Thursday, October 20, 2011

Marriage: What Brings Us Together

"Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday.
Mawage, that bwessed awangment,
that dweam wifin a dweam . . .
wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva . . .
So tweasure your wuv."

I love being married. Last week we were talking to a Social Security guy over the phone (Helen and Morty style: both of us on the line) and he asked, "How long have you been married." "Forty-two years," I said. "To the same person???" "Yes," we said together. "Forty-two years!" he gasped. "God bless you!" Then after a pause he continued, "You must be experts at it. What are your secrets?"

I have learned a lot about marriage over these past four decades and I'm going to share some marital secrets.

"Mawage is wot bwings us togeder." Dee and I stick together. Our first hours together were spent walking and talking. That's literally all we did during our courtship. We met as students on a semester abroad in Salzburg, Austria—no money, no car, no TV, no friends, no family, no place to make-out—we just talked. Quickly we became friends, best friends, and we wanted to officially become bff.

That's a secret: talk. After we were back home with a job, a car, TV, friends, and family there was competition for our talking time. And finally we had someplace to make-out, so babies started coming and the din in our tiny trailer made chatting a challenge. But we've kept talking to each other (about anything and everything, all the time) a high priority.

And the bff thing? Another secret. Best friends don't blab about each others faults, frailties, foibles or flaws. They're loyal. I'm certainly not perfect at this but I must be nearly perfect, because lots of folks think Dee is perfect! (I'll leave it at that.) It's not a totally selfless thing to speak highly of my husband: I think it makes me look better to be married to an awesome guy. Why would I tattle on his quirks and make myself look like an idiot to be hooked up with him? When I do talk about his eccentricities, I try to do it with love and humor, because that's the way I decided to feel about them. (I see it as a choice.)

Beauty experts say to focus on the good stuff to take attention away from the bad stuff. If your eyes are pretty, play them up to take attention away from your double chin. If your ears are huge, don't wear huge earrings, and if your hands are expressive wear rings and bracelets. When you're looking for beauty in your spouse, don't focus on the warts! I don't want Dee looking me over with a magnifying glass—"Hmmm, you spilled coke in your car again . . . I still don't have any clean towels . . . you deleted BEAR GRILLS???" I love it when he says, "I'll make my own dinner. Just keep putting stickers on the grandkid packages. That's the important stuff." He compliments me and I compliment him on our tiny, unique attempts to improve the world, and we both feel good about ourselves. Which makes us feel good about each other.

So what are you thinking right this second? Are you thinking, "My husband NEVER does that. If he'd just change, our marriage would be happy." Or are you thinking, "I ought to do that. If I changed, maybe our marriage would be happy." I've learned that I can't change Dee. Trying makes me miserable—it focuses all my energy in a negative direction. The ONLY person in the whole world I can change is myself, and doing that focuses me in a positive direction.

If my marriage needs more empathy, I can provide that empathy—towards him. If my marriage needs more fun, I need to become more fun to be with. If my marriage needs more forgiveness, I can forgive. If my marriage has too much stubbornness, I can eliminate mine and there won't be as much. When my marriage is stagnant, I need to get out of my doldrums and become interested and interesting. It will be at least 50% better when I make a change.

The "bwessed awangment, this dweam wifin a dweam" sometimes becomes a nightmare. Having interests and hobbies in common, dating for years, living together first . . . none of these things can prepare couples for marriage. Marriage is life, and life is unexpected. You can't practice it first—you learn it together. Couples I know have lost jobs, children, houses, health, money, limbs, eyesight, hearing . . . they weren't ready for these nightmares to snuff out their dreams. But every one of the couples I'm thinking of learned how to be happy again. New characteristics were developed individually; they supported each other as they each learned to live with broken hearts, and then learned how to be a couple again. Being willing to learn is the definition of humility. Marriage is a continuing education that demands humility.

Buttercup's pastor said, "wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva . . ." I disagree with this part. Love is not a noun (person, place or thing) that follows you around, whimsically disappears and shows up somewhere else. Love is a verb, an action word; it's something you DO. That's why people say marriage is work. It takes effort, energy, enthusiasm—it's an endeavor. Think of something you're proud of in life: graduating, raising your kids, running a marathon, growing your bangs out, whatever. It took time and patience, you got discouraged, it was the pits, you thought you'd never make it, but you did. The reason you're proud of that accomplishment is because it was hard. A happy marriage is hard—fun and hard—and it's my proudest accomplishment.

"Tweasure your wuv," the wise old man said. Definitions for treasure are: value greatly, prize highly, hold dear, adore, cherish. To be happy in marriage, I've learned to value, prize, adore and cherish not only my husband, but the marriage itself—our couple-ness. When I'm making a decision, I often boil it down to Will this strengthen my marriage or be divisive? Since my marriage is my top priority, the choice is usually clear, even though it involves a sacrifice. (Secret: don't expect gratitude when you make a sacrifice. Most of the time, nobody even notices you made it. Just revel in the fact that you're becoming a wonderful person.)

Like I said before, I love being married. In fact, we've just moved in together full-time! Dee's office is now in the loft above mine and we can hear each other think. It's not a 24/7 situation—we still have places to go and people to see, but it's fun calling up to him with a geography question and have him ask me how to spell something. We're still learning from each other and about each other. That's our secret.

"wuv, twu wuv . . ."


Diane said...

I echo your sentiments exactly.

Christie said...

This is brilliant. I look to you guys as a fabulous couple to emulate. LOVE this. So, so true.

Misty said...

Oh, what a wonderful post! I love your advice. Plus, I just got finished (re)reading The Princess that was fun too.

The Grandmother Here said...

GREAT blog post today!

VickiC said...

Lovely post.

marta said...

thanks oms. you've been a good example of bringing the best out of each other. you definitely make marriage look like fun!

Susan Adcox said...

Great advice! I think one of your suggestions that lots of people have difficulty with is the one about being loyal and never pointing out your lover's faults. It seems that as we grow older and sometimes are together almost 24/7, we get less tolerant of each other's foibles. It sometimes takes a lot of practice to master this one, but it's one of the most important.

mama jo said...

I love this post...luckily he is already perfect!,