Happily ever after?

I didn’t blog last week, in part because we were just simply so busy, but also because we (M and I) had some news that both of us found very disturbing, and something that has inspired a lot of thought that I wanted to work through carefully before I put it down on paper (so to speak).  Someone close to us announced that they are getting divorced.  I admit, this was not entirely a surprise, though the reasons for it were. I won’t get into that here because it is not mine to tell and I do not want to add more to what is already a difficult situation.  We are very sorry for all involved because no matter how “amicable” everyone pretends the divorce is, there is always hurt, loss and pain for everyone.

Hearing about other couples getting divorced always terrifies me. I wonder what went wrong, and more importantly – Am I making the same mistakes in my marriage that led to this couple falling apart?  Part of what makes this so difficult, is that one of the people involved tried desperately to save the marriage this time, went to counseling for almost a year and at one point actually asked Mike and I what it is that makes our relationship work so well.  When we first got married 5 years ago, we talked to several long time couples to ask – what has kept you happy for 30 or more years?  The answers we got were so simple they sounded like platitudes – Listen to each other; don’t fight about stupid things; do things together; call if you are going to be late.  To be honest, both M and I feel like we won the lottery in terms of our marriage.  We are blissfully happy, we have so many common interests we have had to spend considerable time weeding out duplicate items on our various collections when we first got together – and we pretty much don’t ever feel like we are working at our relationship, though we are following the advice we were given without really thinking about it.  Mike and I both had a lot to say about what makes us work, but it was actually pretty hard to put into words.  When I asked Mike about this before writing, he was adamant that we don’t “work” at our relationship at all – and yet as he was telling me this, he did several things that I know were direct compromises to me.  It is work; it just doesn’t feel like it most of the time.

I don’t have any magic formulae for what makes a relationship work.  I could put out a few platitudes if anyone is interested:  Pick your battles and let the rest go.  Pay attention to what interests your spouse, even if, and perhaps especially if, you aren’t interested.  Pay attention to what makes them happy.  Listen to what is really being said and keep track of the things that are important to them. Never say anything negative about your spouse to someone else and above all, keep your fights at home.  Be at least as polite to your spouse as you would be to anyone else – and far kinder because that is what will last.  Always back each other up, especially if you think they are wrong – you still promised to have their back when facing the rest of the world.  Most of all, understand that love has little or nothing to do with emotions.  Yes, when it works, you will be happy with this person, and you will love them emotionally – but you are still going to have moments of frustration, and be annoyed with them.  That doesn’t mean you don’t love them by the way, it means there are two actual humans involved in the relationship.  If something really does drive you nuts, like leaving the toilet seat up and you just can’t adjust to the habit of leaving the coffee cup on the desk, then say something.  But pick and choose what really does matter.  Perhaps the best piece of advice we got were: always keep a list in your head of all the things they did right, not wrong.  (That way, when you do something really stupid, like leaving the grocery bag with the most expensive items in the cart in the parking lot, you might have earned some grace with your partner so that they just sigh and say “okay, don’t worry about it.” instead of getting mad at you.)

The first year we were married was a big adjustment for me because I had never lived with anyone else in close proximity.  Worse, the couples I had seen closely had always been those kinds of stormy relationships that work well in romance novels, but not in real life.  I had no idea how to be married or even date someone who actually loved, respected and even liked me.  Yes, I had a roommate in college for a while, but it wasn’t the same as sharing a bed, a closet and a bank account with someone.  It was a bigger adjustment for me than M, but there is still an adjustment period where the emotional high of dating wears off, and you have to make a choice to love that person.  It takes time to truly become attuned to another person, and I know that this process has changed me profoundly.  After 5 and a half years, I feel like we are just now hitting our stride as a couple.

I don’t think that anyone goes into a marriage planning to get divorced, but out of the 10 or so couples that we have known who have split since we were married, it seems like a lot of them went in thinking somehow wouldn’t have to compromise or put any effort into the relationship, and that the emotional buzz you get when you are dating wouldn’t wear off.  Trust me, you lose that new car scent quite quickly when you share all of the intimate and personal details of life together. The process of coming together as one person is hard, sometimes even painful because you have to look at yourself as well as the other person.  I promise though, what comes after that newness wears off makes that first buzz pale in comparison.  I never would have imagined that the most wonderful sound in the world would be listening to my husband breathing in bed beside me at night, but it is.  And you know, as much as it is a choice, and there are deliberate steps we take to make sure our relationship works, M is right – it never feels like work at all, and yes, because everything falls into place, we still are giggly, starry eyed in love.