She sat across from me, pen poised in hand, as she listened and studied my body language.
My shoulders loosened. I felt myself melt into the cushions of the couch. The hum of the noise machine slowed my breathing. My jawline relaxed.
“Aside from my kids, it is what I am most proud of in my life.”
It was a casual “I thought you’d never ask” kind of response. This was a rare opportunity to talk about my marriage. I am unaccustomed to the presence of strangers. People who know us know us.
But that day, sitting on my therapist’s couch, I had the chance to show her us for the very first time. Her interpretation and understanding of my marriage would come solely from my choice of words and tone. It was like relaying some grand adventure or my first ride on a roller coaster. I scrambled for vocabulary to describe our sixteen year union before our first session came to a close.
It is true. I am proud of our marriage. I am enamored by the romantic notion of creating something out of nothing. We had a tumultuous beginning as young newlyweds grasping for security in every direction. Honesty was our marital deficit - honesty with each other and ourselves.
When I consider how far we have come, I am proud of the authentic and rare union we have forged. It is what I hope my children will someday find.The question is, what do I tell them to search for? What made us into us?
I could advise my kids to find someone who is willing to invest quality time and attention in them. I could tell them to find an empathetic person with similar passions. Find someone who truly listens and asks questions. But most of these traits can be elusive or distorted through a lens of young lust or passion. I wanted an answer tied up neatly in a bow. If I was so proud of this marriage, surely I could pinpoint what factor contributed to its success.
I could skim the surface of our current relationship for specific tips:
Read books together. We recently began reading aloud together and discussing as we go.
Exercise together. We love lifting together and coaching each other.
Get a bathtub made for two. Some couples recently told us they don’t have a tub. We were SHOCKED! “Where do you read together? Where do you have your coffee? Where do you discuss your children’s annoying habits?”
Strive to always go to bed at the same time. Sleep heals and restores our body and mind. We unplug from our day together.
Share a passion for coffee. We drive 30 minutes across town for a legit pour over.
Set aside one day a week to be your day for quality time together. We have “I Love You Wednesdays.”
All of these things work for us, but this list is not prescriptive nor for everyone. These are the details of us.
These details are an expression of our connection but not the essence of us. They are a symptom or byproduct of our foundation. The answer hid deeper below the surface at the core of our marriage. As often happens, true colors are best seen when the winds of change arise and blow aside the frivolous details. Our foundation is revealed when put to the test.
Recently, we experienced a shift requiring some necessary adjustments. For the first time since entering the happy years of our marriage (about 12 years ago), we moved in different directions as individuals. We solidified personal goals in addition to marital/family goals. I embraced a writer’s life. I enjoy CrossFit but adopted yoga, meditation, reading and writing as important aspects of my spiritual development. Brent prefers a more structured training regimen and enjoys the competitive nature of CrossFit. Two paths diverged in a wood.
“What if we grow in different directions and change into people who do not belong together?” I never hesitate to take things to the absolute worst case scenario.
His reply was nonchalant. “That’s not the point. We are both growing and improving ourselves. That is our common ground, not how we are doing it.”
There was the answer I had been searching to find. Our foundation is built on a desire to grow. The message I want our children to receive about building a happy, fulfilling marriage is to NEVER, ever, ever stop working on themselves.
If my kids continually work to improve themselves, they will attract like-minded partners who also work to grow and develop as human beings. Brent and I might occasionally take up different interests but that does not have to mean distance. It can signify diverse opportunities for growth and deeper connection. Two individual vines interlace as they climb a trellis. Therein lies my source of pride.
We can grow and change physically, intellectually and emotionally. Our needs can shift and fluctuate. Yet, we can cultivate a desire to know each other more. As our sense of self expands so will our sense of wonder. We can fall in love with the discovery as each new detail unfolds.