The whole concept of teaming up with another person to tackle life together, to look into each other’s eyes and sigh, “It’s us against the world from here on out,” really should, on paper at least, be the kind of life-changing decision that allows those of us who choose to get married to concentrate on being one-half of something more powerful and life-affirming than our solitary selves.
The truth is, it’s hardly ever that easy.
At least it hasn’t ever been that easy for me or my wife, and by the looks of things, with just a passing glance at the world around me, I suspect that marriage has proven to be a bit of a pickle for a lot of other people as well.
Recently, I started thinking about why that might be. With a wife of nine years, two kids and another one on the way, a good job, two dogs, a nice house to live in, two cars that run, and most of the other stuff that we as a society tend to think defines us as someone who is doing a good job at living and loving, I more or less found myself standing in the middle of my very own long-smoldering five-alarm wedding chapel blaze.
After so much time spent coasting and basically just barely doing enough to get by within my own love affair, I had to come to terms with the fact that I have more or less been an idiot when it comes to marriage.
Now, maybe you are reading my words and snarling to yourself, “Well, who cares, buddy boy?! I’ve got a GREAT marriage and how dare anyone who admits freely that they have kind of sucked at being a husband (or a wife) dare give me any advice on the subject?!”
That’s fine. I dig it.
To you, I simply bid adieu and thank you for stopping by.
To the rest of you, though, to those of you still hanging in there and hanging out, I offer up a tired but honest smile and simply say this: I think you’ve come to the right place. If not for you, then for me. Because a big part of being awesome in a marriage is being able to admit that you’ve been pretty damn lazy. That’s what I’m all about these days.
Marriages don’t always have to end, even when things get pretty rough. Some do, of course. But some don’t.
Here are three things that might make all the difference in the world …
1. You don’t really listen.
Most people love to think of themselves as great listeners.
We go through our days thoroughly convinced that we have got the Golden Ear and that any friend or compatriot, especially our spouse, can come to us at any given moment and confide in us, or seek our advice, or just simply ask us to lend them an ear, and we will do that and be really, really good at it, too.
That is such a bunch of bull, though.
Most of us lie to ourselves from the day we are born until the day we die about listening. See, I really believe that we are pre-programmed, as flawed humans, to constantly put our own needs and wants and desires so far out in front of anyone else’s that many of us, maybe even most of us, literally create a wall of white noise when someone else begins talking to us. Especially when it comes to the hearing the voices most familiar to us.
Oh sure, we may be listening, alright, but are we really ever listening listening? Or are we just waiting for them to stop moving their lips so that we can speak? After all, we have so many ideas and thoughts about what it is they are saying, and beyond that, we have other thoughts and ideas about stuff that they aren’t even talking about which we are also literally itching to share.
True listening, tried and true unadulterated hearing and processing another person’s words, is one of the most rarefied gifts that any person within a marriage can ever give themselves, and their partners. It isn’t easy, I am finding out. Still, with each passing day, with each passing conversation with my own wife, I have begun to understand a harsh truth: I have been stone cold deaf for eons.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
Makes sense, huh?
2. You expect too much.
People are selfish and self-centered.
It just is.
From a very young age, living our lives in a free land where anything is possible, we soak and marinate in the ideals that are presented to us, so many ideal situations and ideal scenarios. Then, by the time we are in our late teens or early twenties, we have more or less been brainwashed by our very own thoughts into believing that the vast endless sky of love and all of its romantic stars twinkling above our dreamy heads are ours (OURS!) to be had and feasted upon as soon as we find Mr. or Mrs. Right.
This, again, is pure horse dirt.
Well, because, in reality, the very act and experience of falling in love is something awesome and powerful … for about a year, give or take. Then the swirling intoxication of chemicals that marks the start of every single love story begins to wane, and within two to three years of being together, of being married, we begin to wake up from the drunken stupor that was new love to find ourselves longing for that buzzy feeling again.
Where the hell did all of that go, we ask ourselves. What just happened?
People who fall in love fall in love with other people, that much is for certain. However, like it or not, we also fall in love with the whole idea of falling in love as well. That’s an idea we have maintained way longer than any realistic one, since way back when we were just old enough to clock our first romantic comedies on TV, or read about some fairytale Prince Charming.
What I’m getting at is this: we are all terribly and ridiculously flawed when it comes to our own character and our own personality, when it comes down to who we are deep down inside. T0 admit that is empowering, to deny it is death… or something like it. We try like heck in some regards, I’ll give us that, but in so many other ways, we fail to meet the same lofty criteria we tend to hold our lovers and our spouses to.
Waking up to this reality has been one of the harshest, but most refreshing revelations I have ever experienced in my life.And, again, it hasn’t been easy for me, thickheaded as I’ve been. Then again, nothing truly worth knowing is actually available to just download in ten minutes flat.
3. You keep changing.
You keep changing as a person, as a mom or a dad or a brother or sister or friend or co-worker or as a person who used to pick their nose at stoplights but then got busted by a cute person in the next car over and quit the habit in an epic show of diligent restraint. And as a husband or a wife.
You keep changing every ten or fifteen seconds and hopefully most of those changes, or at least a lot of them, are for the better. You grow older and wiser and learn to accept the ever-morphing face/soul in the mirror as the new, definitive you. I like that notion; I find it badass.
At the same time that you keep changing, though, you also keep looking out of the corner of your pretty little eye, at your wife or husband sitting down there at the end of the couch while you binge watch Downton Abbey or Breaking Bad or whatever, and you keep judging them so hard and fast because they keep changing, themselves.
Unless, of course, the changes are changes which you implemented or have been hoping would happen for a while now. Those changes are fine with you. But all of these other shifts in mindset and opinion and how they brush their teeth and even switching from red wine to white, all of these other things you keep jotting down on your Mental List of Innocuous Things He/She Does That Are Making You Crazy, you have a real problem with.
And how is that fair, you know?
How is it at all cool that you think that it’s okay for you to switch from reading mystery novels for years on end to suddenly diving into graphic comics with reckless abandon, but when your other half stops using sugar in their coffee it, inexplicably, makes you kind of furious inside?
I’ll tell you why. It’s because we’re all half-nuts. It’s because we have stopped recognizing love and marriage as what it really is, a living/breathing/growing organism of blood and guts and phlegm and tears and boxed-wine and soy sauce and midnight-waking-you-up-pees.
We have, almost universally, forgotten what it means to have actually fallen in love to begin with. The changes, all of them, every last one of them, annoying or grating as they may be, flip switches in our lazy minds that cause us to constantly ask ourselves if we made the wrong choice when we married this person.
Because, let’s face it, they are not who we remember them as. Hell, they are someone else entirely. They are someone who looks different and acts different and even talks differently now than they did in the beginning.
Yet, they are someone who is still sitting down there, at the end of the couch, getting their gross buttery popcorn fingers all over the remote; someone plopped down in the middle of a marriage, a marriage to you, a marriage that just so happens to have the power to be whatever the hell you two crazy kids want it to be.
Just as soon as you’re ready.
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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