I meet people a lot who have been married for twenty or thirty or forty something years. In my line of work mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It goes for married people too. I’ve seen a lot of different types of marriages- heterosexual, homosexual, polyamorous (multiple partners), open marriages, swingers, etc. I wouldn’t say there is one recipe for success because honestly a lot of people I’ve encountered who have been married for decades are not always blissful. In fact some are freaking miserable but it’s been for so long and they are so comfortable and financially it’s the best decision…that they stay.
Marriage isn’t easy and it isn’t for the faint of heart. I can say I’ve learned a lot of what not to do based off the unhappy marriages I see.
Don’t stop having sex. This is key. I’m telling you. No matter what, no matter how tired you are, how unattractive you think you are, how hard it is (or isn’t;), freaking do it. Healthy sex is a common denominator in the healthy marriages I’ve observed. Healthy sex can mean many things to different people. Don’t limit yourself. Be willing to explore your partner’s sexual desires and needs. I swear to you it’s super duper important. When I see people who haven’t had sex in two or three years…well things are not going well and they are not happy. I’ve literally never met anyone who’s said, “Yeah we haven’t had sex in years and we are soooo happy!” Never. Because sex is important. Do it. I didn’t know what sex positive was until one of my friends became a sex therapist. I learned about it. It’s cool. I feel like I was sex positive for my client’s I just didn’t have a label for it. Now I do.
Go on dates. I know this sounds really cliche and dumb. And then people are like “Wahh we don’t have any money,” okay go for a walk. Spend thirty minutes together outside of your house, with no screens. Connecting emotionally is as important as connecting physically. When my wife and I wait too long between date nights we feel it. We start getting all irritable and bickering and then we are like, oh right, we haven’t spent thirty minutes together without insane two year olds and mountains of laundry to fold. We don’t always go to an expensive restaurant. In fact there’s this vineyard near us that we’ve gone to, we buy a bottle of wine for like 15$ then we sit at this table outside with an amazing view, eat all the food we bring, get a little buzzed, and have an amazing afternoon together. No screens, no kids, lots of food, a bottle of wine and each other.
Say “I love you,” say “Good-night” send sexy texts and pictures. Keep the romance alive in whatever way you can. Bring home flowers (ah hem, babe…), jewelry, a book, whatever floats their boat. Do something spontaneous because it’s nice and fun and sexy and feels good.
If your spouse has asked you to do something. Do it. Even if you don’t want to. Even if it goes against everything you do want to do. Do it. Make sacrifices. Show them they matter. Show up when it matters.
There are moments in every marriage when it feels too hard, when there are irrevocable changes that will make the past memories the only ones you have to cling onto. There will be times as you age when you realize you will never look like you did when you were 20, 30, 40, 50…etc. When you realize life won’t ever be the same as it used to be. When you question whether you should move forward with this partner or not.
I can tell you if the sex is still good, the laughter is still shared, affection is freely given and taken, and when you’ve asked them a million times to take out the trash and they actually have, or when you wake up every morning to coffee freshly brewed just for you…in our case also the chlorine tablets always being replenished without me asking…because for real don’t mess with my pool…those are the little things that keep a marriage going. Those are the little patches that bring you through the hard times.
Hard times will come. Jobs will be lost, finances will get strained, decisions will be questions and torn apart, illness will strike, surgery, mood changes, kids (teenagers…oy), tears, pain, loss…so much can happen in a marriage. So much between two (or sometimes more) people. It can seem like a lot to build such an intense history with one person.
For me, to check myself, to know that she’s still the one…I do this thing. I try and visualize my life without her. And when I close my eyes and try to picture my mornings without hearing her bang around the bathroom. My days without the texts and calls. My nights without her next to me. When I try and imagine that and it literally makes me sick to my stomach. I get this ball of dread and knot of fear in there. Then I know, nah, we are still in this. We still got this.
I’ve said that to clients. Try and imagine your life without your spouse. It’s brought some to tears. It’s created this sort of hardened emotionless look in others. It seems to me to be the best barometer.
Don’t ignore your marriage if you have one. Because it will start to slip away. Own it, love it, and don’t turn from the hard times. Embrace them. Because they will make the times shared at a vineyard with cake and wine that much sweeter.