Truth Byte #69: It’s the little things that hold us together.
As Spring arrives, so does wedding season. So many people get so excited for their big day, spend lavishly, dress scrumptiously, and gather together friends and family to witness this lifelong commitment.
But what happens after the dust has settled and the humdrum of regular life kicks in?
This year is my lucky 13 in marriage, and while I still consider myself quite the infant when it comes to married life, there are some things that I have picked up in this last decade that may be useful if you are newly married or struggling with a marriage that doesn’t feel like what you signed up for.
WARNING: I know that some readers may be annoyed by this post because marriage actually didn’t work out so well for them, and I understand that perspective. But even those who have been through horrible endings, once they have had a chance to allow the wounds to heal, will likely seek out a long-term companion. Whether married, common-law, live-in, deeply committed, or some other label, I know about some things that are actually working for people in monogamous relationships. So if that’s you, it still may be worth the read.
What does it take to remain content and connected as a married couple?
When I scroll through my social media feeds, I see married couples on fancy holidays and picnics in the park. I see birthday bashes, sporting events, daddy-daughter dates, and girls' night out.
But what I don't see is what actually sustains us in marriage.
What we don’t see is the daily connection, the interrupted conversations, that sweet touch on the small of the back, that look of adoration. What we don’t see is the tightening of lips and shoulders when someone puts down the one you love in front of you. What we don’t see is the teasing hug good night before bed because she wants to stay up and watch mindless tv, and that’s okay with you. What we don’t see is him making your mom feel better when she uses the wrong pronoun.
These little moments are what keeps a marriage afloat during stormy waters.
No one ever told me about the power of these little things when I was a newly-wed. We committed our lives to each other after living on our own terms for a decade.
Suddenly, our lives were expected to blend together seamlessly.
There were times I felt so lonely and confused, even though my partner was lying right next to me in bed. I guess I thought marriage was going to be like a series of dates, each one more thoughtful and surprising than the next because as time went on, he would get to know me better, right? And for the first couple of years, it was.
We played house, had a baby, figured out how to include each other in our families of birth, and paid all our bills on time.
But as time marched on, our calendars got busy, we had another baby and suddenly date night was not easy to pencil in. As my partner loves to say, we became two ships, passing in the night. We decided to attend a 9-month training program to learn about the dynamics of intimate relationships, and finally we started to see how the ebbs and flows we were experiencing were part of the maturation of our bond. We learned about the stages and phases of love, and how authenticity and commitment would always bring us back to each other.
We learned that our marriage was something we had to mould and tend to, otherwise, in a very short time, and without warning, it would wither away.
We watched as that withering happened to some dear friends around us. We watched as they let each other go in search of greener pastures, while their children, parents, friends, and extended family tried to figure out how to reconcile this new normal.
We wondered if it was just a matter of time before we were that couple that drifted away from each other. Neither of us can look at our own parents and say, “Now there’s a happy couple”, so we had no role-models to look up to.
So we studied relationships, grew together while remaining strong in ourselves, and we looked for mentors, people who had the kind of marriage we wanted to someday have.
And we found them!
This older couple that we know just go together like peanut butter and jelly, like milk and cookies, like saag and roti. They get each other. Each of them makes the other seem shinier. They are also not afraid to ask for what they need and disagree (honestly and respectfully) on a regular basis. They have surrounded themselves with other people who believe in marriage and are willing to fight through the storms holding hands. They are the two rocking on the porch at the end of a life well-lived who the neighborhood kids call Grandma and Grandpa.
The two essential ingredients they have cultivated are: mutual respect and a deep, abiding friendship.
So that’s what we hold on to now: mutual respect and deep friendship. When things get heated I ask myself if I would say what’s about to come out of my mouth to a friend. He asks himself if the respect he feels for me is strong enough to stand up for me when it counts. We keep coming back to each other, no matter how far away our ships sail in the night.
We invest in the little things.
Sometimes we go to bed angry, because that works for him. He always wakes up feeling better. Sometimes we hash it out, because that works for me. I can sleep soundly then. So yes, there is give and take, and unfortunately, I don’t really get to be a brat and get my way all the time (though I SOOOOOO want to sometimes!). I have to show up as an adult and treat him like one too. No matter what the conflict, the marriage comes first, always. Before the kids, before our jobs, before our extended family obligations, before finances, our marriage is first.
So those are my thoughts on marriage, and how it’s actually the little things that keep us together. I am someone who loves to learn about myself and the people around me, and if you are too, here are some books that have helped us along the way:
If It Hurts, It Isn’t Love by Chuck Spezzano
Mars and Venus in the Bedroom by John Gray
The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine
I Wish He Had Come With Instructions by Mike Bechtle
How Can I Be Your Lover When I am Too Busy Being Your Mother? by Sarah Dimerman & J.M. Kearns
Listen to our podcast and join my husband and I as we journey through marriage and parenting, and adulting in general, and let us know if there is a topic you want to hear us talk about.