This week I've seen the blog post, "Marriage Isn't For You," passed around Facebook and shared on Twitter with notes like, "Men take note!" and "We can all learn from this guy."
While it's a romantic notion that, "Marriage isn't for you. It's not about you. Marriage is about the person you married," I don't feel that it's a realistic or healthy perspective. I'm stating this both as someone who has been happily married for seven years and as someone who researches relationships for a living.
Through the years, I've interviewed couples at various stages of marriage -- engaged, married, "it's complicated" and divorced. I've interviewed women who were married for more than 50 years and one man who barely made it to 50 days. What I've learned is that marriage is a choice you have to make every day. It's easy to become complacent, to live on autopilot and to blame your partner for your lack of happiness. After all, we're in a culture that tells men, "A happy wife makes a happy life!"
In my 2011 book, Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband), I spoke with 84-year-old Carol, who shared her secret to a good marriage. Carol said, "The most important thing you can offer in a relationship is your presence." I love that. I think of Carol's words when my husband walks in and I don't step away from a screen, or when I don't clear time in my busy schedule to spend time with those I love. Relationships are a priority, and my actions should reflect that. As I told Carol this, she added something even more wise. She told me that she always knew she'd be more likely to be present for her husband and her daughter when she was present in her own life. She needed to be connected to her passions, her interests and herself. She never put her happiness in her partner's hands. That would be too much pressure for all.
In fact, that's been a theme amongst the happily paired off couples I've spoken with. Many of them report that their "secret" to a good relationship is that they have a dynamic life together and an active life apart. They want someone to compliment their lives, not to complete them. They prioritize their families but also find a way to be self-expressed. "Otherwise," as one divorcee I interviewed said, "You leave the relationship and realize you don't even know who you are because you did everything for this other person... "
The writer's father told him that marriage isn't for him -- it's for his wife, his in-laws, his future children. While it is true that marriage is not only for you, it should be noted that it's also for you. It's not mutually exclusive to consider your partner's needs while being mindful of your own. In fact, if you take you out of the equation, you'll most likely end up in a relationship full of resentment, disconnection or imbalance.
A good relationship requires two drives. Occasionally one partner will need to take a break while the other steers, but ultimately, both need to drive the relationship forward for it to thrive.
Abandoning your needs in favor of your partner's wants is a formula for disconnection in marriage -- not only from your partner, who shouldn't be left to anticipate your needs, but also from yourself. A true partnership is about meeting in the middle, figuring out what each person needs separately and together and finding a way to compromise.
Nobody should be a martyr in marriage.
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