By Ian Denchasy
In one of our many discussions recently, a dear friend explained that she had an epiphany and that, “No matter what, love is the answer,” period, to staying married to her husband of almost 20 years. And while I agree wholeheartedly that love should be a vital component of a successful marriage, it was what she said next that startled me, and I quote, “I mean, no matter what happens from here on we’re committed to seeing our marriage through and have accepted that were stuck together for life.”
Even her 16 year old daughter, who was sitting nearby, paused to look up from her smartphone at that zinger, shooting a glance over my direction to see if my reaction would match her obvious befuddlement.
Cautiously, I asked for clarification on her choice of the word, “stuck,” as by all accounts she and her husband have a fantastic relationship and I felt she may have misspoken, or at the very least meant something different. She not only held to her original declaration, but doubled down and implied that even if unhappy in her marriage over the long term, she’d “stick it out” because she’d made the commitment and that her love for her husband would (by implication) supersede her love for herself and keep her in the relationship – no matter what. I not only vehemently disagreed, but inserted my own belief that love is probably the least important factor in sustaining a long term, successful marriage. Love is necessary, but plenty of marriages had oodles of love to spare before eventually imploding.
I’m no fan of divorce, but having witnessed several over my 50-plus years of life I can certainly say in most cases the individuals were better served exiting their situations than “sticking it out.” Whether it was adultery (usually pointing to sexual dysfunction), financial pressures (practically on par with sexual issues as a catalyst for dissolution), or “irreconcilable differences (that term for everything else),” most fractured relationships ended up with each party happier over the long term than if they’d stayed the course and continued to honor their commitment – together – in misery.
As cold as it may seem, when asked if I could envision leaving my marriage of over 25 years I must be completely honest and say yes. As much as I love my wife, Alicia, in this moment and all those now past, I will not honor my original commitment if it means settling for a remaining lifetime of unhappiness, boredom, and/or loss of intimacy. It’s not just about love, but what we do with our love. As I’ve written in a previous essay, our marriage should make us happier and fill us with passion, instigate more motivation to seek higher levels of happiness and passion, and push us to share more of our happiness and passion for life with the world around us. In my case, personally, I want to wake up each day and appreciate my wife’s role in shaping me into a better man, while simultaneously doing the same for her as a fully realized woman in her own right. My own passion for life should combine with Alicia’s to drive us forward toward new adventures, experiences, and growth, not pull us into a comfort level that sees us accept a life of ease and hours of quiet detachment in front of the television. We need to treat our entire union as one long, first date.
As of this writing, in three weeks, we’ll be traveling to Burning Man (my 14th, Alicia’s 8th), loading ourselves into our Prius with nothing more than a small duffle bag full of clothes, some basic food supplies, and a blank agenda. Between now and our departure, then after our return, we’ll surely find ourselves out dancing to our favorite DJ’s, cooking up a few meals with friends, and searching for unique, challenging, and fun things to do (both together and apart). In a couple of years, our son will be leaving for college and we’re already crafting a full slate of possibilities to pursue once he’s gone. We’ve embraced a life of minimalism to better enable us to explore our options with no encumbrances and we’ll set our agenda to match the opportunities as they arise. Time has become our most valuable asset and we plan to spend as much of that capital in passionate pursuits. Rather than being stuck together, we plan on being unabashedly attracted to each other!
I, selfishly, want every moment of our marriage to reflect how much I love and want to be with Alicia because she makes my life so damned great; I want her to do the same because I’ve actively earned her reciprocation. I never want either of us to accept that we’ll simply be together because, well, we’ve come to the conclusion that we’re “stuck together.” To hell with that. This kind of relationship glue is toxic and I’ll do my part to assure it’s never applied to our marriage.