Twenty-five years, six kids and a lot of life in the military later there have been some difficult moments for sure. Bills, car repairs, laundry, emotional crisis, failure, grief, loss, loneliness, children, animals, illness—the list goes on and on. But I think it is best if we just call it all “life.” There’s a flip side to that list: laughter, love, devotion, joy, admiration, children, passion, success and many tender moments. That’s life too. You can’t have one list without the other. There must be opposition in all things. It is true for marriage as well. It is and will always be a work in progress peppered with good times and difficult times too.
Initially drawn to each other because of mutual attraction, the lusty spark we think is love begins to buckle under the weight of “life.” It doesn’t take long for that first passionate flash of love to be tested. That’s when the journey to find a deep and abiding love actually begins.
I wanted to see what the “experts” out there thought was necessary for a successful marriage. There were enough ideas and opinions to pop up in .36 seconds to prove everyone has an opinion as to what constitutes a good relationship: 5, 600,000 opinions. I stopped reading them and decided to just make my own list.
Sex. That’s kind of a no brainer. However it’s the first on the list because it’s the first to change. It hopefully never really leaves but morphs as your marriage grows and matures. It’s important to recognize sex alone does not a marriage make. This theory has been well tested. I’m pretty sure pregnancies and the post partum that comes with the beautiful bundles of joy have proven that point. Remember the opposition in all things?
Time. In the military, it’s quality not quantity. Don’t stop dating each other. You have to find time to be together as a couple, not mom and dad, or double dating with the Jones, but just the two of you. Dates don’t have to be expensive and elaborate. We actually spent a whole evening (which is rare) watching episode after episode of a TV show we both enjoy.
Fun. Sometimes you just have to go have FUN. Doing things and constantly creating new memories weaves your lives closer together. I keep trying to get him to go kayaking with me. He says he is not in the mood to tow me around the river. I guess both spouses have to think the activity is fun to qualify.
Respect. I have always said a spouse should be more impressed with their mate than they are with themselves. I find it to be true, most of the time. I am still impressed with his ability to navigate on foot or in a vehicle in any country. It’s freakishly not normal. He is impressed with my ability to find anything in my creatively organized and kept home. As a military spouse, respect is a big deal. Over the years and deployments, he has developed a respect for my ability to do things, even if it’s not the way he would do them.
Putting things in perspective. We have a choice how we react. Little things that annoy us can either be the fuel for detrimental fights or they can become a funny little thing I like to call marriage lore. For instance, my husband tries out four different spots in a parking lot before he brings his truck to a stop. It’s like a dog turning in circles before he settles down. I used to get quite cranky because I thought we were stopped and would start to get out. Now I simply bite the inside of my cheek to keep from sighing out loud as he moves from one spot to another. Right when I’ve about had enough I catch him looking at me out of the corner of his eye with a smirk on his face. Pick your battles, my friends; the parking lot is not the biggest issue couples have to address.
Forgiveness. I forgive him, especially when he decides to park as far away from the door to the store as he can. Okay, there’s more to it than that. Real forgiveness means you both seek to reconcile the situation and learn from it and move on. “I’m sorry,” even if you are not the one who “started it,” are powerful words. I promise that you will never regret having been kind, especially if it begins the process of productive communication.
Communication. My husband is a communicator in the Marine Corps. This is false advertising when it came to relationships. When I suggested we talk about our “feelings,” his silent groan was actually audible. Learning to really hear what your spouse is saying, acknowledging it, and respecting each other’s feelings is an ongoing life event. The good thing is, the longer we’ve been married, the more we understand with fewer words.
Similar beliefs. Having the same belief system and life philosophy is HUGE. Having that same foundation brings depth and layers to everything else we do. What we believe, what we teach our children how we respond to others and to difficult times all springs from the same place. Most importantly we know how to help each other find our way back when we start to feel lost.
Sense of humor. Even in the darkest of moments, we have found a way to laugh together. It’s how we handle life, by giggling through it. Usually the giggles follow tears, but the point is we do it together. Having a sense of humor about our arguments, our sorrow and grief helps us work through times that might otherwise be unbearable. Laughter IS good for the soul, and for a marriage.
So if my story began once upon a time, did I get a fairy tale? No and I don’t want the fairy tale. I love my real life, my prince in dress blues and together we keep working on our real life happily ever after.