I was struck by a thought the other day: most married couples are unhappy with their partner, such that if it were easy enough, they’d go shopping for a new one tomorrow.
Not me, though. I’ve been with mine for close to ten years, and I still rather like her (and her, me, for that matter). Yes, I’m shocked, too.
That’s not to say I’ve never resented her or disliked her; at times I even wanted to leave her. Fortunately, these were, in hindsight, over trivial things (at least compared to poverty, disease and global hunger), but in the heat of it, I wanted to walk away and forget I ever met her.
Most of the time, though, we get along wonderfully – like proper best friends.
So the other day, I started to wonder why we found it so easy to live together. And we don’t just live together, either – we work together, too. Not on the same stuff, usually, but in the same space (we both work from home).
And then I read something that explained it beautifully.
“People don’t break up because they stopped loving each other. They break up because they stopped being friends.”
My wife and I are happy together because we’re still friends. More than that, we’re friends who respect each other for the other one’s unique gifts, talents and personality traits.
There’s stuff my wife can do that is genuinely amazing – things I could only dream of tackling. Likewise, I have a few skills and traits she’ll never match, either
But it goes deeper still, and it’s the reason we’re friends in the first place. We share the same values.
Certain things are important to me, and coincidentally, her too. In fact, it’s rare that we clash on items in the ledgers of Values, Beliefs or Ideals. We love the same things, mostly. And we like to talk about similar things, too.
This makes it very easy to be in each other’s company, whether it’s at the dinner table of an evening or during a 2,000 km drive through the desert. We always have stuff to talk about. Not argue; talk.
It’s strange that it’s taken me a handful of girlfriends and three wives to learn this, but my mum, bless her cotton socks, was right all along.
If you don’t respect each other, you won’t survive. Or at best, you’ll be miserable your whole life.
Of course, a lot of people will try to demand respect in a relationship, but that’s like demanding an orgasm. Or they’ll try to ‘keep the passion alive’ through fabricated romantic gestures and expensive gifts, but none of it lasts.
If your relationship is constant *work*, it isn’t worth having.
The approach I recommend comes down to product selection; like buying a car. Don’t get precious; every relationship starts out as a sales job (to each other), so this metaphor has relevance.
When you buy a car – let’s say you need to carry a family of six – there are certain ‘must-haves’ you cannot ignore. Like six seats. Or great economy, or a decent towing capacity (because you and your horde like to caravan in the summer).
You can’t buy a Porsche Boxster and expect to ‘make it work’.
You might think it’s sexy, that it makes you feel alive. But you’ll grow to resent it very quickly when it comes time to pack the family off to the shops or hook up the caravan for a holiday.
You can try to make it work all you like, but it just won’t.
And so it is with our partners. If we choose poorly, the relationship will eventually turn sour. Not always – some people ‘grow into’ each other – but more often than not, the whole affair will reach its inevitable demise.
Deal-breakers tend to include issues around money, ethics, principles of fairness, equality and religion. And sometimes, even sporting allegiances. It can also include seemingly mundane things like interests and pursuits. If you’re an outdoorsy girl and you marry a gamer who likes to stay home all the time, it’s going to grate.
But money and ethics are the big ones. If those aren’t aligned, you’re in trouble.
What to do about it is a whole other story, and I’ve written about the issue of divorce before.
But if you’re not in a relationship right now, or if you’re in the market for a new one, these issues should be discussed before you commit. It’s far easier to deal with them prior to exchanging tax file numbers than afterwards. And if you’re already spoken for, you should be talking about these things now.
Often there’s a huge void in a relationship that’s filled with all the things we don’t say to each other. Get them out in the open. Discuss them at length and negotiate with the desire for a win-win. I know it sounds like a business deal, but it kind of is – till death do you part.
Nothing will secure a marriage better than an open, honest and lasting friendship. And it all starts with a clear assessment of who you both are and the things that matter most to you.
This article originally appeared on Midlife Tribe
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