This summer will mark the 12th year that my partner and I have been together. I started using the term partner, rather than husband, about two years ago when my disdain for the heteronormative construct of marriage began. I’ve learned a few things over the years, one of them being how foolish I was when I tied the knot at the tender age of 25.
Love as a Fairytale
I grew up believing all the fallacies that fairytales had to offer, despite my parents (whose relationship shows how long two people who despise each other can stay together). I thought the story goes like this: two people meet, they fell in love, grow a family and live happily ever after.
I did all I could to ensure that my fate looked more like a fairytale than the nightmare that was my parent’s marriage.
When I was 14 I lobbied to get into an AP Psych class a year early because I longed to understand how to create healthy relationships. I started my personal research at 17 by asking my Aunt, who had been happily married for over 20 years, if I could interview her about her healthy marriage. I went on to get an undergraduate degree in Psychology (focusing my honors capstone on the book Why We Love by Helen Fisher). Once I understood romantic love and had secured a partner, I went on to “fix myself.” This is where I realized I might run into a few snags in becoming the perfect wife and mother. My delusional Disney snow globe was shattered in part because I could barely get off the couch. I was severely depressed and anxious in that period of my life. So to “fix myself,” I decided to go back to grad school and research what truly creates wellbeing. It didn’t go exactly as planned.
Don’t Fix Yourself, Love Yourself
Rather than learning how to fix myself, I learned how to love myself. That. Changed. Everything.
I stopped trying to be what society thought I should be, and that included how I showed up in my marriage. The funny thing is, a lot of what I thought I was supposed to be was actually causing the greatest amount of pain in my life. By constantly striving to achieve perfection, I was a stressed-out mess. I was so worried about how I was being perceived that I literally struggled to get out of the house to do basic errands.
So once I stop showing up in the way I thought I was supposed to, I started to show up more fully in all my relationships, and my expectations changed. I wanted to be seen, desired, and met where I was, how I was. I wanted intentional relationships.
Maintaining Relationship Vitality
Oftentimes, people enter into marriage for all the wrong reasons. I realized that my motivations for getting married were to 1) lock it down so we couldn’t fu** other people, and 2) make sure he couldn’t leave once I was knocked-up. Now I know what I want:, woman or man, open or closed, I want a partner. I want someone who shows up. I want someone who intentionally continues to see me and show up for this course we call life.
Many marriages fail because they become a convenience, more about the predictability of occupying the same space, at the same time.
To stay connected, it is essential to intentionally show up for each other, to share your highs and lows, and to respond to the other person with engaged interest.
John Gottman’s is one of the world’s foremost experts on marriage success. He has, with 87.4% accuracy, predicted couple’s likelihood of divorce within the first five years of marriage. Gottman cites active constructive responding (looking at each other, not your phones, and engaging with what’s on each other’s mind, aka giving a sh**) as one of the fundamental keys to a lasting relationship*.
In other words, the fatal kiss in relationships is when you’re not interested in your partner but just coasting through life together. Of course, just coasting happens at times. However, if you can’t remember the last time you engaged in an intentional conversation, it might be time to ask some difficult questions. You may ask yourself (and your partner), if my partner and I were not together but were friends, what would we connect over? If you can’t think of a few things, then it’s time to discuss together how your partnership could better serve each of you.
Your partnership can be one of the most rewarding and exciting parts of life. If it’s feeling more like day-old bread, throw some butter and garlic on it and make some croutons to add to that tomato soup…you’ve never put croutons in your tomato soup?!? Well now you will ;).
For ideas on learning how to engage through traveling, check out my blog on The Perfect Traveling Partner.
* Carstensen, L. L., Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1995). Emotional Behavior in Long-term Marriage. Psychology and Aging, 10(1), 140