Yesterday I hosted a very small sort of bridal shower for a younger friend. She’s actually within the range of age of my own kids. We met at our UU church and became friends. She dubbed me her “church mom” which I found very flattering. She and her fiance are actually eloping, and she’s not into all the traditional bride-y things. So I planned a very small gathering with just a few close friends, and kept it very casual.
As I sat, clearly the elder amongst these thirtysomethings in my living room sipping lemonade and Pellegrino, we discussed worst and best dates, and more seriously, why do so many marriages don’t work out. Being a child of divorce herself, she was concerned about how to bulletproof her relationship.
As the designated elder, and only one who had been married and divorced, I found myself wishing that I had some concrete answer at my fingertips to tell this soon-to-be-bride. Just do this and it will never happen to you. But there is no concrete, pat answer, because as humans intimately involved with other humans it is extremely complex.
For instance. I am writing, well currently REwriting a play. The main characters have a problem - he cheated, she’s hurt. Do they reconcile or don’t they? For many people this is a very black and white issue. Infidelity is a complete and total deal breaker to those folks. Others can find forgiveness and move past it.
More often than not, I told my friend, it’s a slow wearing away of a connection and the love that once kept you bound to one another. I liken it to water dripping and slowing wearing down a stone over time. There’s not one inciting incident. Children, jobs, aging parents, and the stress of the day to day can quietly and slowly erode what once felt like a strong foundation.
My own marriage didn’t end overnight. There were issues, which are private, that over time created distance and disconnection. Add to that having married very young, both of us children of failed marriages, and it was a recipe for not really knowing what we were doing, and being ill-equipped to handle some very challenging crises that came our way. Devastated at first, I eventually found my footing, and while I have not followed a traditional or linear path, I have created a life that is rich, challenging, creative and fits me. I am happy. I don’t have regrets, other than the sadness I have felt for our children having at their family reconfigured. Having experienced that myself I’d hoped to spare them that. And for that I will always be sorry.
The best advice I could give my friend is to not fall asleep at the wheel in her relationship. To stay awake and aware. Notice your partner and don’t take them for granted. Don’t take your life together for granted.
Over the many years since my divorce I dated and had a few relationships. I actually didn’t date for quite a while. Having married at such a young age, and having three children to raise, I focused on that. And while raising them, I also raised me. I’d never been on my own having gone from my mom’s house to college, to living with the boyfriend who eventually became my husband. I needed to build my own foundation for myself before jumping into something else with shaky roots. When I did finally meet someone with whom I now live, I was a whole person, as was he. We’d each done our work and no one needed to be fixed.
The Internet is full of lists of how to have a happy relationship. I won’t bore you with a long protracted one of my own, but I will leave you with a few tips.
Be honest. Except when you shouldn’t. Sometimes there are things - not the big things, that it’s best to just shut up about. There’s lots of things that aren’t worth nagging someone about.
Know yourself well enough to not live through a partner. Have a true sense of who your are - interests, friends and a life that sustains you apart from your partner. No one person can all of another’s needs. We all need a team.
Have a sense of humor about yourself, life and your partner. Especially about yourself. Taking yourself too seriously is just the worst.
Needing to be right at the expense of being kind is never good.
Be kind. Really, it’s that easy. Just be kind.
And lastly, I leave you with this. Marriage advice from Kenny and Selma. Married 72 years and clearly relationship experts.