Marriage is something that affects all of us, whether directly or indirectly. It might be that we want (or don’t want) it, we know many people that are in it, or we’ve had a good or bad experience with it. For many of us, it’s one of those milestones in life that tick the box of ‘achievement’, that step us up for the next stage. It satisfies a deep longing for relationship, companionship and love.
But what about sustaining a marriage partnership? What about working at it? What about the times when we feel that it is unbearably tough? What the heck do we do then?
The fairytale that Hollywood portrays marriage, partnership and ‘love’ to be is wonderful, heart-warming and most of the time, completely untrue (sorry!!!) It is far from realistic when it comes to maintaining, sustaining and nourishing a marriage day in day out and importantly, for the long haul. In a society where roughly half of marriages end in divorce, isn’t it actually our prerogative as not only married couples, but as a society, to try and reduce this rate? Why doesn’t ‘society’ talk much about how to do it – how to actually maintain a good marriage?
Out there, we often just see two opposing sides – the ‘in-love’ experience of how people get together, where we cry and have our hearts-warmed by stories of falling in love; and then relationships and marriages failing, and the often heart-breaking stories of separation, divorce, and betrayal. This is probably something to do with the fact that we want to be instantly gratified – relationships and marriages are great when they feel good, but worth dumping when they don’t. Romance, incredible sex, wonderful connection, understanding and fulfillment can all exist in a marriage – but certainly not all the time and sometimes not all at once. Anyone that has been married for more than a few months could attest to this! Marriage is not about satisfying and gratifying ourselves when we feel like it, it’s about building a sustainable partnership that combines love, action, effort, discipline, sacrifice, servant-heartedness, romance, sexuality and self-improvement, all mixed in together.
So what about the people that are happily married for 5,10,30,50 years? What have they done to stay happily, lovingly married alongside all of the knocks that life can throw at you?
We all have different experiences when it comes to marriage. My experiences is that I am a child of parents who stayed together – although like most couples, could have easily reached the point of no return on many occasions. My husband is a child of parents who just celebrated 40 years of marriage. Most of my close friends parents’ interestingly stayed together, but all of them have stories of incredible heartache, moving within and between cultures together, having multiple children, losing parents, and probably points where they thought they would lose each other. So how do these marriages not only survive, but thrive?
Of course, there is no ‘recipe’. As Mr. Gump says, life is like a box of Chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get. And like people, every marriage is different. So, standing high and mighty and saying ‘THIS is the right and only way to make a marriage thrive,’ is ridiculous. However, there are definitely things to do and things not to do. There are absolutely tips and advice that we can take from other couples that we admire.
I was once sitting at a church service where the pastor asked, ‘Think about one couple in your life you admire that you think has the best marriage.’ This is an important question that I encourage you to ask yourself. This is because your answer will reveal what you value in a partnership and why that couple demonstrate a strong relationship to you. And also – feel free to tell them! It’s a pretty wonderful compliment 🙂
So that brings us to me. Me and my husband Jack just celebrated 4 years of marriage (8 years together). Not long in the scheme of things, but still (to me), a milestone. Even in only the 4 years I have been married (yes, no time at all, thankyou, old timers!), there have been times where I have walked out of the house disoriented and in tears, my heart falling out from underneath me. And these reactions are not at all from a terrible tragedy. They are usually from feeling misunderstood, and incredibly frustrated and upset as a result. Let me give you an example that at the time was soul-destroying, and now is something that Jack and I laugh about with other couples. Feel free to chuckle yourself…
A few weeks after we got married and only a week after we had got back from our honeymoon, I celebrated a birthday. Not a momentous one, just a Birthday. Leading up to it, I had friends that were telling me ‘You are so lucky to be married on your Birthday – Jack is just going to spoil you so much! I’m so jealous!!’ These were conversations which led me to believe that actually, it was going to be awesome and Jack was going to spoil me, his beautiful new wife, beyond belief. Lucky me! How wonderful he was! As an extrovert that loves surprises, being spoilt and being the centre of attention, this was quite a lead up of emotions for me. So, the day arrived! I woke up in the morning, he made me a cup of tea in bed and gave me my present with a card. Ray-bans! – Good one, love. Then, he took me to a ‘mysterious’ surprise place down the road for breakfast, where I walked in and some of my family were there waiting for me with presents. Wonderful! Amazing effort. So, I enjoyed my breakfast with my family, chatting and drinking coffee. On the way home from breakfast, I said excitedly – ‘so what are we doing for the rest of the day?’ – dreaming of lunch and dinner in separate, beautiful, hand-picked, romantic places just for me. Jack said ‘Oh, I thought we could go to the beach, or something.’ I stared at him. OR SOMETHING!?!…You mean nothing else is planned? … I was devastated.
Fast forward a few hours later and I’m sitting on our bed crying and screaming like a toddler, circled up in the fetal position, having just been told that I’m incredibly spoilt and unappreciative. Later, Jack had said that when I was clearly unhappy about the day not being perfectly planned and orchestrated with breakfast, lunch and dinner in different places, he flashed forward to what his life would look like if he gave in to my unrealistic expectations. Each birthday and occasion having to be better than the next, incredible amounts of money spent, pressure for weeks leading up to the day, my getting ever more expectant – and he decided to nip it in the bud. Harsh, yes – but necessary. Better timing next time, sure! But, I needed to learn that whilst Birthday’s were special, they weren’t the be all and end all.
See, after this spat we discussed much more rationally together how our parents had treated birthdays when we were kids. Being summer in Perth, my mum would let me have a big pool party with all my cousins, we would have games and gifts and a big family celebration. It would be a wonderful event! In Jack’s house however, he got given a croissant and coco-pops in the morning and a present over breakfast, and then it was off to school like any other day. Of course, hearing this horrified me. How could there be so little celebration!? But then I realised that it was just the way things were, and we had to reach a compromise – negotiate how we would do Birthdays. With my unrealistic expectations lowered significantly and Jack’s somewhat lifted, I’m pleased to say that the Birthday spats of epic proportions have not continued beyond our first year (although I must admit, I’m still growing in this area!!)
Jack and I, on one of our better days 🙂
Marriage is between two people that come from different upbringings and often diverse cultures, and experiences of parenting and childhood, all of which create different values in the big and small things – from what we believe spiritually to what type of yoghurt we buy (actually!) Even if your partner is from the exact same culture, nationality and even hometown, there’s going to be so many things that you will disagree on and things that you assumed were either right or common-sense that your partner may completely not align with. No amount of romantic feelings or ‘in-love-ness’ at times can stop these disagreements from happening, and we need to be aware of this. It’s how and when we approach these disagreements and potential conflicts that is key to protecting our marriage and relationship.
So why am I, a rookie (you might ask), rambling about marriage? This is why: because 1. I think it’s important; 2. There is not enough talk out there about how we realistically maintain a marriage; and 3. I believe keeping marriages together and happy is key to a strong relationship, family, community and society. After all, I believe marriage and relationship is a foundation of society.
So what do we do about it? Just grin and bear the crap times until we feel in love again – if ever? I say, no. Just like anything, it’s about being proactive and investing time in our relationship so that we can both reap the benefits and pre-empt those struggles that we will inevitably go through as a couple. Part of this is also healing from those crap (or heart-breaking) times that we’ve had as a couple and moving forward from them together. This takes significant courage and effort, but if it saves and improves a marriage? Worth it ten-fold!
So, in this vein, Jack and I embarked on a Marriage Course. It was 7-week course offered through a big church in the UK, and was attended by 100’s of couples. We went every week, and each week focused on a different theme – Building Strong Foundations, the Art of Communication, Resolving Conflict, The Power of Forgiveness, The Impact of Family – Past and Present Love in action, Good Sex and Love in Action.
So, we wanted to share some of the gold with you. Over the next little while, we will highlight and delve into some of these important themes that reveal some interesting things about ourselves and our partners – in marriages and also in other relationships in our lives: friendships, romantic relationships, relationships with our parents and those with our children.
If for nothing else, read them for some funny (and, rather embarrassing) anecdotes from our own lives! God knows that I really do get things wrong at times… 😉
Thankyou now and in the future to my wonderful Husband for loving me through everything.
Here’s to Marriage!