My husband and I have been married almost thirty years.
A while back we started trying out Blue Apron, the service that brings weekly meals and recipes to your door.
His joking words the other morning were, “I’m liking Blue Apron. It’s nice after soooo loooong together to have something new to look forward to.”
Hopefully, that was a bit of sarcasm.
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 that’s apart from your religious beliefs?
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 recreate that lust/love of so long ago? Or think you might?
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?
Understanding the ways each one of you may look at the world, you can realize that your perceptions are just that. Perceptions. And so both of you grow… if you don’t spend time fighting about who’s right and who’s wrong.
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. And you support them getting back and getting back on track. You observe each other trying to parent — the toughest job of all. Perhaps you would’ve judged in the past, but you’re not as likely to anymore. You recognize with the years that no one is always successful — everyone will struggle.
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.”
It’s not that we can’t see our partner’s weaknesses, but in a healthy partnership, we come to understand them, and love them anyway.
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 helpful. 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 rightfully so.. Being alone can have its own hardship.
Compromise helps you stay open and giving.
If it’s acquiescence, it doesn’t work. If it’s martyrdom or dictatorship, it doesn’t either. But healthy compromise, meaning not always getting things the way you want them and realizing what the other wants or needs is important as well, keeps you focused on others, not just yourself. Through the years, you both help each other 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 that 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’re affecting your partnership.
You share an unparalleled depth of experience with your partner.
After a divorce, I frequently hear, “What I miss is when my daughter does something awesome, looking across the room and seeing that he’s 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 watch yourself and your partner getting older. You get irritated by the same things that have always irritated you, and will continue to irritate you.
Hang in there. Wait until the play is over.
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.
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This post was originally published on Midlife Boulevard and then published here on May 20, 2017; updated on March 14, 2020.