Secrets Of A Lasting Marriage

I hated my husband when I first met him.  As a college girl in constant search for love, my reaction to our introduction was, ‘I could never marry someone like him.’  Twenty-five years later we’re still together. Life has a sense of humor that way.

As we celebrate our silver anniversary, and people teasingly ask us our secret to a lasting marriage, we answer sarcastically, “We still have no idea.  We’re making it up as we go.”

Marriage doesn’t come with a GPS.  And the tour guides that one could consult are limited by the simple fact that they aren’t living your relationship.  The reality of partnership is that it requires Work and no one can do it for you.  As Friend likes to say: “Marriage, not as advertised.”

If I were to renew my marriage vows from the perspective of a seasoned wife, they would sound very different from the original version.  In truth, I had no idea what I was promising when I said ‘I do’ in my relative infancy. 

How could I know what it meant to love through bad times when life hadn’t taken me down yet? 

How could I understand the level of courage, stamina, and flexibility that marriage requires when love was fresh and new?

Instead of promising to ‘honor and cherish all the days of my life’ (which is a cruel set-up for failure if you ask me) I’d say something more realistic like this:

I promise to learn about love with you and do my best to rise to its challenges.

Love is an everyday choice, a deliberate effort – like making a meal. Some days I eat junk food and my body suffers. Some days I offer more attention to my social media page than I do my beloved and our love suffers. Choices.

I’d wager that at some point in every marriage, a couple wakes up to the reality that, for better or for worse, love changes. What was once simple becomes more complicated. This isn’t bad news. Weathered love has character. Its scars tell stories of both tough times and triumphs that render it more durable and perhaps less pretty from the process.  But then, marriage isn’t a beauty pageant.

Dave Willis said, ‘Couples who last aren’t the ones who never had a reason to divorce.” 

I’m no expert on sustainable relationships but this sounds accurate to me.  It isn’t the absence of struggle that leads to happy ever after.  It’s the idea that there’s something beyond the struggle that’s worth finding.

In my experience, love has to be just a bit stronger than fear.  Compassion, a little bigger than judgment.  Patience, a little deeper than frustration. And forgiveness, a little freer than resentment.  Marriage doesn’t require perfection to thrive.  It just needs a slight edge above the alternatives.

Husband and I aren’t a model couple.  Our relationship can be fierce by comparison.  We are loud with each other, raw, and often careless with words.  But after all this time, we know that this too is love.

What a Girl Really Wants

mix-tapeA sappy song played in the background while Beagle and I prepped dinner.  “I’m head over boots for you” the singer declared.  In a defeated tone, Beagle said, “I feel like this is how girls want boys to be, but I just don’t talk that way.”

Poor teen boy has entered the realm of romantic relationships and he realizes that his natural boyish M.O. won’t be enough to satisfy the very different desires of his love interests. 

We refer to male and female as the opposite sex for a reason.  Girls can be complicated.  Men, maybe not as much.

men-women-on-off-switch

Girl code, or what a girl wants without telling you but expects that you will know and be willing to deliver on a regular and perfectly timed schedule, could take a lifetime of intimate relationships to figure out.  Heck, girls sometimes can’t decipher their own jumble of mind and emotions.

Take heart, my son, you don’t need to speak the fancy words.  Instead of resenting love songs, you can borrow from their poetic wisdom to help you.  Make a playlist for a girl and tell her that the songs remind you of her.  In my day we called them ‘mixed tapes’ and they weren’t nearly as easy to make as picking digital tracks off the internet.   Just be sincere and make sure you know the message of the song.  You wouldn’t want to dedicate a supposed love song like REM’s “The One I Love” which sounds nice but is really about moving on from a girl who is a “simple prop to occupy my time.”

Furthermore, if you can get past your distaste of sappy song lyrics, you might learn a thing or two about girls from the message behind the words.  For example:

I only have eyes for you. 

No one enjoys a wandering eye in a partner.  Don’t look at other girls, talk about other girls, or even contemplate that another girl exists.  Just kidding about that last bit.  But seriously, love the one you’re with or break it off.

i-only-have-eyes-for-you

I’ll be a man who will fight for your honor…. I’ll be the hero you’ve been dreaming of. 

Chivalry is not dead, even in an age of feminism.  A girl, like anyone, enjoys knowing that you’ve got her back.  A woman I know met her husband for the first time at a frat party and fell in love with him because when she passed gas he took the blame for it.  It doesn’t take much to be someone’s hero.

my_hero__by_retro_ccn-d5s5jo4

She don’t know she’s beautiful

I’ll go out on a limb and say that there isn’t one living girl who doesn’t like to be told she’s beautiful.  Even if she should know it.  Even if you’ve told her a million times.  Even if you just told her 3 seconds ago.  You get my point.

every-woman-deserves-to-have-a-man-who-is-proudly-196906

Here’s the short of it… every person, male or female, benefits from three common things: attention, affection, and admiration.  The need for fulfillment of these basics doesn’t go away.  Finding unique ways to provide these staples to a loved one is the challenge and the fun in relationships.  Rise up to the challenge, my son, and start studying those love songs, romantic movies, and not-so-subtle hints dropped by girls.

a-real-man

5 Things I Want My Son To Know About Dating

mother's day tea. (2)Dear Beagle,

When you were in preschool we had a special date called “Mother’s Day Tea.  You and your classmates worked for a week to create invitations, place settings, and snacks.  On the day of the event, dressed up in your Sunday best and wearing a necktie for the first time, you sat patiently waiting at a pint-sized table for two.  I was outside the classroom waiting anxiously for my name to be called.  “Mrs. Dunham,” the teacher announced, which prompted you to stand up, push your chair in gracefully, and walk to the door to take my arm.  You led me to my place as if on official business, and asked me to join you for a bite.  I graciously accepted the tiny chair you pulled out as I fought back tears of joy.

My heart gushed with emotion that day.  Watching you learn the timeless lessons of hospitality thrust my mind toward the day you would be taller than me, dressing in man clothes and shaving in preparation for your date – which wouldn’t include me.

You had perfect manners that day, Beagle.  Any girl would have been proud to be sitting across from you.  My hope, now that you’re dating, is that you retain the sense of importance in this ritual.  You’ve got the basics, but there is so much more about relationships that I want you to know.  Here are the top five:

  1. Don’t be careless with another person’s heart and don’t let them be careless with yours.  You are playing with two hearts.  Protect them both with gratitude, for the risk of incurring hurt is high when you take each other for granted.  Be kind, be gentle, be aware.  Honor the validity of your partner’s feelings even when they differ from your own.  Love is a two-way street.  It’s not about taking and using, it’s about giving and receiving.  Listen to what your own heart is telling you and act on it with a mix of caution and abandon.  And most of all, be brave.  Because at some point your heart will be broken.  But it will heal and find the capacity to love again.  That’s what the heart does so well.  And if it’s you that departs first, let her down with dignity and you will preserve your own.
  2.  Love the one you’re with.  We all want to feel special to someone.  We want to know that the person we’re with has hand-picked us from the pack of possibilities.  At first we are fixated on the other, blinded by love.  But as time wears on, eyes may wander and observations may surface.  If you find yourself distracted by the ‘greener grass,’ it’s time to re-evaluate.  Take stock of your feelings and sort them out so you can make clear decisions.  Perhaps it’s time to move on, perhaps not.  But if you decide to stay, put your whole self into it.  Intimate relationships require and deserve focus.
  3. Don’t kiss and tell.  This is a no-brainer.  If you want your relationships to succeed, you must honor sacred ground.  No matter how much your ‘Boyz’ pressure you for information, keep it to yourself, even after the relationship has ended.  Back away from the desire to brag about your progress with a girl.  Respect the secrets you discover about each other and, dare I say, with each other.  You will never regret the practice of becoming trustworthy.
  4. Be yourself.  Partners in relationship have a way of highlighting each other’s warts, especially when the shine of newness has worn off.  When one chews too loudly or the other does that thing she always does, it’s easy to be critical.  We start to snip away at each other like tailors trimming and binding to make a perfect fit.  Sometimes we agree to give up parts of ourselves and we become altered versions of the whole person we were born to be.  True, we all have some ‘fat’ to trim; we could give up some bad habits that serve no one.  But each of us is perfect and valuable and worthy as is.   Better to find a person that fits the clothes than alter the clothes to fit a person.
  5. Take responsibility.  Relationships possess a level of risk, both physical and emotional.  Don’t let those risks run away with you.  Think before you speak.  Think even harder before you act.  Know what I’m sayin’?  Let me spell it out…If you don’t want to become a teen parent, protect yourself.  Don’t assume your partner is taking care of business.  Or better yet, abstain.  Enough said.                                                                                                                               The most important piece of wisdom to remember about relationships is this: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN HAPPINESS.  Don’t try to blame your witchy girlfriend, or her angry mother, or her crazy friends.  No one makes you unhappy.  Happiness is a matter of choice and perspective.  If you love, respect, and care for yourself, happiness will not outrun you.

Beagle, you know how much I adore you.  You’ve long outgrown my cuddles, but I hope you’ll never outgrow my love.  I want the best for you and for all the people who are lucky enough to meet you in this lifetime.  So listen to your wise mother.  And bend down and kiss her once in a while.  She will always be your first love.

“So there’s this boy who stole my heart.  He calls me Mom.”  -anonymous

%d bloggers like this: