Last week my husband and I celebrated 21 years of marriage. This year we didn’t head off on a romantic weekend for two. Instead, he went to New York City to run a marathon and I stayed home.
In recent years, we’ve definitely spent more time apart than together. We’ve been existing in the “divide and conquer ” mode. That’s what happens when you have four active kids. Lately, however, his new job has made things a little harder. He has to be in bed by 7:30 p.m. so he can be up and out the door by 3 a.m. He’s home by 1:30 p.m., but at that point, I’m still working. Once the kids get home, we are running around getting them to their activities. Weekends aren’t much better. I have my activities, he has his and the kids have theirs.
It’s not ideal for a relationship, but it is what it is — a season. Recently, we’ve had a number of acquaintances separate and get divorced. I don’t know their stories, but I can see how it happens. Marriage is no picnic. Things get stressful and busy, and tensions rise. We always seem to have too much to do and so much to blame each other for. There’s no time for fun and just enough time to squeeze in a bit of “me” time. Finding time for “us” is nearly impossible. And when we do, it seems we’re both tired and cranky.
But my husband and I decided long ago that we were forever. For better or worse, our plan is to stick it out. Fortunately I not only love him, I still like him despite the lack of time together, the spats and the aggravations. I hope he still likes me too despite the fact that I’m always tired and cranky, and have this awful habit of making him feel like one of the kids.
I often think if we can just hang in there for a few more years, the kids will be gone and life will be like a second honeymoon. If we’ve made it this far, I guess we are in pretty good shape. But you never know.
Recently a friend suggested I get the book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John M. Gottman. I’m not sure why she suggested it. I guess just because she’s got the same stress in her marriage as I have in mine. So I put the audio book on hold at the library and two months later, I finally got it and was immediately sucked in.
Apparently, after listening to a couple interact for just 15 minutes, Gottman can predict with 91 percent accuracy whether they will stay together or lose their way. He’s researched not only what makes marriages fail, but also what makes them succeed.
When I first started listening, I was worried that I’d learn that our lack of time together might be killing our marriage. So far, however, I’ve learned that we aren’t doing too bad. I think if Gottman watched us interact, even on a bad day, he’d give us the thumbs up.
From what I’ve heard so far, the key to a happy marriage is having an intimate familiarity with each others world and having at least a spark of fondness and admiration for each other. This means knowing what your spouse is going through. Knowing what he or she likes. Doing things to make him or her happy. This “love map” gives the two of you a firm foundation when things get rough, Gottman says.
I’m not even halfway through the audio book, and I’m totally simplifying his research, but it’s pretty cool stuff so far. I would highly recommend it to any couple who wants to divorce-proof their relationship.
So even though my husband was off in New York on our anniversary weekend, we still made time for an anniversary dinner the night before he left. While I felt a little resentful about his trip and all the time and energy it took leading up to it, when it finally came I was genuinely happy for him. Happy that he was getting to do something that he’s wanted to do for a long time.
In the same vein, he’s incredibly supportive of things he knows are important to me. He recently helped me pick out a new bike and encouraged me to buy it despite the high cost. He knew how much it meant to me and realized it was worth the sacrifice.
So no matter how much bickering we do and how much we might annoy each other in the stress of every day life, I think our marriage is working. It’s not perfect, and we have lots of work to keep it going, but I think we’ll keep going.
FranklyStein is a blog by Chesapeake Family Magazine editor Betsy Stein, who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Chris, and four children, Maggie, 17, Lilly, 16, Adam, 16, and Jonah, 12.