At a recent party, I was telling a friend about my plans to celebrate my upcoming 15th wedding anniversary.
"Fifteen years! Wow, but it's no surprise. You guys have a great marriage and always seem so happy," she said to me.
"We totally are," I said to her. "Well, at least we are for today."
It reminded me of a quote I saw once: "All marriages are happy. It's the living together afterward that causes all the trouble."
Marriage is the process by which two people make their relationship official and permanent. Or, as I like to refer to it: the freaking hardest thing anyone chooses to do.
That's why I told my friend that today -- in this moment -- I am happy in my marriage, and I believe my husband is too. But, it isn't always the case. Over the last 15 years (and the nearly 20 years my husband and I have been in a committed relationship) we've had some pretty dark times. Times when I wasn't sure if it was going to work out, times when we could not just agree to disagree, times when we yelled and cried and nearly gave up.
Like we all do -- particularly when our own marriage is going off the rails -- I looked around to my friends who "appeared" to have strong relationships. I saw perfect Christmas cards, Facebook photos of family vacations, and happy couples at school and I wondered why we couldn't be like them?
And as it happens, we see more of our dear friends -- the ones we thought were happy -- who aren't really so happy after all. Some of these marriages end, and some come out stronger. Some dissolve seamlessly, and some stop cold because of betrayal. Some have been hiding behind abuse, and some just shouldn't have happened at all. And some, like mine, get to move on for one more year.
But that certainly doesn't mean even my "happy for today" marriage doesn't come with some pretty heavy baggage. So, I thought I would take a look at some popular marriage myths, and why I feel like they are full of crap.
Marriage means we make each other happy. We often hear adages like "happy wife, happy life," or, "Make your home a haven to make your husband happy." These sayings -- while a little antiquated -- may have some merit, but they certainly can't solidify your union. I used to blame my husband for all my unhappiness. He wasn't around enough, didn't spend enough time with the kids, didn't do enough around the house, etc. If only he would do these things, then I would be happy. It took a lot of soul-searching to realize the problem wasn't with him, but with me. When I decided to take charge of my own happiness, our marriage took a turn for the better.
I believe that the happiest of marriages are those that involve two happy individuals. Being responsible for your own mood and actions is the only true path to happiness, and if you aren't happy with yourself, it is impossible to be happy with anyone else.
Marriage is 50-50. Whoever said this was smoking something. Sure, this sounds good in theory -- each "partner" gives the same and compromises the same -- but in what universe does that really happen? Going in to a marriage thinking it is going to be even-steven all the time is the surest way to hurt your relationship. It forces you to "keep score."
For example, I cleaned the house, bought his parents gifts for the holidays and booked our vacation. Surely, he could at least do the dishes tonight, right? When he doesn't do the dishes and an argument ensues, he rattles off a list of things he did do, such as shoveled the walk, paid the bills and hung all the pictures you wanted. But, he didn't do the dishes, which is what you expected him to do.
When our compromising and giving becomes conditional, no one ever feels loved; instead, the marriage becomes transactional.
What I have found is that sometimes my marriage is 95 to 5, or 30 to 70 or 55 to 45, but rarely do either of us feel like it is 50-50. And that's okay. As long as you each suck it up when important and do things out of love instead of quid pro quo, it usually evens out.
Successful couples share the same interests. This is phony bologna. Sometimes I hear about couples that love to cook together or do CrossFit side by side or complete the New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday, and I think it is sweet. But it is not a must-have for a happy marriage. My husband is an extreme runner. He probably logs about 60 to 70 miles per week. Me? Not so much. But, he respects the fact that when I get into a good book I am going to be a recluse for a day or two, just like I try not to complain when he spends three and a half hours running. It is nice when you can find something that you both enjoy, but being respectful of your spouse's hobbies and interests is infinitely more important.
Your partner should be your best friend. I love my husband. He is the most important person in my life. I love the fact that he will watch Project Runway with me and even help me pick out a dress. But, he is not my best friend, and I don't expect him to fill that role -- and to that I think he is pretty relieved. Like having our own interests, it's important, dare I say critical, to have relationships outside of our marriage, particularly when you want to go see movies like Fifty Shades of Grey (hypothetically speaking, of course.)
Happy couples have great communication (and never yell). A few years back a friend told me about a marriage seminar she attended where the therapist was teaching "active listening," the process of paying close attention to your partner and asking questions to ensure full understanding of what he/she is saying. In the middle of the seminar, the therapist said: "Now that you know how to do this, rest assured that for most of you, you won't be able to do it. It is extremely difficult to be objective and empathetic when another person is telling you the problem is, well, you." The therapist went on to say that it is much better to talk about your own personal needs than what your partner is doing wrong.
I, for one, was thrilled to hear this. My husband and I can go from zero to sixty in about 4.2 seconds when our stress levels are high. We've been known to yell and walk out of rooms and sling some low blows in our verbal warfare. And although we've improved our ability to communicate during fights slightly, to say we are active listeners would be like saying Kim Kardashian's butt is average.
Sometimes my husband and I shove things under the rug, sometimes we fight like cats and dogs, and sometimes we sit down and have a pretty serious discussion about things we need to fix. I think the key is that we always try to come back to the table to improve the situation for each other. And the making up, which can be pretty great, too, if you know what I mean.