My husband and I have been married for almost 20 years. Our marriage isn’t bad but at this age I’m starting to question why couples stay together. It feels like there could be more. Most of our conversations seem to be complaints about each other and even when we think we’re getting along we’re just complaining about the same things. Is there any way to inject some life back into our marriage or do I have to change husbands to accomplish that?
Does it surprise you that I applaud your desire for more? I think you both deserve more too. But no, you don’t have to change relationships. You can change it as a part of a personal renaissance, but you would be surprised at how accurate our early choices can actually be.
Couples are generally attracted to each other for their mismatched strengths. If one person came from a distant, un-loving family they will be attracted to people who have close-knit families. If your parents were too loose and you got into too much trouble, you might be more fearful or strict, which will attract you to people who are more casual and brave etc. etc. It all makes perfect sense if you think about it. Bent pots need bent lids. If life’s raised me to think I’m here to organize things, then a disorganized person feels like a perfect match. It isn’t until we get tired of organizing things that relationships start to fall apart. Then we start to tell ourselves stories about why we’re only that way because of our spouse. And those stories become our ego’s narrative. That becomes our identity. It is the story of us. Therein we describe to ourselves the value of our own life.
We can really depress or anger ourselves with that narrative. We can tell ourselves stories about other choices that we imagine would have resulted in better things. We compare those better results to what we are actually experiencing and that is where the distance forms. Instead of focusing on how warm and caring our spouse is, we notice she weighs more than she used to and we begin to compare her to other, slimmer women. Or we forgo focusing on the fact that our partner is honest and kind, we begin to take that for granted and we just notice how much sexier someone else’s health-obsessed husband is.
Where this comparative narrative strikes the sharpest contrast is with raising children. When the couple got married it was ostensibly a statement expressing that they each felt that they had found the very best person on Earth to join themselves together with. And yet because of their differing experiences growing up they will have very different ideas about what the important parts of parenting are. If your parents ignored you, then giving your children time will be very important to you and you’ll appreciate the value in it. But if your parents smothered you, then you’ll want freedom and you’ll assume it’s the most important thing to your kids just like it was to you. When these two loving ideas meet in one marriage trouble can ensue.
Despite the fact that the impulses above are both loving and logical, conflict will form simply because their are different. The couple will forget the faith they had in each other (the faith that their very marriage was based on), and they’ll start arguing about the details. Certainly some key—especially disciplinary—approaches benefit enormously from being coordinated and aligned, but otherwise both approaches to parenting will bring value, just different sorts of value.
So the important thing is not the details in parenting—what’s important is that each partner is focused on creating a loving, supportive, instructive environment for the children. Each parent will tend to teach different things, so it’s natural for each to think the other is focused on the “wrong” things simply because we cannot recognize what is being imparted. We must remember not to be too arrogant about what will work. There are too many excellent people with terrible children. 😉
Whether they’re fighting over how to raise kids or about the lack of affection or sex in a relationship, what people are really doing is forgetting who they’re with. They’re focusing on the narratives about their differences rather than on maintaining an awareness of why they got married in the first place. To me they always look the same. I always see two people who love each other who can’t see the love because they keep putting up thought-based story-walls between them and that fact. They keep telling me why they’re not happy even though they’re not even trying to be happy—they’re too focused on itemizing why they can’t be.
Can you see how easy it is to refresh a marriage? Sure, 20% of people maybe married the wrong person in a temporary state of mind. Fair enough. Leave, move on and make a more harmonious choice next time. But most people just have to go back to doing what they did when their relationships were rewarding and successful: they have to appreciate each other.
So it might seem strange to meet your disappointing husband with appreciation, but that’s the only reason he ever looked good enough to marry in the first place. And the same goes for his attraction to you. You’re still the same two people with the same qualities. You just keep telling yourself stories about what you wish was different when happiness is created when you’re grateful for what you already have. And really and truly is that easy.