The risk you need to take to have a strong relationship
In honour of this day where we celebrate love I thought I would get a little personal. I’ve been married so long I have to use a calculator to figure out how many years we’ve been together. This August it will be 37 years. I’m often asked the secret of a long marriage. I’m kidding! I’m rarely asked that question. Usually, when people hear my story they ask me if I’m still married. My husband and I are very different. We have different beliefs about a lot of things. We have different interests. And we can never agree on what temperature the thermostat should be set at. We are the classic opposites-attract couple. The secret to our marriage is probably found partly in that we are both conflict-adverse in our relationship. We choose love over war.
Anyone who has been in a long term relationship knows that you are always negotiating the terms of your relationship. There is often give and take and occasionally wholesale compromise. There are also always new things to learn about each other. There are ever-present opportunities to grow and do better in your relationship. I just listened to an interview with Brené Brown this week. She confessed her 25-year marriage is the ‘hardest thing she has ever done.’ Relationships are not for the faint of heart. You can listen to the Brené interview here.
I do want to share a little bit about the inside of my marriage. Not because it is perfect but because it works for us. And I think that is key in a relationship. It doesn’t need to look a certain way. It just needs to work for the two people in it together. I once interviewed an author who was on her third marriage. She said the third marriage seemed to be working well because they had their own homes in different cities. Now that might not seem to be your idea of bliss but those two mature individuals found it worked well for them.
I’ve always been secretly thankful that I married someone who was raised without a strong, domineering masculine presence in his home. Brian was five years old when his father died suddenly. His mom remained single and raised Brian and his older sister. Without any male presence, there wasn’t a strong sense of the role of men and the role of women in the home. (Unlike the home I grew up in where we basically needed to build an addition to house the patriarchal values.) Brian and I divide household management by strength. Brian is a better cook and he likes grocery shopping. I am better at cleaning. He does the laundry and sucks at folding sheets and towels - I do that. (If Marie Kondo ever visits I am ready for her.) I shovel the snow and do the finances. We both pick up the slack in any area when something needs to be done or the other person is stressed with work.
And even though we talk about everything it has only been in the last five years or so we have really talked about the cultural norms that we’ve internalized and how they influence the way we show up in our relationship. I’ve been surprised that people-pleasing shows up in my 37-year relationships. For example, I remember worrying about telling Brian that I didn’t like a certain meal he was making because I didn’t want to disappoint him or hurt his feelings.
It took me a long time to tell him I didn’t want to go to church anymore. It was something we shared for most of our lives. And his response? It was perfect. He said, “You don’t need my permission to do what you want to do.” The thing is I grew up in and participated in systems that taught women that we do need a man’s permission. We’ve worked hard to address these limiting beliefs as they surface in our relationship.
What we do is support each other. We have good boundaries. We say what we need. We love each other. We get the other person’s input in our decisions and it matters. If one of us really feels strongly about something, chances are the other person reconsiders because it doesn’t happen very often and it isn’t done out of a need to control the other person.
People-pleasing shows up in all our relationships. It corrodes true intimacy in a relationship. Anytime you hold back from speaking your truth because you are afraid of disappointing someone, especially someone you live with, you have put up a wall in your relationship. They aren’t seeing you. They are seeing the person you want them to see. I say this Valentine’s Day skip the cards, flowers and chocolate. Give each other the gift of truth instead. Nothing is more loving than showing up as yourself even if you risk disappointing someone.