How to Create an Irreplaceable Union
I love my husband now more than ever. When I used to hear older couples say that love deepens with time, I would roll my eyes and interpret that sentiment as a nice way of saying, “marriage is boring but we are old, tired and less attractive so we say this to make it bearable.” Thank God, my assumption was incorrect.
My husband and I have been together for over thirteen years. Like all couples, we have weathered tough times: colicky babies, financial pressure, accidents, sleep issues, health scares and an ongoing power struggle for top dog. We are both warriors with hot tempers and firm ideas about how things should unfold. We have attended couples therapy, worked with coaches and participated in transformational workshops together and separately. We meditate and go on a weekly date night. Every year we love each other more and blame each other less when we go through inevitable periods of dissatisfaction and restlessness.
Here are 8 suggestions that I have taken away from the work we’ve done:
- Stop blaming your partner- for anything and everything. Take a closer look at areas that you could grow in. Whenever I fixate on all the things that my husband could do differently, I’m heading down a dead-end road. Trust me, if changing someone worked, I would have made it happen by now. The more I grow myself, the happier I am in all areas of my life. Grow you, grow everyone around you.
- Don’t expect your partner to be everything. Hire a shrink or coach, go talk to a priest or rabbi or wise older friend about your problems. Your partner is not a therapist and has issues of his/her own. My husband prefers watching sports to reading Rumi, and it’s ok. One person cannot be everything, let go of that childish notion and supplement with friendships where needed. It’s your responsibility to make yourself happy.
- Acknowledge your partner regularly. Look for reasons to praise your partner for something every day. I am a habitual nag, so this requires effort for me. Small and straightforward is a way to get started. “Thanks for putting your mug in the dishwasher,” instead of “Wow, it’s amazing you finally realized that we have a dishwasher.” Stop expecting, appreciate.
- Create Space. You don’t have to watch the same TV shows, work out together or talk five times a day to be close. You can even go on separate trips and have friends of the opposite sex. Anything is possible if you have trust. Being a close couple has nothing to do with sharing mundane habits. Too much time together can lead to taking each other for granted. Missing each other is essential.
- Stop compromising. Years ago, a therapist told us that compromise was the root of our resentments. Compromise creates a tit for tat scorecard mentality. If something is important to you, then make a request from your heart. Give up “you should” or “I need” and think a favor through carefully before asking. And always ask with respect.
- Make connecting for fifteen minutes a day a priority. In person is obviously best but phone or facetime works too. This can happen when the TV is muted, and a hockey game plays in the background, but it’s preferable without distractions. The conversation doesn’t have to be soul shifting, which took me a while to accept. A “how are you?” asked with care and a shared intention to listen is enough.
- Focus on emotional intimacy, and physical intimacy will follow. I hear long term couples waiting to be struck with desire and blaming their spouse when this doesn’t happen. Tending to intimacy is a commitment. Do everything above with great care and passion will be a by-product.
- Identify and support your partner’s highest values above all else. This item is the most important. If you are not doing all the others regularly, as long as you are doing this one, your relationship can grow. Even if your partner’s values take them away, encourage them to go. My husband attends a few ski/golf trips a year without me. He also plays in a hockey league all winter. My version is meditation retreats and writing/reading alone. When you support each other in this way, you both feel seen and fulfilled, that’s irreplaceable.