In the previous installment of Let's Talk About Love, I shared with you my first rule for the perfect marriage: When you're apart, keep the communication to a minimum.
Let's talk through rule #2.
Unless you’re living off the grid or off of an inheritance, chances are your life is stressful. Our culture almost demands that we overbook and overcommit ourselves just to be average. If we desire to excel in our careers, passion projects, and/or education, we have no choice but to accept working much more than the coveted 8-hour days and 40-hour weeks. When we fail to see how this impacts our relationships, I believe we may be headed for disaster.
During the early stages of my relationship with Char, I worked much less than I do now. I was young and still deciding what passions I wanted to pursue. Additionally, I’d only been out for 2 years and, as most queer folks know, coming out can often mirror coming of age. Char probably worked longer hours back then, but her job was one that she didn’t bring home. She was new to tattooing in the city and far from opening a shop of her own. We were young, carefree, and full of hope for the future.
Though I remember this season of our relationship fondly, I’m proud of how far each of us has come with regard to our work. We’ve collectively buckled down to achieve our goals and supported the other through every milestone.
Obviously our problems didn’t arise due to our successes. Our problems arose when we failed to acknowledge the need for our relationship to change as a result of our successes. We’ve been together for 8 years and, in many ways, are completely different people than we were when we met. While we each allowed ourselves as individuals the grace to grow and evolve – to be alive – we haven’t always granted the other space to do so.
During the last 4 years or so, I noticed myself feeling less and less satisfied with my interactions with my wife. Our time together wasn’t long enough. She worked from home. I was in a bad mood. I could've listed countless sources from which my unhappiness came.
Of course if we’d spent more than 5 minutes together the negative view I had of our quality time, didn’t reflect the whole picture. Maybe we only had a 30 minute chat before bed, but it was a great talk and we really connected. Maybe she did work for an hour, but she gave me her full attention for the next two. Maybe I was in a bad mood, but she was able to flirt me into a smile again.
Still, I chose not to see the good stuff.
I’m realizing that renegotiation is a crucial part of long-term love. Our relationships are made up of people – living, breathing, ever-changing human beings. Norms, rules, terms, expectations must evolve alongside those of us abiding them. What was expected of us 6 years ago may no longer work. And we’ve got to learn to adapt. We’ve got to learn to make space for ourselves and our partners to grow.
Char’s new favorite phrase is “Quality over quantity" - it rings true in our marriage. We’re learning to appreciate each and every positive interaction we share.
Saturday mornings have unofficially become our time to check in and reconnect after a busy week. We stay in bed, drink coffee, and catch up on the events of the past few days. The conversations typically begin as very surface – I ate too much pizza and binge watched Bravo, she finished a Malcom X portrait on a favorite client, I finally mastered that pose in my yoga practice that’s been my Everest, she gossiped with the older ladies in her painting class. But, they often shift to more serious topics about our goals and dreams, our passions, our marriage. This time together doesn’t last more than a couple of hours as Char generally works on Saturdays. However, it’s come to serve as a real point of connection for us. Saturday morning chats are never planned and always appreciated.
The more space I create for my marriage to be what it is rather than some unrealistic idea I dreamed up, the more I’m appreciating the significance of those little moments – the connecting conversations no matter how brief, the morning snuggles, the playful flirtations. Though these are passing and may not feel important when they happen, I’m recognizing how each positive interaction builds on the last. And the product is a fulfilled, safe, loving relationship. In this case, the whole is absolutely greater than the sum of its parts.
I expect that many of us have found ourselves wrapped up in the idea of what our relationships should be when what it actually is – is sometimes pretty great. Let’s stop expecting our marriages to be a series of candlelit dinners and poetry when true romance is so much more than that. Romance, for me, is supporting one another through the difficult times and cheering one another on during successes. Romance is making the most of our time together, no matter how brief – and appreciating every positive interaction we share. The smallest moments, the smallest gestures matter.
Soak in each second. Be present and available. Be here for all of it.
Here's what y'all had to say on how to make the most of time with your partner:
"Adventures that lead to memories together keep it fun and exciting."
"With school schedules and 60+ hour work weeks, it's hard to fit in 'us' time on a daily and sometimes weekly basis. Recently, we've both taken an interest in delving into our family history further. We get to laugh and learn about our family's history while sharing stories and pictures. Getting to dream of completing our trees and visiting the sites we've found really keeps our energy up and our bond strong. We've managed to find our escape together despite our hectic schedules."
"We typically take a short drive out of the city. Even if it's just for a day out wandering., it's nice to catch up in a different atmosphere."
"Sometimes there's only time for a dance in the kitchen, but we always make sure to say 'I love you' and ask each other how our day was."
"For us, it's about taking time to be present - whatever we're doing. It could be dinner out or at home or maybe just a shopping trip, but phones are away and we're connected."