Let's Talk About My Perfect Marriage - Part 1

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Emily McGaughy

My wife recently said to me, “Our relationship is perfect.” 

And I agree with her.

Of course we’ve had problems in the past and issues we’ve had to work through. 

We’ve gone through periods in which we’ve discussed whether this marriage is right for us.  We’ve faced the possibility of divorce.  We’ve gone to bed angry.  We’ve felt so utterly unseen, unheard, and unloved by the other that we believed there was no hope.  That’s the ugly truth.

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Despite all this, I believe our marriage, in its current state, is perfect.  Not perfect for you or for them or for her or for him.  But, perfect for Char and perfect for me. 

Although I firmly believe all couples should create their own rules in the context of their relationship, I do see value in sharing with one another as we learn helpful tips and tricks to long term happiness.  We’re all learning as we go. 

I think I’ve made it clear throughout the short life of this column that Char and I have done some serious work on ourselves and our marriage in the last 6 months.  In doing this work, we’ve learned a few practices that have positively impacted our marriage in ways I never could’ve imagined.   

With this in mind, I’ve created a list of 3 simple rules I’ve found to benefit our relationship.  I’ll be sharing one rule over the next 3 installments of Let's Talk About Love.  I understand that just because it works for us, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you, however I hope you’ll find something here that you can take home to improve your relationship.

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When a romantic relationship is new, we can’t get enough of each other.  We want to be as close as possible as often as possible.  We want to be together all the time and, when we’re not together, we talk and flirt and plan more time together.  Totally normal, totally natural – if only for a time.  This phase doesn’t last.  This phase shouldn’t last.  If we remained in a constant space of being unable to focus on anything aside from our relationship, we’d never accomplish anything.  Forget that work promotion or fitness goal or new spiritual plane - we’re in love. 

During a chapter of new love, we’re essentially obsessed – in a state of tunnel vision with a one-track mind.  And this is okay.  The problem often arises when we assume the habits and expectations created during the newness of a relationship should also apply throughout the course of a long-term commitment.  At some point, we must (and will) get past the haze of new love and return to the rest of our lives – work, friends, family, hobbies, etc.  As we transition out of the honeymoon and settle into real life with our partners, we sometimes unconsciously generate norms and standards as to how we’ll communicate with one another – when we’re physically together and when we’re not.  Though the constant contact is to be expected in the freshness and excitement of a new relationship, I’d ask you to reconsider how often you communicate with your significant other once you’ve exited the hazy stage and re-entered normal life.

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Have you ever considered the frequency with which you communicate with your partner throughout the day? 

In the interest of self-reflection, I strongly advise looking through your messaging and call history.  How often do you and your partner text, communicate via social media, and/or speak on the phone during your time apart?  More importantly, what is the nature of these interactions?  Do you have a phone date during lunch or on your commute home to reconnect?  Or are most of your conversations concerning less romantic topics (bills, children, work stress, etc.)? 

I understand the necessity to speak with our partners throughout the day.  You forgot to arrange pick up for your child’s early release from school and need your partner to contact the nanny.  She’s working late unexpectedly and needs you to walk and feed the dogs.  He’s completing a last-minute presentation and is seeking your input.  Some matters are time-sensitive.  Some things do need to be discussed sooner rather than later.  But, before you jump on the phone or send that text, stop and think.  Can this information wait until we see each other later today?  How will this conversation impact my partner’s day?  Will it cause them to feel stressed and distracted from their work? 

Prior to making that call, will yourself to wait 10 minutes.  If this news that seems so urgent now still seems so urgent in 10 minutes, maybe speaking to your partner is, in fact, justified.  If not, maybe it can wait.

I reserve the right to seek insight from my wife.  She knows me better than anyone and is my sounding board.  However, I’m working on using this privilege only when it’s truly necessary.  Do I actually need Char to listen as I vent about frustrations of navigating city traffic?  No.  What I need is to be an adult and learn to self-soothe my way through the stresses of the day.  Maybe if I call, I’ll interrupt an important moment in her work.  I may get her off track and trample on her period of feeling inspired.  All in the name of an inevitable part of life in a major city – and something of which she has no control.

Prior to making that call, will yourself to wait 10 minutes.  If this news that seems so urgent now still seems so urgent in 10 minutes, maybe speaking to your partner is, in fact, justified.  If not, maybe it can wait.

Until about 3 months ago, Char and I were the couple that spoke constantly – all day, every day – via text, via phone call, via social media.  We believed that frequent check-ins would foster connection and love – the things we wanted to hold on to for forever.  During the fall of 2017, our marriage reached a breaking point and we both knew major changes were crucial should we want to continue life as a couple.  It was that bad. 

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Facing the fact that we were to blame for our marriage’s state-of-affairs wasn’t easy, but we knew we had no choice should we want to salvage and rebuild our lives together.  Communication was one of the primary aspects of which we knew desperately needed improvement.  Knowing our current standard was to be closely connected during our time apart left us no option but to decrease our communication.  It seemed strange, it seemed almost wrong.  I didn’t understand how I should speak to the woman I love, my partner, my wife less – on purpose.  However, we stuck to it.  It was worth a shot.  Honestly, we were willing to try just about anything.

In implementing this practice, Char and I began to see how much we’d been relying on each other.  And it was too much.  Maintaining one’s independence can be more challenging than we realize when we choose to start a life with another person.  The more we depend on each other, the further we move from self-reliance and autonomy.  In refusing to deal with even the most minor issue on my own, I was essentially telling myself I didn’t believe I was capable of basic problem-solving.  I was unconsciously accepting the idea that I wasn’t strong enough to do life on my own.  And that mentality permeated my entire being. 

My wife isn’t blameless either.  She was dumping her stress on me throughout the day as was I.  We engaged in this unhealthy cycle together – clueless as to the toll it was taking on our marriage.

I’m not suggesting the frequency with which couples communicate during their time apart is the sole indicator of independence versus co-dependence, but for us, it was an important factor.

As we continued to create more space for the other, Char and I noticed that we looked forward to speaking to each other – both over the phone and in person.  When I see that Char is calling, I no longer think, “What now?”.  When we’re home together at the end of the day, we’ve found we have more to talk about as we haven’t been in constant contact throughout the previous 8 hours.  We share funny stories, we seek advice and insight from one another, we connect. 

We’ve given each other the space to work out our own day-to-day challenges rather than expecting the other person to shoulder the burden.  In doing so, we’ve reclaimed some autonomy and independence thereby becoming stronger individuals and better partners to one another.  We’re discovering that, in granting each other real space, we’re even more available to each other than when we were in a state of constant contact.  Our interactions are exceedingly more positive and connecting – to a greater extent than I thought possible after being with the same person for 8 years. 

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I’m learning that, despite the security that often comes with long-term commitment, we still must push and do things we fear.  We’ve got to challenge ourselves to think outside our own perceptions of what a conventional relationship is or should be.  In doing so, we might stumble upon everything we’ve ever wanted. I think I did.

Here's what y'all had to say...

"We've been married almost 18 years - before owning cell phones was popular - and we've always kept the contact minimal.  Back when the relationship was new, we weren't allowed to make personal calls during work hours and it's something we've just continued as technology changed.  There is no need for us to remain in constant contact and having some personal time is healthy for both of us."

"Save something to discuss in person."

"Sending and receiving YouTube/IG puppy videos is always fun during the workday!"

"We both talk to people all day long and it's draining.  An added conversation to all the work drama that I already have is unnecessary.  Unless it's an emergency, don't bother me, Honey!  I just can't deal with conversations about what you had for lunch.  I'm glad you had lunch and enjoyed it, but in reality I just don't care."

"Texting and keeping in touch during work days sometimes feels like more work, but it's also a good way of letting each other know how our day is going.  Most of our messages throughout the day are in the form of bitmojis or gifs."

"My wife and I actually communicate via MarcoPolo app a few times during the day.  We feel since we work long hours that communicating throughout the day is nice, especially on hectic work days.  It warms my heart and refreshes my day when I hear her voice."

"Texting throughout the day is a fun way of saying, 'I'm thinking about you', but I'd rather wait until we meet up to unpack our day."

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Emily McGaughyComment