Love is crucial because it greases the beginnings. It’s also not enough to sustain a marriage to last more than a decade. Love depends on trust, honesty & respect in order to continue to grow. Because of my life’s work in helping couples I take the long view. Here are some ways to think about how to keep love alive over the decades:
1. Have enough respect to stay honest with each other, especially when it’s hard.
When Aaron was very small he asked why he was adopted and I talked to him about poverty; though that was my imagination at work. I was as honest as possible. I don’t remember exactly how old Aaron was when he still believed in Santa Claus though he’d been picked on for believing. It was a hot July day in a hotel room when I decided Aaron needed to know the truth 6 months before the next Christmas. I put him on my lap & told him I had something terrible to tell him. When I said the truth, he burst into tears “That means poor kids don’t get toys.”
This is a story that reveals how truth layers & builds into something substantial. Aaron had a connection with poor kids and an understanding of life that went beyond himself.
This also applies to people in pairs. It’s very sad to end up 30 or 40 years down the road unhappy with the person you built your family with.
Even small hoarded secrets are destructive because it destroys authenticity & trust. So if you don’t correct your partner that you really don’t like lemon meringue pie for your birthday and they go on to make it for the next ten years…..it becomes a sad testimony to not really knowing each other.
2. People divorce because they’ve lost respect for each other. There are 2 patterns to avoid where there is a serious lack of respect.
The first I call “2 ships passing in the night”:
They become roommates who live together & raise the children or focus on careers. They’ve lost track of being a couple. Workaholics fall into this category. Also couples who brag they haven’t used a babysitter in months or years have forgotten there is an “us” to nourish.
Don’t ever lose track of being a couple! Even when the family is running in six directions make sure you have date night twice a month. Spending time together matters!
The second pattern I call “Stuck in the mush”:
One person gets lost because they cater too much to the other. This is also called codependence and it’s too mushy to be interesting over the long haul.
Love begins with tons of catering, that’s how its supposed to be. One person doing most of the catering can’t last because they end up erasing themselves. Someone has swallowed their differences so much that with their silence they have betrayed themselves & their partner. Resentments pile up & trust evaporates.
3. When you argue try hard to see the other person’s point of view instead of fighting to win. Learn to sit both points of view quietly next to each other. The more imagination you have that both points of view have merit, the better your chances of survival.
The more win/lose your attitude is the more you are doomed. Don’t be defeated by arguing, learn to do it well.
4. Help each other continue to grow to be more of who you are. Don’t get so comfortable you stop taking risks; as a couple, as an individual & as a family.
My next post will be Part 2 which is the reading I gave at their wedding.