One of my favorite writers recently wrote a post about how she and her husband maintain a successful relationship. They’ve been together for 10 years, and she’s a much better writer than me, so she probably already did this subject complete justice and we can go ahead and close the book on it, but it got me thinking about my own relationship and I wanted to add my two cents into the mix. Zach and I are coming up on our second marriage anniversary, and it’s crazy to me because well, I just never thought I’d get here–you know, “here” meaning happily married and not divorced after 72 hours a la Britney Spears. I mean, I always wanted to get here at some point, but I wasn’t really sure I ever would.
My relationship history has been tumultuous at best. My therapist described my quest to find a healthy relationship as me “trying to build a plane when I’ve never seen one,” and a more accurate description of my personal endeavors into romance has never existed. I tried, and tried, and tried, and tried, and tried, and tried again to fit so many square pegs into a round hole. And I always made it my fault when it didn’t work. I could always find a reason why I wasn’t good enough, why I should be better.
I met Zach 3 weeks after I’d kicked some jerk I was sort of dating to the curb, and I’d just finally–FINALLY –gotten rid of a lingering drama with an ex. I had a clean slate, I felt very much at peace about embracing my singleness, and I’d decided before I even knew who Zach was that my relationships were going to be different from there on out. The only trouble was, I still didn’t know exactly what that looked like.
I knew from the beginning that Zach was going to be an important person in my life. Don’t ask me how I knew; I just did. I felt it. It felt different, and I didn’t want to screw it up, so I did what any normal person might do and I panicked. I bought books because I’m a dork, and that’s what dorks do. To this day, I have an unread copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to a Healthy Relationship sitting on our bookshelf, and a book that I did actually read called He’s Scared, She’s Scared, which, shut up. Don’t laugh. YOU’RE scared. So is your face. And so is your mom. Burn!
All of this to say that I really, really wanted this relationship to work. And it did–once I sat back and stopped trying to force it–but it took a really long time for me to be able to let go of the reins and just let it happen. I had to learn how to trust Zach and myself, and (hardest lesson of all) I had to learn how to allow myself to be loved. That seems like it would be the easy part, but it’s not. It’s actually really hard to believe that you’re deserving of the love you want, especially when you don’t have a lot of positive relationship role models in your life and have had a wealth of bad experiences in the romance department. For a while it felt like I loved Zach with bent arms and clenched fists, always bouncing around and trying to be one step ahead of whatever blow I assumed he was going to throw my way. But the blows never came. When we were mad, we fought, and then we healed. When we had chances to walk away, we didn’t. When we had the opportunity to choose something else, we chose each other instead. And I relaxed because slowly–painfully slowly–I realized we were fighting FOR each other, instead of against each other.
My relationship with Zach is the happiest, healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in, but that didn’t happen by accident. We push and pull, squeeze, stretch, compromise, grow. We give each other the freedom to be individuals and the space to make mistakes, but we always know where home is, and we always know that our willingness to return there is a matter of choice. That’s the conclusion my “wealth of knowledge” about marriage has led me to: that choosing your spouse is the most significant part of making your relationship work. You have to do it every day, even when it’s hard, even when you don’t feel like it. You have to say, I could be anywhere and I could be with anyone, but I choose this life, this commitment, this family.
It’s a choice.
What leads you to continue making that choice will vary from person to person and relationship to relationship. For me, it’s being with someone that I really just genuinely enjoy. Zach and I like spending time together. We have our separate interests, but we spend the majority of our time together willingly and easily. We laugh a lot. All the time. We share our days. We fight respectfully (most of the time), and we always own up to our mistakes and apologize. And we’re honest with each other–maybe even more honest than we need to be at times, but it works for us.
Relationships are a blank canvas, and you fill that space in your own way. No two relationships will look alike or function by the same set of rules. The important thing is to find someone who shares your vision, who has integrity, who loves you enough to work with you and even to fight with you, and who you trust completely.
It’s also very, very important for them to love eating spicy Buffalo wings and watching bad horror movies with you on Friday nights, and to understand that the Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch in the freezer is MINE SO BACK OFF PLEASE.
What are some of your tips for making it work?