You are only as happy as your most unhappy child. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Deciding whom you’ll marry is the most important decision you’ll ever make. Marriage is a lot of hard work.
All true? Most people think so. Ben Affleck declared it to be so a few years ago after winning best picture for Argo…
It’s coming back to haunt him now that he has announced his divorce (from Jennifer Garner) fueling another discussion by the experts confirming what everyone seems to believe – that marriage is work, takes work, requires work.
But contrary to what everyone seems to think, experts in the field, friends, therapists – even Mr. Affleck – I don’t believe marriage has to be work.
I know this because I have been married 31 years, and I don’t consider my marriage work at all. And neither does my husband. At least that is what he said when I asked him. But then again, I was cutting up a melon with a very, very sharp knife.
With the Supreme Court Ruling supporting gay marriage last week, I think we have all been giving a little more consideration to what marriage means, to our own marriages, and to that of our relatives and friends. Do we ever really know what is going on in any one else’s marriage? Do we even know what is going on in our own?
A friend of mind recently told me a story about a 90-something year old woman who was married for 60-something years. She just found a stack of love letters written by her husband, now stricken with Altzheimer’s, to other women, all written during their marriage. The letters proved, in no uncertain terms, that he had had multiple affairs while they were married. After decades of marriage, she learned that hers was a lie.
All this marriage talk got me thinking about my own 31 year marriage, and a conversation Mike and I had while preparing breakfast and listening to a morning talk show. It was a discussion about marriage among relationship “experts”.
“Look, marriage is hard work,” one of them said, and all of them nodded their heads in agreement. There was no disagreement or discussion. Mike took another bite of his Chobani while I sipped my coffee and cut up the melon.
“Do you think our marriage is work?” I asked him.
“No, of course not,” he answered. To be fair, I knew the answer before I asked the question (I learned to do that in law school.) We had had this conversation more than a few times over the course of three decades. I just wanted to confirm that nothing had changed. “Do you?” he asked.
“Not at all. It’s never been work for me. Not even for a day in 30 years.” I told him.
“31,” he reminded me. “But I know what you mean, I have no idea what these experts are talking about. Our marriage isn’t hard work.”
Mike and I are not being sarcastic. Neither one of us is answering in the “no, honey, I don’t think you’re fat” kind of way. Both of us think that our 31 year long marriage has been pretty easy. And yes, friends have jokingly called us “the Cleavers,” but I actually don’t think we are an anomaly. I think plenty of people have marriages that are not hard work.
Because why should marriage be a lot of work? With synonyms like labor, toil, slog, drudgery, exertion, effort….why would anyone want to spend decades doing that? Shouldn’t it just kind of flow instead?
I brought the subject up with friends of ours who have been married even longer than we have. We talked about what makes a great marriage: a true partnership, respect, compassion, patience, understanding, compromise, empathy, and lots and lots and lots of laughter. To that, I might add never dissing your spouse in public (notice how Mike always ends up smelling like roses in my writing) and an active sex life (sorry kids).
We all went for a walk, and my friend and I found ourselves quite a bit a head of the men, and we waited to catch up.
“See how you have to walk a little slower because Mike broke his pinky toe?” she asked.
“That’s compassion,” I answered. “Not work. Plus, I get a great deal of satisfaction by being right about his needing to wear shoes on the boat. That was a great ‘I told you so’ moment. How often do you get one of those? Pure pleasure.”
“Do you notice how you often watch what he wants to watch on TV?” she asked.
“That’s compromise,” I answered, not work. Plus, we try to find things we both like.
“But don’t you see how you are always thinking about him—what his needs are, what he likes? What would make him happy?”
“That’s being his partner,” I explained, “and wanting him to be happy, and not being a total narcissist. It may be love, but it’s not ‘work’.”
“Maybe we just need to re-define what ‘work’ means,” she conceded. And I agreed.
I am not saying that everything is always perfect, that Mike doesn’t sometimes disappoint me, that I don’t get angry at him. I am not saying that there are not hard times, hard issues, hard problems. But I must say that he overwhelmingly makes it easier to handle these things. So maybe if marriage seems like really hard work, there is something that needs a little fixing.
Mike and I spend hours cuddled up on our couch. He scratches my head if it hurts. He hugs me when I am sad. But he doesn’t consider that work either, because when I am happy, he is happy. And I know the reverse is certainly true, so I do what I can to make him happy too. Did I mention that I sail overnight on the boat every summer taking a 3 hour shift on my own in the middle of the night?
So is our marriage work? It can’t be. Because I never feel like I need a vacation.
Does anyone else have a marriage that isn’t hard work?