Marriage Is Not For Chickens…
Since then, I’ve given even more thought to how a healthy (or healthy enough) marriage or long-term relationship changes you. What does a person gain from the experience of commitment? How does growing together as a couple change you for the better?
Why do you look forward to coming in the back door after a long day, and hearing your other half puttering around the kitchen? What causes you to stick around as someone else makes mistakes or hurts your feelings? What keeps us from moving on to a newer model — someone with whom you could (or think you might) recreate that physical lust/love of so long ago?
Here are seven answers to those questions…
Watching someone else live their life, very differently than you, expands you as a person.
There’s a widespread belief that dogs and their owners start to look like each other; what happens with your human companion? Is there something similar that happens with couples?
Not necessarily in physical appearance, although that can happen, but in how you experience life. Understanding the ways each one of you may look at the world, you can realize that your perceptions are just that. Perceptions. And that your partner’s perceptions might be vastly different than yours from time to time.
If you don’t spend time fighting about who’s right and who’s wrong about how things are perceived, this is an opportunity to grow as individuals and as a couple.
Seeing someone else falter, make mistakes, or downright fail can lead to compassion.
You watch him lose his job and become depressed. You watch her work way too hard and burnout. Or you observe each other trying to parent — the toughest job of all.
Maybe you would’ve judged in the past, but you’re not as likely to any more after spent years together. Instead, you support them getting back and getting back on track. It’s not that we can’t see our partner’s weaknesses, but in a healthy partnership, we come to understand them.
You can experience true trust.
There’s a scene in “On Golden Pond” when Katherine Hepburn, usually quite understanding of her daughter Jane Fonda’s barrage of complaints about her father, slaps her suddenly in the middle of her calling him an SOB. She states flatly, “That old son of a bitch happens to be my husband.”
When you’re in a long-term relationship, you can have a deep sense of allegiance to your partner, and you hopefully feel that this is reciprocated. This bond can provide you with a true feeling of trusting, and being trusted which can be a very grounding experience.
Having a daily touchstone lends a sense of security.
Someone knows where you are, what you’re doing with your day. Even though it may be pseudo-security, or a false sense of control, it’s still often helpful emotionally. If you got into trouble, they’d be there. You’re loved, you’re missed, you’re valued, you’re cared for, you’re a part of a team.
Sadly, this is often the reason why people stay unhappily married. They’re scared to be by themselves and having to deal with the hardships that are the result of not having that sense of security.
Compromise helps you stay open and giving.
If you acquiesce, that doesn’t work. If one of you is a martyr or a dictator, that dynamic doesn’t work either. But healthy compromise, meaning not always getting what you want and respecting what your partner wants or needs, that’s compromise. Through the years, you help one another experience what you want or can have from life.
Compromise is a true mark of a healthy relationship when it comes to conflict or disagreements; you value your relationship over your own ego and need to be right.
You can feel competent.
After I divorced the second time, I was afraid I didn’t “have what it took” to be coupled. Perhaps I was too weak, or not able to sustain loyalty. Maybe I was a whiner, or selfish. There was a lot of shame, doubt, and uncertainty.
With time, the ache of failure dissipated, and the acknowledgement that I had the capacity to get through hard times with a partner has been proven. And competence is a good feeling.
This isn’t to say you should stay in a perpetually unhappy or, worse, abusive relationship. However, it feels good to dig deep and work hard on the relationship, while taking responsibility for your own vulnerabilities and how they impact your partnership.
You share an unparalleled depth of experience with your partner.
After a divorce, I frequently hear, “When my daughter did something awesome, I used to look across the room and see him looking back at me, with the same proud look in his eyes as I knew were in mine. I really miss that.“
Long-term relationships have an innate complexity to them, not to be found in their newer counterparts. The threads between two people are woven in an intricate pattern of light and dark, shimmer and shade. Pull one thread, and the others shift in response. This only comes with time as you share and face experiences together.
All of the above said, let’s face it. Sometimes, marriage is boring. You hear (and tell) the same stories over and over. You get irritated by the same things that have always irritated you, and will continue to irritate you.
Hang in there. Wait until the second act.
There’s lots of good stuff that happens after the intermission.
That post is now a beautiful little gift book available on Amazon for just under $10. Click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” and give the gift of honoring your own marriage, or the partnership of someone else you love.
You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
My book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression is available and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
And there’s a new way to send me a message! You can record by clicking below and ask your question or make a comment. You’ll have 90 seconds to do so and that time goes quickly. By recording, you’re giving SelfWork (and me) permission to use your voice on the podcast. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!
This post was originally published on Midlife Boulevard and then published here on May 20, 2017; revised and republished on March 6, 2021.