I’ve been married to Tom for over a year now. We’ve faced a lot of challenges together in that time and been through some hard stuff. I can’t imagine being without him, or wanting to be without him. It makes for an informative contrast with my first marriage, and I’ve been reflecting on the nature of relationship, what it takes to make a good marriage, a good partnership.
I was a lot younger, of course, when I married the first time. I felt strongly about wanting to be a good wife, to make a good home, give love and support and all of that. It was never a conventional relationship. There weren’t excessive external challenges – a normal smattering – but it did not work, and I spent most of my time lonely, unhappy, frustrated and burdened with guilt for things that were not of my making.
Although those years changed me, I am in many ways the same person, with the same feelings, impulses, desires, needs and so forth. So, what makes one marriage a miserable failure, and the other a rewarding, joyful partnership? I’m mostly drawing on personal experience here, although I know of other relationships where some of these things have happened too, the good and the ill.
Where a relationship is underpinned by love and respect, neither party wants to do something that would not please the other. That’s especially true in a sexual context, but important other times too. Where there is love, there is a shared goal of mutual happiness. Sometimes it takes work and negotiation to find out how best to achieve that, but again, where there is love, that does not seem like hardship.
If the two people take joy in each other’s company, it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, or how much money you have, or how long you’ve been apart, or if you’ve got to spend the day on boring practical things, you can still be pretty happy. The ongoing affirmation of mutual love, care and appreciation makes an epic difference. Again, all manner of hard things are easier to take if you know you are sharing life with someone who values, respects and delights in you. The partner who forever finds fault, who says ‘you would be attractive if…’ and finds other ways to undermine, is no kind of joy to be with.
Competition between partners can be a form of slow relationship death. Where it matters who earns the most money, or who works the longest hours, or has the better car, or is further on in their career or making more headway with OBOD, or seeming to be more spiritual… you are in trouble. Where there is good relationship, seeing the other one progress and develop is a happy thing. If one partner is afraid of being left behind, not being needed, not being important, that can stifle the other. You can find your partner only seems happy when you are crushed, demoralised or miserable. If success is unbearable to the other, you can find you are forever being knocked back when things go well. That is not a recipe for a successful marriage.
There has to be a balance of responsibility and power. If one person has the power – especially control of resources and money, that of itself creates problems. If the other person carries the responsibility for fixing, arranging and figuring out, but without the means to carry through, that’s a nightmare. If one person has the emotional responsibility, that’s impossible. Equally, if one person is forever being blamed and there is no scope for sharing responsibility, the relationship is not in a good way. True partnership shares, in all ways and in all things. It matters less who was right, or wrong, what matters is how you go forwards, how you improve things, do better in the future, learn, know each other more thoroughly, build understanding and all that.
All relationships have sticky moments, conflicts, times when needs do not neatly balance or external pressures threaten to overwhelm you. The measure of a good relationship is not the presence or absence of these things, it’s what you do with them. If you’re coming out of the hurricane with arms around each other, the rest is just detail. If crisis makes you pull together, that’s very different from a relationship where it’s used as an excuse to lash out and injure. And equally, if one party is always looking for opportunities to justify anger or selfish behaviour, it’s never going to be good. Good relationship can include conflict, strenuous disagreements, even fallings out, if that overall intention to care, support and be with, is there. It’s always better to air a problem than to hide it. Where there is genuine love and good intention, the hardest things can be worked through and dealt with. Where there is only an intention to use, the smallest problems turn into nightmares.
This is a very superficial sketch, I could probably write a whole book. I feel grateful in knowing what the differences are, in being able to fully appreciate what I have, and in having a husband who is most worthy of being loved and admired, and who loves me as an equal, in return.