For 365 days, ours was a day-by-day marriage.
Once we got serious about re-inventing our relationship, Meg and I got down to the basic proposition: Yes, we love each other; that much we never questioned. But do we really want to be together? Like Lord Voldemort, it is a thing so dreadful that we had avoided asking it for years. In relationships consecrated with the phrase "until death do us part," this is no casual question.
But not only did we ask the question, we asked it every day for a whole year. Yup, every day for a year we gave ourselves the opportunity to bail out. And what we found is asking this question allowed us to be more fully in our marriage. It brought back the passion, commitment and fun of the early days, which had waned as our years together piled up.
But here's the thing: until we consciously asked that scary question, we had been unconsciously bailing out of the relationship little by little for years. Not in that explosive "I'm outta here!" (cue the door slam and tire screech), but in a slow, insidious disengagement: the noncommittal shrug, the inexpressive grunt. I even had the twisting little thought in the back of my mind "I'm just gonna keep my eye open in case someone better comes along."
By getting clear and vocal about the choice -- consciously weighing the state of our relationship every day -- Meg and I could actually spot what was bugging us about us and then choose to work on it.
I remember early on when I'd ask Meg that question, my heart would be hanging in my throat, pounding away as I awaited her answer. It was scary beyond belief. And then I realized that it was fear -- not love -- that had been the glue keeping me in the relationship.
There's a saying that you can't honestly say "Yes" to something unless you can also freely say "No." (In legal terms, this would be called freedom from duress.) Until we were able to openly and comfortably entertain the thought of being apart, we weren't really able to give a whole-hearted "Yes" to being together.
After a few months of asking the question and getting Yeses back (some more enthusiastic than others -- Meg liked to quote Dear Abby at times like this: "Are you better off with him or without him?" -- not exactly a ringing endorsement) -- the fear began to melt away and I found other reasons for us to stay together. And, more importantly, I saw the things that I didn't like about our marriage, and together we worked to change them.
At year's end, we were still together. More importantly, we had renewed our commitment to our relationship -- and to our own growth as individuals. That doesn't mean all of our issues were resolved. We learned to view commitment not as an end, but as a process. We had opened the door to leaving every day and no one walked through it.
So on that 366th day (actually we'd made the decision way before the year ended!), we could whole-heartedly say "Yup, we're in this for good." (Cue the swelling violins.)
TRY THIS AT HOME
Have your considered the three most important qualities of your ideal relationship? Call these your Three Yeses, and write them down. Have you considered the three qualities that you definitely do not want in an intimate relationship? These are your Three Nos. Hang onto the list for a few weeks as you take responsibility for your actions and choices in your relationship. When your list feels solidly true to your heart, share it with your partner in a blame-free conversation.
The average American marriage now lasts about seven years. By that measure, Meg Dennison and Tim Peek are on their fourth marriage -- still with each other. Tim and Meg believe that relationships of all kinds are created choice by choice. They advise couples, individuals and businesses on making the best choices. They reveal the worst relationship mistakes in love and work here.