“We’re not looking for perfection in our partner but a mutual exploration of imperfections.” –David Whyte
A dear friend of mine recently wrote me and confided with me how hard it is to be married. Like many of us, I’ve been there and I wanted her to know she’s not alone. I also wanted her to know that in order to make the changes she needs to make so that life can get better, she doesn’t have to end her marriage. With her permission, I have shared my response to her.
When I was mad in my marriage I couldn’t see anything for any other way than the way I made it to be because I was so hell bent on being disappointed, angry, just flat out fucking pissed off. I was mad that things didn’t look or feel the way I had hoped five years into our commitment. It was all too easy for me to think that everyone else on the planet of marriage had it way better off than I did. That everyone’s husband was Mr. Right except for mine.
That mindset didn’t get me very far. In fact, it paved the way for a very frustrating four years to follow.
Part of me thinks that my marriage might have been salvaged if someone, maybe my future self, could have yanked me by the neck, pinned me down in a submissive position and said, “Look lady, you are where you are. That sucks. But let’s see what there is to work with here.” Because the fact of the matter is, despite the lacking I felt there to be in our marriage, what was there all along was a big, deep love. And while happiness is something we can all fake, love like that, is not.
Lately, I’ve decided that womens’ lib has dealt men a rough hand. Because we’ve evolved and come into our own, we suddenly expect things to be different for the opposite sex. Maybe I’m being sexist by saying this (which is only okay because I’m a female) true to how we females are, sometimes our expectations are a bit perhaps, well, unrealistic? The more I am around men, the more I realize that what I’m looking for in the connection / emotionally available department just might not exist as far as the opposite sex goes. Men, bless their hearts, just aren’t wired that way. This is why we need girlfriends. And sisters and mothers and when did we start asking men to be our everything? Why did we ever think that was okay?
I expect any man I’m with to be kind to me, yes. To love me, yes. To respect me and to attempt to understand me. But the reality is, they are the hunters. They are the protectors. If they got all emotional about having to defend or kill, where would we be now? The human race would be long gone and died out as a species. The reality is that seeing us upset or unhappy is not going to suddenly turn them into a big, soft teddy bear. They’ll see us cry, maybe give us a squeeze or a hug or a football pat on the bum and then they’ll shrug it off and get on with it. Instead of holding that against them, maybe we should try and be grateful to them for that.
(Sidenote: I was with this guy for awhile who was hugely emotional and so tuned into me that I felt suffocated, not liberated.) I’ve learned it’s fair for me to expect reciprocity. This, however, does not mean he has to BE like me.
What I’ve learned post-divorce is actually something I could have genuinely benefited from while in the throes of my marriage. That is this:
If all we ever see is what isn’t there, that’s all we’ll ever have.
Recently, in my explorations of love, I went to this class at a place in London called The School of Life. The class was entitled, “How to Make Love Last.” The class was three hours and consisted of small group discussions, large group discussions and even a bit of drawing. I had no idea if I’d actually learn anything but I went because I figured it couldn’t hurt. What I walked away with were a few solid conclusions I find to be true.
1. Commitment requires a new conversation. Love is love but committment is something altogether entirely different and the two are not to be confused. You can love someone without being committed. Commitment requires us to talk through love, over and over. To always return to the relationship, no matter the difficulties.
2. Love/Sex/Friendship Each one plays a part in the long-term sustainability of a relationship but not all of them are of equal importance to everyone or every couple. When they are all of equal importance for a couple, it’s realistic to expect that sometimes there is love, sometimes there is friendship and sometimes it’s just sex. When all three of these don’t coexist, one of them helps sustain the relationship when the rest is lacking.
3. Don’t expect to just know how to do this without having been taught. Take the time to educate yourself on how to be loving and how to be in a committed relationship. It’s not a skill set we are born with. It takes a lifetime. Everyone should read “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm
4. Take care of yourself. Don’t expect your partner to take care of your needs. One of the burdens of a relationship is believing in another individual so much that we think they can solve everything for us. We end up putting so much emphasis on the relationship to meet our own needs, which is ultimately detrimental to the relationship.
5. Love — the lasting kind — is really not even always about love. It’s bigger. It’s about returning again and again to someone with steadfast compassion. To be able to find it within ourselves to look past what isn’t there and see what is, who is, and bundle that up tightly and just love the shit out of it.
Because that’s all we ever really have, no matter who we’re with.
Sure, you could spend your time dreaming up all the other lives you could be living, but that’s a waste of time. In the end, no matter who you’re with, what kind of life it is…the lesson here we’re all trying to grasp is the same one: how to love.
No, you do not have to sacrifice yourself for your marriage. It’s not one or the other. Oh, how I wish someone had said this to me and maybe they did but I just didn’t believe them enough in that moment but just because your marriage is broken doesn’t mean you have to obliterate it for once and for all and get a divorce. What’s broken can always be fixed. Yes, the mending can be a long road. But so is divorce. Either route you choose is going to be tough.
You want to make love last? If you can find it in you, start by seeing what’s there. Stop finding only the faults. Get out from behind the big dark weather cloud you’ve concocted in your anger, resentment and frustration. Look for the slivers of light. Unless you’re in some horribly abusive marriage, I promise you the light is there somewhere. When you find it, be grateful. Say thank you. Out loud, to each other.
Lastly, if you want something to change, don’t expect it to come from anywhere but yourself.