on enduring love
marriage & my man
I have the sense that this essay should come with a preemptive warning so I’m sticking one here. WARNING: Ahem. This essay is the culmination of experiences and personal opinions of the author and in no way come from a professional, expert, or any other impressive sounding authority. This is the stuff of one marriage, not the guidebook to all. One marriage of me, a woman, to a man. I don’t think that limits the common humanness that travels through all types of relationships, but you are the best determiner of such things for yourself. My ideas on marriage are counter culture, just like almost everything else about me. I trust that most of you know that by now.
There’s a wild passion to love when you’re young and zesty. A hyper and consuming love that feels so good. It’s exciting! It feeds us! It’s a relief to find that love really does exist. It feels so good, we are in love, that mythical “in love”, all consuming and kissed-by-destiny kind of love.
We are a people brought up on rom-coms and romance novels. Told and shown what love is through the Hollywood fictions rather than real world examples of healthy, enduring relationships. In this age of narcissism, we are taught to look for the person who can make us feel good. We try to find the one that will patch up our cracks. They are there to serve the dual purpose of making us whole while still allowing us to wear the holy crown of independence.
If you had asked me about marriage in my twenties, I probably would have said something about finding the right guy, the one that really does it for you, and then if you really do it for him, you get married. And then, once you’re married, you’re there for better or worse, a team carried by impassioned love. If you don’t fight much and you’re both happy, you got yourself an enduring marriage. That’s about all I probably would have been able to muster back then, given the lack of examples around me. I had a few long marriages around me, my grandparents and aunts and uncles, but it wasn’t as if I was studying what made them work and certainly nobody ever talked about what built and maintained a strong marriage.
I was a child of the 70s. I grew up believing the messaging around me. It was independence, trusting no one but myself that would protect me. Feminism was changing then, a shift from its original messaging that has continued to this day. As I grew up, I was saturated with that ideology. I had to show strength to be taken seriously. I was to find that person that would accept me as me, no accommodations or flexibility needed. A man should meet my needs, say the right things, be soft, no be hard, be my best friend, no be a leader. He should be whatever I needed at any given moment and we would live in a lusty, passionate embrace for the rest of our days as long as I wanted. After all, “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, right?
In the early years of our marriage, Troy and I, were carried around on lovely, romantic winds, sweet and soft. “Oh here, darling, let me.” “Oh, no, no, I insist.” But as it is with many, time and the exhaustion of raising children, tight budgets and outside stressors started demanding more of us. It was especially hard for us to try and figure out ways to effectively “communicate” and problem solve when things got tough. We had no tools. We had no examples. We thought we knew who we were and who we were supposed to be. We thought that what we were told about “healthy” relationships was true - if it was healthy, we would be happy. So why wasn’t it working? Why, when things got hard, did it feel like we were constantly pulling apart? Why, during our lowest times, did it seem like we were navigating those choppy waters as two distinct ships? It was terribly lonely and had us confused. We both loved each other deeply, but when the shit hit the fan, we couldn’t find each other.
We were sure that happy couples didn’t feel that way. It was too hard, it shouldn’t be hard. I love him, am I in love with him? Why didn’t he fulfil this part of me or do this in that way to show me what I needed to be shown? So many lies and childish myths laid out for us - just pick one or two and you’ve bought yourself out of what could be the most profound relationship in your life.
We seemed to muddle our way through those early years of marriage by the grace of those passionate, sweet breaks. I think our tactic was to just clench our teeth when the hard stuff came, argue about whatever and then make up after a day or two. We would talk about why we were mad/sad/hurt and then try and understand each other. From there, we moved forward, trying as best we could not to get in another argument. We thought avoidance was our best chance at peace. Of course, it doesn’t work, but that’s the best we could come up with.
Then, in our thirties, the great stockpot of life started boiling over. Challenges, hardships, emergencies, traumas, and heartbreak threw us to and fro. There were times we could barely make sense of where we were or how to handle it, we just knew we weren’t doing it very well at all. And it was in those moments, when challenges pulled at our seams, that we would start to question what we thought we knew about relationships, about our marriage. Everything was up for review - our conditioning, our reactions, our presumptions and who we were as individuals and as a couple. We asked, “Who do we want to be and what are we willing to challenge to get there?”
It was around this time that I started reflecting more on who I was, not just as a person (which I was well practiced in), but as a wife. I started observing my behaviours and assumptions, looking carefully at what I was bringing into our marriage. The popular media suggested then, and I’d say even more so now, that because I was a woman, I was the illuminated one. Men are blunt objects, right? They need our guidance on how to communicate and open up to their emotions and to be, well, more like women. All while we, as women, have been told to be strong, professionally driven, goal oriented, all the classical attributes of men. Of course, we are also now told to pretend that neither sex has any given, biological traits, it’s all up for grabs. We are all the same only women are better and any good man is there to support his woman in all of her glorious divinity. Something like that.
Feels alright to buy into that as a young woman, especially when things aren’t as you hope in your life and you got this handy fella’ beside you to blame. It’s infantile, of course, but it’s effective. Sadly, it’s just a temporary fix. The truth is, we all have work to do on ourselves, big work, the work of our lives, and marriage is a beautiful, challenging, supportive, frustrating union that highlights that work. We come together and, if we are open to it, are shown our own failures and inadequacies, the rotten baggage we’ve been hauling around our lives that needs to be sorted and thrown out lest we stink up the whole house.
I don’t know why life has given my husband and I so many profoundly difficult moments in our lives, but it has. I would love to regale you with them all, but circumstance can be fragile to those you love and it doesn’t really matter in this context because it will happen to all but the very few. I was going to say, “lucky few”, but I thought better of it. There were things in our past that were so monumentally impossible for us to see our way-out of. I remember being in the garden with Troy, many years ago, sitting on the earth, pulling weeds silently while he did the same a few rows up. I called out, “Are we going to make it?” And he replied, “I don’t know”. It was a punch to my throat. Never had I heard any doubt from my man as to whether we could survive the storms. “Of course” he would say. “Always” he would reassure. But not that time. That time, he didn’t even know.
I could see the pain on his face and hear the anguish in his voice. And I sat there amongst the vibrant jungle of our garden looking at him and thinking of us entirely outside of myself. I wanted to alleviate his pain. I wanted to understand what he needed and how, not just offer up my version. Yes, he “raised” himself up to my level of communication for years, stretching himself to understand the gnarly workings of my “emotional needs” and endless loops of logic. Had I done the same for him? Had I tried as hard as he or was I simply so sure that as a woman, I held the keys to a superior way of being?
That was the beginning of a radical shift in my thinking. I have spent the years since untangling from narratives that were toxic in our marriage including things like: men are in need of a woman’s shaping, women are of value when they’re independent and strong, women can and should do whatever men can, marriage is the coming together of two independent people working side by side but keeping their independence, marriage is a partnership, marriage is what someone can do for you, our partners should meet our every need, men are so …………… fill in the blank and include a laugh and an eye roll.
In the decades we have been together, we were forced to either do whatever it took to stay together or call it quits. There was a time, standing in the rubble of a calamity, that we turned to each other and made the decision to do whatever it took to honour our marriage. Honour, not just keep. But honour. To hold up our union above either of us as individuals. That doesn’t mean that we are not our own persons, it means there is a sanctified union in our midst and we both honour it as such.
To do that, I had to let go of “what have you done for me lately” to “what can I do for you”. I rose out of the realm of child and into the world of service. Service to love. Service to growth. Service to something bigger than ourselves. The union of two interconnected and interdependent human beings must be bigger than the sum of its parts. There is space in commitment that allows us to start sifting through the baggage of our lives. Does this fit anymore? Was this true? We throw out what we inherited as factual because we have proof that it was harmful.
My marriage went that way anyway. Goes that way, now. I was already in service to my children. Already pulled and stretched, but what of my marriage? This shift required an honest evaluation of what I brought with me into our relationship. I, having grown up to believe that I could depend on no-one, had a great drive to protect my independence, generously provided by a culture that perpetrates the myth of self over interconnectedness. Independence was my shield and my power source. I could do it myself, thank you very much. I was strong. I didn’t need anyone. I was the boss. And he, brought up to believe that a man is only as good as the stalwart support of his strong woman, was to do what? Well support me, of course! What a thing to offer to the man that had committed himself to walk through life with me.
My husband was conditioned, just like me, to respect and admire those traits in a woman. If they didn’t feel so good or work so good - that being two people vying to lead, which ultimately results in two people leading themselves, well so what. Who can even excavate what works for them when an ideology is so entrenched in our psyches? What did vulnerable and authentic connection even look like? There’s a lot of influences applauding when you raise your fist in unison to their slogans, but there’s nobody there as the two of you quietly do the work of claiming and building the lives and love that is authentically your own.
I tell you this because I think it’s how a lot of us were raised, are being raised. As with all in our culture, we swing wildly from one extreme to the other. I see so many young, beautiful, intelligent women proclaiming their exceptional selves. That’s wonderful as long as when it comes time to settle in with their life partner, they claim their exceptional worth, too. Think well of yourself, but you are not the enlightened. None of us are. Men have much to contribute beyond their oxen utility. Humility to learn from their wisdom, logic, and clarity is as useful in a relationship as is our insistence to have them swim around in our brains all the time.
There is an enduring and growing beauty of moving out of self and into service to another. It feeds love. I think there was a time when people needed to be reminded to care for themselves. Exercise. Meditate. Go out with friends. All that jazz. But as we tend to do in this world, we have swung so far in that direction, that we have become a culture of self. Maybe a buffer of service needs to be spoken of more commonly. When we give, we receive in a deeply meaningful way. When we look to receive, we are asking for payment without consideration of the cost. The beauty is that when we focus on what we have to offer, caring for ourselves also comes naturally. We cannot give what isn’t ours to give. Love for ourselves so we can love the other in the fullness they deserve. True empowerment, enriched with love instead of division.
While I would make my list of needs and demands known, my husband wouldn’t ask for what he needed. He wouldn’t demand. He is always too willing, as most men are, to live on scraps in service to his family. It’s easy to believe that a man needs as little as he asks for, but it’s not true and a day of reckoning looms if you accept that falsity because it’s easier than focusing on yet, another, human that needs you. This is especially true when you have young children.
I’m inclined to write that above paragraph again. Could you just reread it?
I won’t write the same for a woman because, by and large, we are very, very good at letting men know when they are failing us.
Believing we can leave our spouses in the wings while we tend to the real show of raising children or our careers or our pleasures is such a destructive lie. We want men to meet us and feed our emotional soup on our level, in our way. We want them to know our feelings while we assume that their silence is proof that they have none. No, men likely don’t want to hash out all of their feelings for an hour, but assuming that their wiring is dysfunctional because it’s different than a woman’s is ignorance. I am in awe of how soft and how strong my husband can be. I am in awe of his ability to respond so wholeheartedly to my smallest acts of gratitude towards him. An acknowledgment of what a strong, loved man he is in our home, or a simple thank you for bringing in some wood or feeding the cows is enough for him. He wants to be seen and appreciated. Not so different than anyone else if they have the courage to admit it.
When I spend my time looking for all of the love in all of his actions, I am left with less time to mull over my hard done by feelings and look to validate them with outside circumstance. You ever do that? You feel grumpy and start looking at the way the people around you are behaving to find out which of those dastardly humans is making you feel so shitty? We all do that. The crazy thing is, eating a few bites of a crappy piece of food can bring about those false feelings. Reading a depressing article or listening to a negative news report can do it, too. Keeping poor company with negative, destructive people can influence how you see your love. A poor sleep, a stressful encounter, whatever. All of these things can deliver feelings that leave us powerless if we wallow and look for someone to blame.
Alternatively, we can exercise self control through observation. Experience teaches us that feelings are there to encourage us to go deeper and excavate new ways of growth and being. They are not the truths to which you, and all those around you, must yield. What a sad and tumultuous existence that delivers
When lust wanes it leaves a hole that deep, enduring love can fill. A love that is rich and honest. We want love on that level, everyone of us does, but we are told it’s delivered on the luck of stardust. In reality it’s a commitment followed by a decision. Again and again, every day, a decision. There comes a time when we are called to sift through the storytelling of our time to pluck out what is true and what isn’t for us.
All I know of marriage is our marriage. I know that when the world gave us a load too unbearable to bear, we held onto each other for dear life. I know of so many marriages that fell apart under the weight of their pain. Ours has been forged. There is no pain I want to add to his life. I am so protective of him, what he is asked to carry. I would take it all if it could leave his next breath just a little bit easier. I can’t. All I can do is devote myself to softening and easing what I bring, who I am. Some days all I can muster are the words, “let me be love, let me be love, let me be love”.
Our marriage is the most precious thing in our lives. Bigger than either of us. A steadfast love, each of us wanting more for the other than we do for ourselves. Service, love, honour, respect for the contributions of each, one no more significant than the other, just wonderfully different. That blowing away of the chaff and harvesting the seeds of what you would like to grow as a couple can only come with time and patience. When the sheen dulls and that beautiful, mottled tarnish of time appears, dented and worn, you know, at last, you’re finally getting somewhere.
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p.s. You will be receiving a follow-up audio clip where I put some member’s questions to Troy. I thought you should hear from him, too. It’s totally unedited and I didn’t prepare him beforehand. I think it turned out pretty well, he charmed the pants off me as usual.😉 Should be in your inbox within the hour.