A long marriage is not the same thing as a great marriage. In our cynical society, where Kim Kardashian spends millions on a wedding only to divorce her husband 72 days later, we end up believing that if you can stay married for a decade or a quarter century, you have a great marriage.
It's simply not true. Strong and healthy marriages are made, not born. They don't just happen by fluke. And while it's always a big deal to celebrate each year in a long marriage, we all know that a relationship where the partners silently tolerate each other with an undercurrent of disdain is not as inspiring as a marriage between two spouses who actually enjoy each other's company.
One of my most longed-for goals is to have a great marriage. Not one that lasts forever with no genuine warmth in it, but a true partnership where we grow closer and become better individuals with each passing year. Today is our 14th wedding anniversary, and while we are not yet at my final goal, we are meeting many of the key criteria for building a great marriage.
We encourage change. We are not afraid to personally grow and adjust to the differences in our relationship. It keeps our day-to-day dynamic fresh and interesting.
We laugh a lot. Laughter covers over a multitude of things. It's hard to stay angry at someone who can find the funny in any situation.
We are in it for the long haul. As I get healthier and more confident in myself, I am matching Jason's natural optimism in our marriage. In the early years, I saw every fight as a probable divorce, and now I believe that we have the skills to work anything out.
We pursue individual interests. Jason likes golf, I like the spa. I write, he manages electronic components. He runs, I swim. We do separate things and then share our experiences with each other without pressuring the other person to do what we like to do.
We are kind to each other. This is an endless work in progress, but we engage in regular reminders to be courteous to one another. He'll say, "Thanks for the delicious dinner and the clean laundry" and I'll tell him, "I appreciate how hard you work to provide for us" or "the lawn looks great after you mowed it". These little things make a huge difference to the mood in our home.
We compromise. I watch a movie that he really wants to see, and he does the same for me. We include each other's personality type and interests when we plan weekends and vacations. We try not to punish the other person for their natural preferences which might differ from our own.
We support each other in public. The importance of this has become clearer to me over the years. When we were younger, I often felt tempted to engage in husband-bashing with my friends. I don't do this anymore. The stakes are too high. I want Jason to know at all times that I have his back, which doesn't always mean that I agree with him, but we can hash that out privately. Publicly, he must feel supported, and I deserve the same respect from him.
We keep daily conflict to a minimum. This does not mean we don't fight. We do, and we don't hide these disagreements from our kids, but it's better out and done with instead of simmering constantly under the surface. I grew up with that kind of unacknowledged tension, and I'm determined to model something healthier for my kids. We argue, then we resolve it and forgive each other so the daily atmosphere is friendly instead of heavy with passive-aggressive recriminations.
We spend time together. Rituals are critical to a stable family environment. Things like family movie night, bike rides to the farmer's market and Saturday morning waffles are the glue that holds our marriage and family together. Dates are like oil to the wheels of our relationship. We book a babysitter and get away from the dishes, toys, kids and pets as often as possible to see a movie and go out for dinner to remember why we fell in love with each other in the first place.
We say "I love you". We say it with our words, and our bodies, but we also say it in our everyday actions and choices. When I'm frustrated with the kids and I crave some alone time, Jason offers it to me or I ask for it and he willingly steps up to the task. When he has a lot of work stress, I am learning not to nag but to give him space to zone out and relax. This is love in action, and it has the ability to refresh and renew each person in the relationship.
A great marriage is an intimate one. Not just in a physical sense, but in every way: emotional, spiritual, mental. Do you tell your girlfriends more than your husband? Does he know you the best or are you giving more of yourself in other places and then feel resentful that he doesn't get you the way you need him to?
Marriage is hard. It requires both partners to give constantly of themselves, and to accept the inevitable changes in their spouse. I want to improve our marriage, little by little, every single day we are alive, and I'm excited about what we are building together.