How can men be a source of strength for their spouses during hardship? Yasmina Blackburn reflects on how her spouse helped her find her true self.
Jackie Kennedy once said, “The first time you marry for love, the second for money, and the third for companionship.” Not sure if she meant this tongue-in-cheek, but no doubt there is truth in her words in that we have specific reasons for choosing our spouse.
Those of us wanting and willing to take on the institution of marriage have criteria to be met before we choose a partner and take the plunge. For a young, immature person, that criteria might simply be, “I love him/her.” Love is most blind to the inexperienced and to the naive. To some, criteria about religious values or ethnic origin are deal breakers. I grew up with families that essentially demanded their kids marry people from their ethnic ancestry or risk being excommunicated. Some of these kids went along with it out of a level of fear and some out of a genuine desire to maintain the family tradition.
When it comes down to it, we all have marriage “deal breakers” no matter how shallow or complicated they may be. And these are so very personal – you owe no one an explanation for what your deal breakers are, after all, we are talking about you choosing the person that you will lie in bed with and be completely intimate with for potentially the rest of your life.
Growing up, my father, a charismatic and romantic musician and poet, would tell me, “Love is not enough to sustain a marriage.” This statement seemed contradictory to my father’s persona; and, I had no idea what he meant when he would tell me this. And being inexperienced and naïve, I largely found his words to sound callous and silly. Little did I know how spot on my father was.
As a young adult who did not have a lot of serious relationship experience to reflect upon, I yearned for a deep connection, everlasting love, companionship and a marriage with 2.5 children. I was born to be a mother- this was very clear to me early on in my life, and a specific goal that I planned to achieve come hell or high water. So then I built my criteria for a potential husband. It was basically four things:
– It must be true love.
– He must share my religious faith or at the very least, believe in One God.
– He must want children.
– He must be “fresh.”
The first three criteria are self-explanatory, but I know what you are thinking. What is fresh? Fresh was the adjective that I always internalized when I sized up the men I dated. Some men met the “freshness” test while others did not.
For me – a fresh potential husband was like me at that time – someone that had never been married before. A fresh potential husband was a man that had not fathered children before.
Fresh meant no baggage.
The “never had been married before” criterion could have potentially been negotiable had the marriage not produced children. But there was no doubt that I wanted my first child to also be my husband’s first child. I did not want my first child to be second in command or for my child’s father to have experienced the miracle and awe of becoming a father prior to having babies with me. I’m selfish this way. The way I saw it –I was bringing a lot to the marital table in terms of strong values, financial stability, work ethic, motherly instinct, emotional stability and no baggage. In return, I wanted to experience all of the firsts together.
I also was witness in my life to a lot of blended families and families where the exes were a part of it. I was not bringing an ex into a marriage. And when I got married, I did not want to share my husband with an ex in any formal or informal way, shape or form. This was a deal breaker for me. I didn’t want a slice of our income going to another household, my husband’s attention going elsewhere or for my child’s time with their father to be disrupted by a previous life he had created before “us.”
I didn’t want another mom to have to consult with, negotiate with or sit next to at a band recital. I didn’t want to have to check in with another mom or for another mom to have to check in with me. I wanted to be the one and only Mom. I’m selfish that way.
Sure – tons of blended families exist today and get along great. Tons of siblings and half siblings and step siblings and step parents and step grandparents get along wonderfully and enjoy a wonderful and comfortable life.
And if I somehow ended up defying my own criteria and married a man with children, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would have loved his children with the same intensity that I loved him. That is how I’m wired. But that is not the point.
The point was that bar none – I wanted my husband all to myself and I wanted our children to be his sun, moon and stars.
The day I became his Mrs. on a Maui ocean cliff was the day my husband and I experienced our wedding night together. This was my first and only wedding night and his first and only wedding night. And it was the most romantic night of our lives.
The day I found out I was pregnant with our first child was the day my husband first felt the tinges of excitement of impending fatherhood. We experienced this first together.
As my body changed and as my belly grew, carrying our first child, the nerves and excitement and fear and magic of becoming a parent for the first time was shared in our household – between the two of us- together. He didn’t have the answers and neither did I. This was our first! And we navigated all of those firsts together.
As I lay in the hospital bed in labor, pushing for two hours and our daughter’s head emerged from the birth canal, the room spun. Not for me. The room spun for my husband. He had never seen such a sight. A baby- his child – was being born into the world. He saw for the first time a face with a kissable pout and beautiful blue eyes – coming into the world and into his arms, my arms, our arms. We experienced the miracle of life that our love produced. And we experienced it together.
We learned how to change a diaper together, how to swaddle the baby in a receiving blanket, the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding and the safety measures one must take once they are in charge of a new life. We literally giggled as we learned each and every new thing that went along with this baby stuff – laughing at ourselves at how clueless we were and laughing at the pure insanity that we felt at this miracle. That this baby belonged to us. We got to keep her! And take her home with us! This was some incredible stuff.
As we now continue to raise a 13 year-old girl and a 12 year-old boy, we quite noticeably are raising them in a calm and idyllic situation.
I am very aware of friends and family in my life with blended families and divorces and lots of “step” relatives and all of the joy that comes with that. But I’m also witness to all of the instability that comes with that. All of the confusion, frustration, irritation, unexpectedness, unfairness, compromise and balancing acts that come with these broken and blended situations. I am very aware that children are unique human beings and react to instability in their own individual ways. Many are quite resilient. Some get quiet. Some get loud. Some have issues with their identity while others get clingy and pushy with their friends and school mates. Some defy negativity beyond all odds and others require counseling.
I’m not dealing with any of that. Because I chose not to- way back then, nearly 2 decades ago when I first started dating my husband and sizing up his marriage potential.
I made the choice to make a family and to the best of my ability, create an environment for them that is loving, supportive and calm. I created a situation for my two kids where their mom and their dad are always there. I created a situation where my daughter and my son walk in the door of their home- and they are the moon, the stars and the sun to both their mother and their father – who are there to greet them every single day. They know there is not an ex that will pull their dad away from them or pull me away from them. They know that they do not have to share mom or share dad with anyone else. They have mom and they have dad ALL to themselves.
That was my choice. And the choice I make every day. And if I were thrown back in time to do it all over again- I would not change a thing. If I were thrown back in time and back to being “fresh” myself … I would be in search of a “fresh” man to marry and to be the father of my children.
Don’t get me wrong – I know that all of this could have gone completely against my plans. Unforeseen circumstances could have come into play. My marriage could have collapsed the first year due to irreconcilable differences; we could have suffered from infertility or financial ruin. One of us could have died! Nothing in life is a guarantee. Anything could have happened to hamper the life plan I set out for myself and it still can. But even if my life and marriage had gone completely awry, I never would waver as to what my 4 criteria for marriage were in the first place.
If you are looking to get married whether you’ve been married before, have kids, or don’t want kids, you likely have your own ideals for the attributes of a potential spouse. I would never tell anyone what their criterion is – I can only state what mine is. But I could recommend taking stock of your values and of your life goals and having criteria to begin with- no matter what that consists of. And then sticking with the values that you created – no matter what.
Love is necessary but is not enough to sustain a marriage. I know there are a lot of things in life that are absolutely out of our control and things we are willing to negotiate. But I also believe that we create the life that we want for ourselves. And we can only be accountable to ourselves – no one else – for what we want and what we get out of a marital partnership and out of life.
Photo Credit: Spyros PapaspyropoulosSpyros Papaspyropoulos/Flickr