I’ve been reading with interest a bit of a debate going on around Huffington Post Weddings about whether or not marriage is hard work. Some people are getting tired of hearing that oft-touted wisdom about relationships taking lots of work. My relationship thus far has been so easy and simple and loving that it’s difficult for me to imagine what this work people talk about must be. But then I’m not even married yet, so my thoughts are not valid. As the comments suggest, neither is the opinion of a woman only married for two years. “Let’s see what she has to say in ten” one person writes. Another post asks after 34 years, do you still love your husband? Reading the book Sex at Dawn is also providing me with fascinating insight that monogamous pair-bonding might not be at all natural to the human species (but I still want it anyway!)
I cannot know what it feels like to have been with someone for 34 years. All I can do is observe my parents who have been married for 36 years now and are still going strong. One can never know the real inner workings of someone else’s relationship, so I’m sure there are nuances that I don’t know, but these are things that I have observed and I believe contribute to a great marriage…
1) Kindness in action and speech.
I have never seen my parents fight. I’ve never seen them be cold to each other either. No silent treatment or passive-aggressive mumbling. They always treat each other with respect and gentleness.
Some people think that no fighting means that there’s a problem; that feelings are getting pushed down and resentment is growing. That is not necessarily the case. I don’t think that fighting has to be a bad thing, either. If you can fight (or discuss/debate) without being cruel to one another, then I’m sure it can strengthen a relationship. But if you are able to talk through any issue while really listening and valuing what your spouse has to say, then you can be close without ever fighting.
My parents have always woken up early and I know they would spend their quiet morning time getting onto the same page with each other so when my brother and I were growing up, they always had a united front on any issue.
The lack of any fighting in my home growing up has made me rather sensitive to conflict, but luckily Brad and I have a relationship free of anger or fighting. When we disagree about something, we talk about it calmly and we understand each other’s points of view. We talk about everything, but I never feel like I have to defend myself.
2) Breathing space.
My dad’s number one piece of relationship advice to me has always been to not do everything together. Though my parents do a lot of things together, Dad considered it important that they had separate “class” nights at the beginning of their marriage (basically like a religious study group). It gave them something to talk about because they had different discussions at their classes.
Brad and I are one of those joined-at-the-hips couples (and we love it!) but we do have a couple of separate activities. He does Thai Chi classes about ten hours a week and I have all my online activities and communities.
3) A common purpose.
The big thing that I hear again and again is that having kids gives you something to work on with your spouse, but once the kids are grown you can be left with a person that you’ve grown quite far apart from.
I believe that the big key to my parents’ success is that they have a common purpose and project. They are both equally devoted to studying scripture, reading in Sanskrit, and meditating every single day. They are dedicated to finding enlightenment.
Whether my brother and I are there or not, they continue with these activities. They read from the scriptures or discussions every morning. I’ve never known a day when they didn’t meditate for half an hour at dawn and at dusk.
Though Brad and I don’t quite have that yet, we do have very similar ideas about the purpose of life and what we hope to get out of life. We both ponder philosophical questions and Brad meditates and discusses philosophy with my parents.
It’s impossible to know what the future holds for us as a couple, but I believe that we have the tools to grow more together as the years go by rather than growing apart.