Couples that make you want to puke: I am half of one of them, I am told.
We work hard to be this nauseating. I mean, really, would you want to go around holding my hand all the time? Or have to be the one to pat Bubba-mon on his cute fanny? Sheesh, the effort involved in all this damn smiling — you wouldn’t want to take it on, I promise. Totally exhausting.
Add to this burden our “perfect” children and our “perfect” lives, and you’ve got the makings of utter hell.
Except that nothing inside a relationship is ever quite what it seems to the rest of the world. I habitually and publicly confess my failings and foibles. I wish I could do the same with my marriage: how about a story that Eric is a compulsive gambler and I am a gender-reassignment success story, and the cops have been called out to break up our fights on three separate occasions? That would be exciting.
It wouldn’t be true.
The truth is boring; the truth is that we are as flawed as the next couple/family. I adore my almost-perfect husband, and he puts up with me writing about him and generally being a gigantic pain in the ass. I love my normal, fallible kids and step-kids. I love our messed-up, wacky life.
But adoring/loving each other doesn’t mean it comes easily. So, while I have no scandalous revelations for you today, I want to share a glimpse of how two highly-emotional, Type A, self-absorbed, over-committed “losers at marriage” (we are both each others’ second spouse) manage our relationship into the true thing of beauty that it is.
Because it is.
(you may pause to vomit, here)
1. Relationship Operating Agreement
Oh yes, it is true. We have a Relationship Operating Agreement.
You’re thinking, “Well, at least she didn’t lie. Bring me a bucket; I’m going to hurl.”
After you quell your little attack of stomach flu, rest assured that I’d be happy to share our document if it would help you. Because this is the single greatest contributor to the success of our relationship. When we misbehave, which we both do but me more than him, we quickly circle back to our shared commitments.
“Commitment? Yeah, we’ve already got that — we are in a committed relationship.”
I hear you, and sometimes I feel like I’m in a “committed” relationship, too, as in both of us committed to the funny farm, because we seem to have lost our minds and found a way to pick each other apart.
But, seriously, we have found that taking the time to flesh out what we meant — really meant, in detail (B.M. is an engineer, after all) — when we promised to honor and cherish each other has made a huge difference in our marriage. For example, do you mean the same thing as one another when you promise respect? To me, respect is B.M. listening to me. To B.M., respect is me shutting up. That is NOT the same thing. Drafting the Commitment made us intentionally reach agreement on what our key concepts look like/feel like/sound like/etc., although we painfully teach each other new ones now and then.
THE most important concept we clarified? That it is our relationship that we must focus on, not each of us as individuals. If we take care of the relationship and put it first, then we take care of each other. So our every decision with regard to our relationship is about guarding, nurturing and protecting it. In other words, establishing and maintaining intimacy is job one. My top job is not Eric, his top job is not Pamela. Our top job is The Relationship. Sounds like work. Sometimes it is. But mostly, it’s fun.
2. Commitment to Intimacy
Earlier this year, we purchased two books. Our goal was to rely on a book with both text and exercises to improve our already wonderful relationship by giving us a structured way to address our challenge areas. And anyone married to me will be knee-deep in challenge areas. “An Idiot’s Guide to Intimacy” was our first purchase.
When our daughters found this book on our bedside table, they got the giggles.
“Oh my God, you bought a book about S-E-X?” hehehehehehehe
“No, dearies. We bought a book about I-N-T-I-M-A-C-Y.”
If you are older than a teenager and think intimacy is only about sex, then you really DO need this book. Intimacy includes physical touch, which can include sex. But intimacy is much, much more. If you want to know exactly how much more, you’ll have to buy the Idiot’s Guide.
We spent a few months reading aloud, discussing, and completing the exercises together. Every night. No matter what. And some nights we were sleepy and finished in the wee hours. But we stuck to it, because The Relationship comes first.
One of the exercises we got the most out of was writing our strategies to defuse our most volatile issues. You know, the ones that come up over and over, each time with a nuclear explosion, leaving the two of you looking past each other with the thousand yard stare? Like money, step-parenting, communicating — oops, am I airing *my* issues here? Bad me!
Our strategies were meant only as personal exercises (it is not wise to write about how you are going to deal with your partner’s thin skin and irrational beliefs, and then show it to him!), so we didn’t share them with each other, but we use them, and we found that they work. Because they are all about how “I” will be accountable for nurturing the intimacy of The Relationship, not how “He” will treat me.
Who knew we were so smart at this relationship thing?!?
We often pull them back out and re-read them to ourselves. I did just two days ago. If my goal is to protect The Relationship, then I won’t enter a high-risk situation without revisiting my plan of action. I think I handled the situation far better, as a result.
Lest you think that we skipped along the path picking daisies and singing tra-la-la while we went through the book, please note page 150. This section of the book is on Emotional Triggers that Shut-Off Intimate Listening. See the big piece of Scotch tape? That’s what happens when one person sticks a hot poker into the other person’s eye, or when the book causes us to discuss an issue that doesn’t go so well for us. One of us may or may not have held the book up lovingly in front of the other person’s face to show them up close and personal exactly the part they were screwing up.
For that matter, see the picture above with the cover of the book? The book lost its cover in that same interaction, when it may or may not have been lofted gently in the air in the general direction of one’s beloved. (And it was totally B.M.’s fault, not mine)
The other book we bought was “365 Questions for Couples.” The premise of this book is to never quit talking to and learning about each other.
We now read 3-4 of these questions per night, in place of the Idiot’s Guide, and take turns being the first to give our answer. We love it when we know each others’ answer. We love it even more when we shock each other with new thoughts and ideas. We’ve found areas of commonality that we didn’t expect, and areas of Grand Canyon divide that surprised us. And we dealt with the gulfs right then, instead of finding out about them in the middle of a crisis, 12 years from now.
I love this little book.
3. We BELIEVE it and we LIVE it
B.M. and I were meant to be together; our love for each other is an unexpected and precious gift. We believe this. So these are the first concepts I revisit when the love of my life pisses me off.
I’m not going anywhere. He’s not going anywhere. Whatever is wrong is just “stuff” and can be dealt with.
And we deal with the stuff. Immediately or very quickly, whichever comes first. Although we don’t pretend that love means saccharine sweetness 24/7, we do our best to close the door and talk outside our kids’ ears. Sometimes for hours. Sometimes calmly, holding hands; and sometimes less calmly, with B.M. holding me at bay. We revisit our Agreement. We review our Strategies.
But we believe that it is all just “stuff,” and that we are each “all in.” The goal in our discussions is to make The Relationship as easy and beautiful as possible, not to prove one of us is right and the other is a jerk.
We honor that which is important to the other. I bicycle, run, and swim! He edits manuscripts! We play and sing like a really crappy old age home rock band. It works for us.
We date. At least once a month we trade the honor of planning for and executing a date befitting how we feel about each other. We never do the same thing twice. We LOVE date night. We’ve done everything from neighborhood musicals and in-the-round plays to laser tag and karaoke. What we don’t do is drink; for more on that, see Wasted Days, Wasted Nights.
We leave notes for each other and sometimes I look the other way when he goes over our budget buying me tulips; we send cards through the mail, surprise each other with “dollar store” type gifts, we text/IM/FB/Twitter/Email our fingers off, and tell anyone that will listen how lucky we are. We deliberately build each other and our relationship up. We must protect The Relationship so that it is just as strong and vibrant when we are ninety as it is now when we are in our early 20’s. <We may look a bit older, but I assure you I am 23>
Happily-ever-after doesn’t happen by accident, friends.
Claim your fairy-tale ending.
Love with all your might.
And share with me what makes you and your beloved part of a couple that makes others want to puke!
Pamelot (and B.M.)