My husband and I were celebrating our 41st wedding anniversary the other day. We were having a meal in a restaurant, and unusually, it was just us and our grown son and daughter. It seemed kind of odd; none of the many other assorted relatives and in-laws were present for once. It was just the four of us together, as it had been when the kids were growing up. After we ordered, our son asked, “So, what did you do to stay married for 41 years?”
We were caught flat-footed and unprepared. My husband, as always, had a snappy comeback, but I just shrugged. How to explain? But I thought it was a good question, one that deserved a good answer. After some rumination, I arrived at what seemed to me to be the answer–for me, anyway–and sent it off to the kids. Our daughter thought it was good enough to share with others, so I am sharing it here:
“The other day in the restaurant, Sean asked how we managed to stay married for 41 years. Of course we were unprepared, and your Dad’s response of “Don’t get divorced” is certainly one approach. But I thought it was a good question, and one that deserved an answer, so I have been thinking about it.
“I think the answer is: Get over yourself.
“I probably don’t have to elaborate, but I will, a little. Marriage requires consciously working at it all of the time–and never more than when there are difficulties. We all go into a romantic relationship with a lot of expectations and fantasies. In the beginning, we think all our expectations and fantasies have been realized. (Nature’s sneaky little way of assuring the DNA gets passed on, I suspect.)
“Eventually, after the fairy dust wears off, we start to realize that the beloved is not, in fact, perfection. In fact, he or she definitely has some flaws that need looking after. And maybe he or she isn’t Prince Charming or Princess Aurora after all.
“It takes some effort to also accept that you yourself are no prince or princess either.
“So then it becomes a question of can you accept your spouse, flaws and all? Because you cannot change another person. You can only change yourself. Either you are willing to accept that other person with their flaws and disappointments, or you are not–it’s your decision. As far as your own weaknesses and imperfections are concerned, you also have to decide if you should and will change them to accommodate the other, or not. Obviously (I hope), it’s a process of mutual accommodation, which involves both spouses abandoning those expectations and fantasies that aren’t helping.
“It’s also important to abandon resentment against the other for not being the person you hoped and wished they were and appreciating who they really are. Resentment will poison a relationship to the point where it can never recover, and after all–is it his/her fault that you made them up?
“I don’t mean that you have to abandon your dreams, just your fantasies about what marriage with this person was going to be like. As they say, it is what it is.
“And pick your battles. Some things are just not worth fighting about. It’s just not all about you.
“As Anne Landers used to say, when troubles arise in a marriage, you have to ask yourself if you are better off with your spouse, or without him/her? It’s a simple, but very important question that can sidestep a lot of kerfuffles and soul-searching.
“And I guess my final word is: it’s important to remember that everything changes. For example, when a couple has a new baby, it’s gonna be very tough. Stress, sleep deprivation, not enough sex (for the guy), and (for the woman) too many demands on her (including sex)–all are a perfect recipe for a failed marriage. But it changes. Newborns grow and start sleeping through the night, and eventually you wean the baby, and get enough sleep to start feeling like yourself again. So it’s important to hang in and keep working at it until things get better–or at least long enough to see whether things will get better or not.
“I hope I didn’t come off as some old crone pontificating about life. I think both of you are doing great and do work hard at your relationships. But you asked.
All my love,