There are plenty of myths surrounding love and marriage, and as we navigate relationships that last longer than a swipe to the right, we find ourselves breaking new ground at each milestone. I am no expert, but I have gleaned a thing or two through my decades of marriage. First and foremost, it really doesn’t matter what works or doesn’t work for someone else. It’s you two. Period. So whatever advice I offer here, you have my blessing to take it or ignore it.
One of my favorite pieces of couple advice centers around this question: “How are we going to get through this together?” (Real Simple). Reflecting on our quarter of a century partnered, I wish I had known that all couples have rough patches, instead of equating harmony as the only true measurement of a relationship. For we have had our share of loss. There have been deaths, starting that first year with both our grandmothers, a full decade later our fathers, and most recently our mothers. There has been unforeseeable foreclosure and loss of employment. Illness has reared up time after time. And just plain stinging disappointments, at times feeling like one striking on top of another. How could there not be? This is life after all. There are the disagreements that come with growing up with a person. Apparently, how you fight is also key. Thankfully, we have learned to ask, “how will we get through this, together?”
As it is that Spring follows Winter, after a sorrow comes a triumph. A birth. A celebration. A pleasant surprise. A new direction. And with renewed hope, one’s sees exactly how to maneuver through the twists and turns of life together. Maybe a shared love of dinner picnics or Christmas lights, listening to opera or watching the fireworks, the care of friends and delight of family, making a meal together or a crackling fire or a new home. Year falls upon year and memories build. Before you know it sturdy traditions are formed to stand upon, and this foundation feels as ancient as those you witnessed in your youth.
Despite our cultural drive for fun fun fun, relationships do take attention. Talking about everything you wish to leave covered. Finding common ground, or during those trying days, any ground. Ultimately, compromise. I’ve known plenty of happy couples who use their interests as a way to forge connections, especially when all seems difficult. They ski together, sail or run, grow prize tomatoes or volunteer for their community. They carve out precious seconds to meet beyond the dishes and laundry. Despite time barriers we’ve shared book readings, caught parade beads and donned period costumes for fundraisers, we’ve stood under the holiday lights and danced around them. But we have also honored each others passion, so there are activities we do solo. We agree that we can and should seek our own interests, and maintain a sense of self. The love of oneself must come first. Individuals united. Alone together.
I believe every couple needs something bigger than themselves to stay the course. A reason that pulls harder than your hurt pride. For some this may be their religious vows. Doctrines that lay like steel beams when all else crumbles. For others it might be their children, whose needs loom large. But I’m not sure either are worth a life together that is only suffering. You need to find a joy. A larger than life bubble that lifts you out of the dark places most couples find themselves in periodically. For us, this has evolved and shifted, but behind doubt eventually does come surety. So here we are. Still.
For those scurrying about in preparation of Valentines Day, I salute your resolve. There may not be anything more challenging than deciding to wake each morning and end each day as a couple, for decades strung together by all that life grants you, but neither is there anything more rewarding than building such a life of meaning and purpose, of family and trust, of good days and better days. So, if you are lucky enough to have found a recent, or not so recent, but a tried and true love, and you have put in the power-hours to sustain that love, go buy a richer chocolate bar, a better bottle of bubbly, a bouquet that can’t possibly fit in one vase, set a dinner date at that quiet spot you keep meaning to go to, and share the rewards of the day, for you’ve earned it. You both have. In fact, on any day of the week, get on board the love train, And let this train keep on riding, riding on through.