I used to dream of a marriage where there would be adoration right and left, deep soul-to-soul conversations pretty much daily, and a natural connection and understanding that would make it easy and fun to meet each other's needs. But after 15 years of marriage, I've come to have great affection for a marriage involving a partnership between individuals who love and respect each other deeply and understand and appreciate the differences that make them need each other.
Maybe there are some people out there (real people, not people in books and movies) who have easy marriages full of non-stop romance and deep soulmate connection. But I don't know any of them. I do know there are people who feel beautiful connections with their spouses and who are great about keeping the romance alive in their relationships — but most people seem to need a lot of years of ups and downs and learning and trying to develop their own unique sort of marriage that both parties feel good about. Some couples are better at friendship, others are better at partnership, some are better at mutual appreciation, others are better at connection. There's no one "right" type of marriage relationship.
My husband, Jared, and I have had amazing times together over our 15 years of marriage — amazingly great and amazingly difficult. We've learned a ton — a lot of it the hard way, some of it the really, really hard way. We're still learning new things and relearning things that we should have learned more thoroughly the last time we learned them.
Perhaps the most important things I've learned so far are these six things (and I'm still working on all of them!):
1. Let go. I've let go of a lot of things that I thought were important in a marriage, realizing that they're the "icing on the cake" and that the "cake" is what really matters. And I've learned to value new things that I didn't think were important initially. Letting go is hard. And so many things I thought I let go of pop up and demand to be considered long after I thought I'd thoroughly let go of them. But letting go is necessary and offers such freedom when I can truly cast off certain wants and needs and expectations.
2. Be grateful. I can choose whether to find fault or find blessings. When I choose to see all there is to be grateful for, things work out much better. I am amazingly blessed to be married to a man who is smart in ways I am not smart, capable in ways I am not capable and a perfect complement to me in so many ways. I'm grateful for all the ways marriage has rubbed off my rough edges (even though it was painful). I'm grateful to be married to a truly good person who is everything I never knew I needed.3. Give 100 percent. I used to think I should give 50 percent and Jared should give 50 percent and that would work out great. I've learned we both have to plan to give 100 percent and that all I should really be thinking about is whether I'm doing my 100 percent.
4. If it's important to you, it's important to me. Jared loves watching sports on TV, flying airplanes and having certain material things that I would never even know existed without him introducing them to me. He's careful not to let his interests take over all our free time or mess with our financial health. But since these things really matter to Jared, they need to matter to me. On the flip side, I care about lots of things Jared doesn't naturally care about (and my list of things I care about is way longer than Jared's). Jared does a great job of making what matters to me matter to him (especially when I explain what's important to me and why rather than expecting him to read my mind!). We don't have to like and need the same things. But we do have to respect and support what really is important to each other without judgement.
5. Don't expect to change anyone besides yourself. Be the change you wish to see — and then be OK if you're being that change and it's not leading to the overall change you hoped for. Work on yourself first and foremost and learn to accept and work on your own faults.
6. Marriage is work every day. Like all serious and worthwhile work, it can make your tired and frustrated and is sometimes so hard it makes you want to give up. But it also brings the kind of real joy and satisfaction you can only get from serious and worthwhile work. It's the kind of joy and satisfaction that can be hard to see or feel in the everyday without making an effort to feel it, the kind of joy and satisfaction you feel most deeply in looking back and seeing all you've been through together and all you share and all the goodness your union has brought forth. I like this quote by Ursula Le Guin: "Love does not sit there, like a stone. It has to be made like bread, remade each day, made new."
Here are a couple of my favorite quotes about marriage that I probably would have shunned if I came across them years ago. They're decidedly unromantic, but they've helped me realize some important truths and let go of unrealistic expectations. And I've found that when expectations are in check, romance is much more likely to happen and my marriage feels more like the beautiful gift that it is.
"Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction." – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
"I was never one of those women who tell you that they're always on the same page as their spouse. I feel like you're ahead of the game if you're even in the same book." – Anna Quindlen
I'm so grateful that I've now spent a third of my life with an amazing man who supports me and loves me and stands by me in a marriage that has brought me the adventure and stability I dreamed of alongside the learning experiences I needed. I'm so grateful that Jared and I are usually looking in the same general direction and that we're pretty much in the same book on most things. I love that we share each other's loads and respect each other's needs (once we go through the often challenging process of figuring out what they are). We have our issues. But so does everyone. Sometime we move forward with our relationship. Sometimes we stagnate a bit. But we're trying. And we're committed.
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