“I am in an arranged marriage,” is what I tell myself sometimes.
It stops me from saying “buh-bye” when my marriage goes through a few weeks of feeling distant. Or days of my husband and I facing off over some child rearing issue or after a particularly grueling session of not seeing each other’s perspective.
How would I handle this if divorce was not an option?
I would have to go back to the negotiation table, learn how to present my case more effectively and probably end up (ugh) compromising.
In this modern day culture, it’s easy to throw away a marriage because we’re bored or fed up—perhaps not even realizing that we might be bored or fed up with ourselves more than anything else. Whether it’s the routine of our jobs, our hobbies, the pressure of raising children or worse, teens, or any of our choices, it’s easy to blame the spouse for all kinds of dissatisfaction.
As a matter of fact, we can be completely blind to our own sense of complacency and decide to end a marriage, which, surprisingly, won’t end the boredom or the sense of frustration associated with raising kids, paying bills, and having responsibilities. That always seems to be a surprise after the dust settles and the fun of “plenty of fish” has faded.
It is thought that our most spiritual journey is the trip we take with our spouses. And if we hang in there, we can learn so much about ourselves and share a deep love and companionship that goes beyond: “What are you gonna do for me?”
Marriage or whatever long-term relationship you’re in is indeed the most spiritual journey you will ever take because first of all, guess what? Being alone is easy. Being alone means: I don’t have to worry if I leave my dishes in the sink overnight, I don’t have to get irritated with incessant sports chatter, I don’t have to pick up after anyone, I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s schedule. It’s easy to be as calm as Buddha when we live alone—there’s no one around to disrupt us being ourselves.
One of my favourite lines to hear when talking to single women over a certain age who are looking for a new guy is, “I’m not going to settle.”
Well, after 20-plus years of marriage, sweetheart, I can tell you that I settle almost every day. Every day, I compromise, barter, blackmail, ask, beg, wish and command. I also love, giggle, get irritated, and generally try to make life for myself and my family fun, exciting and not about me.
Furthermore, as much as I hate to admit it, my husband also settles. I’m not a size zero porn star and I’m messy—I leave a trail of my stuff throughout the house. I have unfinished chores and tasks that may or may not get finished. I whine and I get cranky—monthly. I steal his toothpaste and forget to put the cap back on, I finish the last of the granola and put the box back in the cupboard, and I leave zero gas in his tank. I never do what I say I’m going to do and I change my mind constantly. I ask him to do random chores around the house and feign helplessness when he won’t agree to do them. I nag, I complain, I compare.
But, I also cook for him, rub his sore shoulder, make him coffee every morning, and try to pay attention when he’s talking about the same topic he has been ranting about over the past five years. I pretend to be interested in football and I tell him he looks great when he’s been working out a lot. I listen to his problems about work. I think of nice surprises for him. I try to come up with amazing birthday presents for him because I know he loves receiving gifts—yes, he’s that one from the five love languages.
Marriage is a give and take. My parents divorced when I was nine or 10 so I don’t think I ever valued the idea of a long marriage for its own sake. Admittedly, through this 20-year adventure called marriage, there have been many moments that I wanted to tap out (or maybe make him tap out) but if I’d never gotten past all the stuff, all the battles, all the power trips about whose turn it was to do this or that, I would never have had a chance to experience the richness, the deep love that I am experiencing now.
And for the record, we have a lot of shared hobbies but we are very different people. I teach yoga, he hunts. I recycle everything, he believes it’s a big waste. He didn’t believe in global warming for the longest time, I turn off every light in the house as I leave each room. I run, he lifts. I panic, he relaxes.
It’s not the shared stuff or the stuff we do apart that matters, it’s the respect and the decision to learn from our differences rather than to hold them up as examples of how we don’t see eye to eye. It’s a playfulness, and an intention to offer up the good over and over. This is the path, this has been my greatest learning.
Author: Francesca ter Poorten
Image: Courtesy of Tareck Raffoul
Editors: Catherine Monkman; Sarah Kolkka