Fourteen and Eight

Yesterday was my anniversary. Fourteen and eight. Fourteen years together. Eight years married. Two college students who met young and grew up together. We became adults together. In fourteen years we’ve weathered death and heartbreak, loss of purpose, loss of self, and disenchantment with love. Between us, there are four graduations, three career changes, one childbirth, two kidney stone incidents, twelve tattoos, and three bouts of depression.

I can admit to falling out of love with my husband once. I can also admit that it lasted for about a year and a half. It happened at a time when we weren’t sure our adult-selves were as compatible as our young-adult-selves. Through that, I have never stopped loving him, never stopped wanting the best for us, and never stopped longing to remain his best friend.

Looking back, I can see that we have made some classic marital mistakes. Like, being too busy with work and school to make time together. Letting being parents take over our lives, and as a result, pushing our relationship to the back burner. Nagging and complaining about our grievances instead of communicating. There is a difference. We stopped compromising as a way to assert our independence and individuality. We stopped nurturing our relationship assuming the foundation we built would last through the tough times. Also, assuming the tough times would only last a week. Two tops.

Unfortunately, foundations sustain damage in an ignored coupling. It is during those tough times you find that your foundation wasn’t perfect, but previously you nurtured your relationship enough to not notice the dips and dimples. In tough times, those dips and dimples crack. Insightful couples learn to repair those cracks before they crumble and crevice.

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In the beginning, it is astoundingly easy to overlook your lover’s flaws. Maybe it’s the sex. Maybe it’s the butterflies. Or maybe it is fear of messing up a good thing before you’ve fully discovered the possibilities. Whatever it is, most relationships would last forever if that ability to overlook small flaws persisted throughout the entire relationship. Alas, it does not.

In the early days, you notice that he doesn’t do dishes, but he brings home dinner and sometimes starts the laundry so you don’t mind. Later, he’s not doing the dishes, and not bringing home dinner, or starting the laundry because he says he’s too tired or busy. And you glare at him while wondering if he always left his shoes in the middle of the floor or if this is a new facet of his slobbishness. Suddenly, dishes and shoes are all you can see and you see red every single time you think about it! I need not finish this scenario. I’m sure you can imagine how it ends.

I used to be flabbergasted by the seemingly frivolous complaints on Divorce Court until we entered year five of marriage. Then I understood how the red haze of vengeance could descend over something as innocent as basketball shorts abandoned in the middle of the floor.

In no universe do I have the right to claim that I have the secret to a happy, successful marriage. But as I reflect upon the last fourteen years of my life, I can say that I have learned a few things that I hope to take into the next phase of our relationship.

Maintaining love and happiness is more important than being right.
Being right is gratifying, but the lengths required to be right are sometimes too high a price for a relationship.

Always make time for each other, even if you have to schedule it.
Scheduling dates and cuddle time does not sound sexy, but it’s often necessary to nurture your relationship. Otherwise, your partner becomes yet another friend you are perpetually “getting together” with. You know the one. Or maybe you don’t because you haven’t physically seen them in two years even though they live fifteen minutes away.

Compromise is just as important in year twenty as it was in year one.
You agree to watch Game of Thrones and your partner agrees to watch baseball. You’ll both be temporarily miserable, but ultimately happy together. Consider compromise as vitamins for your relationship.

Have fun!
However you infuse fun into your relationship, make sure you do it as often as possible.

Show up. Always.
Always show up for your partner.

You make the rules.
Every relationship is different. I know couples who don’t give gifts, couples who live in separate states because of their jobs, and couples who do everything together including work at the same place. My husband happily stayed home with our son for over a year, while I nearly died from boredom during my three-month maternity leave. Every couple is different. You make the rules. Do not let society, family, culture, religion, etc. dictate how your relationship works. Decide together and stick to it.

Never stop talking and don’t be a grievance squirrel.
I’m not advocating nagging or frivolous arguing. However, it serves no purpose to store all your anger and annoyance. Really, that is a recipe for saying everything you didn’t mean to say and nothing you needed to. Talk often. Listen more.

No one person is responsible for saving, fixing, finding solutions, or keeping the flames lit.
It took two to start the relationship, it will take two to keep it thriving. I spent two years working alone to “save” my marriage. And until the second year, my husband hadn’t even realized it was rocky enough to need saving. Nothing changed until we sat down, had gut-wrenchingly honest conversations, and made decisions together.

Marriage is work. But so are all relationships. The only difference is marriage is a magnifying glass. It magnifies your weaknesses and insecurities. It magnifies your flaws and that of your partner. The hardest part about marriage is learning how to deal with seeing your true self reflected in someone else’s eyes. I am proud to still be with my crazy, quirky, sexy husband. And as we said yesterday, here’s to eighty more.’

How have you been able keep your relationship alive?

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