There is a ton of advice about marriage floating around in the ether.
Communicate with each other! Keep your sex life vital! Remember the things that first attracted you to one another! Go on date nights! Don’t go to bed angry! And on and on.
It isn’t surprising. Having and maintaining a successful marriage is like finding the holy grail—few manage it and those who do often can’t quite explain how they did.
Some even say the idea of a long term, happy marriage is just a myth; human beings aren’t meant to be monogamous and the expectation that we should strive for something so contrary to our nature guarantees unhappiness and failure.
And I agree that long term monogamy isn’t for everyone, and that perhaps a series of monogamous relationships throughout our lives might be better suited to most. But for those of us, like me, who still believe in the notion that marriages can be long and happy, I offer what I believe is the true secret of sustaining one.
It is simply this: remember that nothing is ever black and white.
In my younger years, especially in my first (wildly unsuccessful and painful) marriage, my partners and I fought—a lot. It seemed not one hour could go by when one of us wasn’t trying to convince the other one to see the world from their perspective. Be they differences of opinion on sex, money, kids and even things as simple as what to eat or what movie to go see, there was always some kind of conflict. It was exhausting.
As I matured, I came to realize that it is possible to believe something or want something without making everyone else want or believe it too. This was a revelation. I could live and let live and the entire world wouldn’t come crashing down around me.
Then I was lucky enough to find a partner who had discovered the same thing.
When two people come together who are able to stand in their own truth without disrespecting their partner’s (possibly quite different) truth, something magical happens. Assuming there is a baseline agreement on general ethics and the parameters of the relationship, it becomes much easier to let go of the little stuff—and it’s the little stuff, revisited with anger and frustration over the course of many years, which can undermine the best relationships.
Many moons ago I used to get really upset that my husband insisted on using paper plates when we have perfectly lovely dishes just one cupboard over.
“It doesn’t make sense!” I’d wring my hands and cry out, day after day. “You’re wasting money, you’re hurting the environment, and you’re choosing to eat on something cheap and ugly just so you don’t have to do a wash!”
His answer was inevitably a smug grin, as if he enjoyed my hand wringing, and a statement along the lines of, “Well I’m saving water so it’s not all bad!”
It was maddening. People have gotten divorced over less.
To me, it seemed so obvious—how could you continue to do something which was so clearly inferior to the way I would have you do it? And to him, the exact same thing was true.
The day I figured out that I could eat off my ceramic plate and he could eat off his paper plate, and everyone would survive the madness was a good day indeed.
When you’re married, this sort of thing comes up all the time, and it is your response which can make or break you. Relinquishing the need to be right is a great shortcut to marital happiness. Combine this with some other classic tips—have lots of (enthusiastic) sex, don’t hold grudges, laugh as much as possible and be generous with your love—and “happily ever after” is suddenly within reach.
My husband and I don’t have a perfect marriage, but we do have a happy one. It exists in all the grey areas between who we are as individuals and who we are as a couple, those places known and unknown but always accepted as a part of the special thing we have created.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Sean McGrath