“Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. It’s the way you love your partner every day.” -Barbara De Angelis
I have told more people than I can count the one irreplaceable piece of advice that has kept my marriage going for decades. Sometimes, like today, I have to go inside myself with a pick axe and dig it out for me. The advice came from Bob, the best marriage counselor in Seattle, when we were just into our 7th or 8th year together. He said, “Mature love, the kind that outlasts the wide and frequent swing of feelings and even the painful ups and downs of cohabitation is the ability to hold what you love about someone side by side with what is most annoying about them.”
This is not that hard to do when you are feeling the love for them. It is really hard to do when all you can see is what is annoying about them. Our grievances about our partners have some weird balloon effect inside of us. As soon as we hone in on what is missing, defective, overwhelming or otherwise provokes you to want to leave the room screaming, it is hard to wrap your hands around the part of them that you love. For me sometimes, the distance is so large that for moments I wonder if the love that I hang onto is just an illusion.
Tonight, I spoke with one of my oldest friends who is now divorced from the partner that we knew her with for twenty years and she reminded me of both sides of the conversation that I have shared with her. The deep recognition of the many ways that my marriage has saved me and made my life possible and the disconnection and grief of not being seen. Both of these are always true simultaneously, but sometimes the scales fall too fast to one side, usually the negative side. I am diligent in my positivity quest to always include my ability to relate to my husband as one of the primary intentions I practice. I realized today, just how much practice it takes, even after decades of life together.
It is easy to ignore the work that is right in front of you and easier still to get caught in a slippery slope of frustration and disappointment that closes you off from the person you are most committed to. It feels like a steep climb out of the hole you can dig yourself into, but the hardest steps are the first ones. Then the effort of finding your way back becomes familiar. This thought by J. Viorst sums up the challenge and the opportunity that I feel lucky to throw myself at again: “One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in again.”