While I'm of the opinion that no one is an expert on marriage, I have learned some things over the years from observation and experience. Marriage is a partnership or it is nothing. The day you get married, you face each other and feel that the world is for you. You have dreams. You have family. You have the shiny glow of love. You have an eternity of hope. It is a moment in time that is filled with all the potential of a relationship.
Standing there, you feel the magnitude of that potential from all the people surrounding you. It is as if the two of you somehow represent all the hope of the loving friends and families, and, sometimes, it represents maybe what they once wished for themselves but did not accomplish in their own relationships. There is perfection in that moment, just as much as there is vulnerability. The storybook aspect of marriage is represented in so many fairy tales and movies that it is cliché, and the wedding industry is just that: an industry. But the real work of marriage is somehow left out of the script.
Most of us go into marriage without any idea as to how hard it is to fully commit yourself to loving someone “for better or worse” and sometimes the “worse” is just too bad to hang in there, as in relationships tainted by abuse, violence or addiction. However, there is a fine line between staying in long enough to work through relationship hardships and giving up because things have gotten hard.
Just as couples stand facing each other with the world behind them, so too will there be moments in life when it is going to feel as if you're standing back to back, leaning on each other, the two of you against the world. If there is any imbalance of power in any form — emotional, physical, financial, intellectual, health — then the marriage itself can be in jeopardy. Emotionally, if one person is continually investing in the relationship while another person is self-absorbed, eventually the emotional investor is going to become drained. Obviously, if there is a physical inequity or a partner continuously threatening physical violence, a marriage cannot thrive. While it is not uncommon for one partner to earn more or for a marriage to be a single-income marriage, if financially there is not commitment to equality and transparency between two people, a lot of resentment and tension can result.
On the flip side, conversation and intellectual interaction are great assets in keeping a marriage vibrant. Lastly, a commitment to helping each other be healthy in mind, body, and spirit has great benefit; however, relationships that require a primary caregiver can create a dynamic that is not always healthy and alters the equality of other aspects of the relationship. Because of the multi-faceted aspects of the marital relationship, marriage is a dance of give and take like no other part of your life. But there are some principles that should never be compromised in this dance. Respect, self-worth, honesty and faithfulness should guide a person always on this journey. Sometimes you fight for these things in your marriage. Sometimes you draw the line in the sand. But in a marriage where love prevails, sometimes you reach across the line to help bring your partner to the side they need to be on. You learn to be compassionate to help someone grow into being your partner but not at your own expense. Some transgressions are able to be forgiven, and some are not.
Overall, a good marriage isn't static but rather dynamic, reflective of growth and maturity that comes with time and sometimes growing pains. If a marriage becomes full of regret, then it is no longer a marriage but rather a prison. A good marriage requires love but also energy, effort, and active participation – those parts that are left out of the storybook or Hollywood script. As time rolls on and you have been together for years, making time to talk and listen, beyond the doldrums of daily routine, and making time to do those things that you enjoy that brought you together in the first place is critical. While holding true to certain expectations is important, redundancy and routine can crack the foundation of a marriage. In other words, you should be able to expect the courtesy of a phone call or good communication, but if the conversation evolves into nothing other than whether the dishwasher is clean or dirty and if the bills are paid, love will be lost somewhere in those dishes and bills. If you are embarking on this journey with your new love, or if you have been together with your partner for years, may it be a life with a soulmate that brings you happiness, love and kindness and a partnership always striving for equality.