Continuing with the 30 Things series today I find myself writing about something I’ve shared and written about before. My marriage. I don’t know if I have anything new to say on the topic but I’ll try. (I wrote this line a few days ago and as I come back now to edit and publish I find myself both amazed and amused that I had so much more to say.)
We are told, sometimes in an effort to make us feel better during dark times, that passion isn’t possible without pain. Every relationship is different but that hasn’t been my experience. When I see quotes, hear songs or hear people express sentiments about love being painful I honestly don’t get it. Someone once said to me, “I’m sure R has said or done things that hurt you deeply and changed you forever.” She said it as if it were a given, a natural byproduct of “true love.” I remember being bewildered by this but I was also young and going through one of those low points so I wondered if the fact that he hadn’t hurt me meant we didn’t love each other enough to experience that depth of emotion. I now realize that just because we can hurt each other that deeply doesn’t mean we will. We’ve certainly had low points in our relationship but that was largely due to our own inner turmoil and insecurities, not because of things we’d done to each other.
I have found that when I express this that many people interpret it to be an indictment of their own relationship but that is not my intent. I love R enough, and I hope he loves me enough, that if we ever experience that kind of pain as the result of the other’s actions that we would be able to move past it, that it wouldn’t necessarily undo all of the good. I have respect and admiration for people who are able to accomplish this and, sometimes, even come through it with a stronger relationship. I just no longer believe the lie our society teaches that it is a necessary component of true love. I want my children to know this. I want them to know that they do not have to accept pain from people and call it love. Whether it be a future partner, a friend or even a family member real love makes us feel better about ourselves and the world, not worse. Healthy and strong relationships may go through difficult times; they may involve pain at some point but not always and they certainly shouldn’t be centered around these things. There doesn’t have to be drama to have passion.
It’s important to add that choosing not to have drama isn’t the same thing as having no conflict. R and I are very different people. We don’t always enjoy the same things, see the world through the same lens or have the same priorities. That means we will have disagreements. We also spend a lot of time together and sometimes we’re tired, cranky, hormonal, distracted or frustrated. Sometimes we take that out on each other. We don’t mean to but we do. But we’ve learned how to communicate without yelling. We know ourselves, and each other, well enough to navigate our differences and emotions in productive ways. This is the “hard work” people often talk about in relationship to marriage. Finding ways to compromise and allow space for the other person to be him/herself without compromising or boxing yourself in too much is more difficult for some of us than others. I spent a lot of years giving more than was healthy but this wasn’t R’s fault because I never spoke up. I could see and understand his point of view and then mistakenly put his wishes and desires ahead of my own in an effort to not only “keep the peace” but also because I thought it would be selfish to do otherwise. I was unknowingly diminishing myself and that mistake nearly destroyed our relationship. Thankfully I figured out that a person of integrity will never truly be happy in this kind of skewed dynamic; R is absolutely a person of integrity and therefore couldn’t be happy, even if he always got “his” way, if I was unhappy. Instead of sacrificing I had to learn to compromise (which, incidentally, is much more difficult than sacrifice in the short term but much easier to sustain in the long term). I learned to speak up about the things that were truly important and we both learned to listen to what was truly important to the other and find ways for us both to be happy.
Which brings me to that word that keeps popping up- happy. What does that mean in functional, healthy relationship? For R and I it means solidarity, contentment, purposeful, passionate, fun, silly, loving, respectful and so much more. We are not happy in every moment of every day but the underlying current of our relationship sustains us through the moments that are less than perfect. It sustains us even when we are apart. I am generally at my most happy and fulfilled at the times we are together but I am not only happy and fulfilled at those times. Our partnership is all about strengthening each other and that means we carry more strength out into the world as we pursue our individual interests and responsibilities. Having someone to lean on makes it easier to stand on my own two feet when necessary.
Finally, since this series is for my children there’s one more important thing I want to be sure they understand. Relationships are important, perhaps the most important thing we do with our limited time. I wish all of the things for you I’ve described here but want you to know that these things are possible in ALL loving relationships, not just romantic ones. You don’t have to find someone to marry to find someone to support you. You don’t have to accept less than being your true self to sustain a relationship and that includes the relationships you have with family and friends- even me. Learn to express who you are without diminishing others then look around to see who is still there; those are the people to hold onto regardless of the nature of your relationship. I consider myself extremely lucky to be married to R but even luckier that he is truly my best friend. I know it’s popular and even a bit trite for married couples to say this but I don’t know how else to describe it. I can say anything to him, express an opinion or desire, search for my true self, try on new ideas only to discard them later and generally be myself with him more than I can with any other person in the world. If that isn’t a best friend I don’t know what is. I try very hard not to take that friendship for granted and I strive to be the same for him.