @katefineske said...

You took the words right out of mouth. You hit the nail on the head. Everything.

I get really upset about this topic. (sad upset) because sometimes I think that people just give up too quickly. And it hurts my heart - because, like you, I've gone through tough times in my own marriage, but there is nothing greater then getting through those tough times and knowing now how happy I can be in my marriage.

And you are so right, it is totally the little things you do for your partner to help them in a special way that makes a big difference in your relationship in the long run.

Anna said...

I so enjoyed reading this - awesome post and I love your attitude. I agree, it's really important to see each others needs, try to be there and make things easier/happier/less stressful for the other person. Even better, when you just do it from the heart, for your marriage, without demanding or asking for anything in return, it can do wonders.

Marriage and relationships are work, I wish they taught that in school! But they are so worth it.

Emmy said...

Love love this post!! Yes, marriages are worth fighting and working for. I have an analogy I like- imagine Christmas morning, you hurry down all excited to open the presents- you begin opening and it is awesome! You don't look at the present and say, oh well I don't like this about it, so why do we do that with our spouses? Why look for the things we don't like. Treat them as a gift, with respect, love and kindness and as you said except for in some extreme cases, it can work and be good.

Laura@Catharsis said...

Love your mom's quote about only the two people in a marriage knowing what it's all about. Marriage after kids is hard. My husband and I rarely "connect." But I love him dearly, and I hope he feels the same. He would move a mountain and bottle the moon for me if he could. I believe that. And it's wonderful.

Jackie said...

What a fabulous post! Your mom seems like a pretty smart lady, and her marriage seems like one that works as a great role model.

Dude of The House said...

I work in the mornings while my wife is with our son. then she puts him for his naps and I come home and take over for the evenings while she works. It's an unusual system, but w make it work. On some lucky days we all get to have dinner together, but that's more the exception than the rule. Great post.

Becky Davidson said...

I love this post. It speaks to the idea that love is a choice as much as a feeling and that marriage, likewise, requires a kind of daily choosing to honor one's partner and the vows connected to him/her. I also think that the better we understand ourselves, the freer we are to visit the feelings of our spouses. That's not to say we should spend 24/7 deep in our own feelings/needs. Yikes! Yet somehow, healthy self-knowledge (of the kind so beautifully articulated in your post) simply enables us to be more selfless, which keeps love fertile even when the years (23!) sometimes want to erode it. Our four kids also benefit from having parents who, in spite of sometimes locking horns, have nevertheless learned over time how to negotiate and compromise. Politely, even. We are striving to teach them that sometimes the feelings follow the choice: behave lovingly, even if for whatever reason you're not feeling it . . . and the feeling follows. Thanks again for your commitment to commitment. Very inspiring.