I often speak on relationships. Sometimes I specifically talk about marriage relationships. A lot of people who know me ask me about marriage relationships because my husband and I have been happily married for just under two decades – despite not having kids within two cultures (mine - Southern & his - Middle Eastern) that place a high emphasis on having kids. [A common joke is that the day after the honeymoon, people start asking the girl if she is pregnant yet . . . if they wait that long.]
Anyone who knows either me or my husband will testify that I work, hard. I am the worker-bee. I have taken on that role. [My husband and I travel a lot for work, separately, and while distance "may make the heart grow fonder," it also makes the "connection grow weaker" unless you work at it.]
Before I entered law school, I made the conscious decision that, despite the massive workload and stress of law school, my marriage came first. [Law school and the legal field have one of the highest, if not the highest, divorce rate.] That did not mean I slacked on my studies, but rather, that I was clear on my priorities and had very clear expectation discussions with my husband.
While I was in law school, a friend of mine started dating a man. As their relationship developed, she would often share misunderstandings, arguments, or frustrations her and her partner were having.
Each time we would talk about what was going on from her perspective: how she saw it, what she felt. We would then talk about what he might be feeling or how he might see it – specifically focusing on the words he used when talking to her about “it.”
I would try to explain different ways he might see it – whether based on his words or how men in general often see things. We would then talk about whether those perspectives might help her understand the situation in a different light.
We would talk about what she could do differently to get a different reaction from him, or what language she could use that might increase his ability to understand her perspective. The focus was always, however, on how important very clear and open communication is in a relationship.
One day she turned to me in frustration and said, “It just sounds like so much work!”
My response was, “Of course it is! It is a relationship. Two people coming together that, regardless of their ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds, are not exactly the same and will undoubtedly have different ideas.”
The next day, she came to tell me her significant other had told her that I was wrong. That “if it’s real love, it is not work.”
What a load of baloney!!!!
Marriage is work. You have two people with different ideas and expectations about everything from what the relationship should look like to what kind of vacation to take.
That fact remains even if you take out the actual certificate. [A common suggestion I hear from people today. Somehow they think getting the “certificate” is what complicates relationships. Huh??? It’s just a piece of paper!]
Expectations, unwillingness to compromise, and lack of communication are what make marriage hard – with the occasional sprinkling of fantasies that some mysterious “love” without work exist.
Marriage is like an occupation, a career even. You are interviewed for a job. You get the job. If you do not do your job, you will not get promoted and will not likely keep your job.
[Forget the people who get promoted, and do not get fired, despite being worthless employees. They are similar to people who are disengaged from their marriage and yet stay married. We are not talking about either of those people. We are also not talking about a job you are unhappy with, but rather one, even if you have to imagine it, that you do want to excel in – just like a happy marriage or relationship.]
If you want a promotion [hear happy relationship], you get it by being the best you can be and doing the best job you can do. Yes, some days you are going through the motions. Yes, some days your work is not up to par. But overall, you desire to do well and at least try to do your best (under the circumstances) most of the time.
That is how a happy relationship is like a career. A career you want to “retire” [hear happy & long-lasting relationship] from. And just like a retirement pension, the work you put into “getting promoted” in your marriage, results in great dividends that continue to pay out over time (including through your kids).
Though I am very feminist minded, as is, I believe, heavily reflected in my speeches and writing, women often become very offended by my idea that we have to work so hard to have a happy relationship. They often say, “Why do we have to work so hard? If he loves me and truly accepts me for me, it should be easy. This is so misogynistic!”
No, it is not.
First, I am not saying women have to do all the work. I believe “it takes two to tango.” I also believe every successful relationship has a “worker bee” – the one that carries the majority of the load in making sure the relationship stays on track. That can be either party. Who has that role can change over time, or even per situation. Who is the worker-bee is immaterial. What matters is that someone, preferably both, understand that work is involved and actually tries to do the work.
Second, if I am talking to only one party, than that is the only one I can give suggestions to. I cannot send notes home to the other party who has not come to me for suggestions and has had no participation in the discussion.
Third, even if we assume you are “truly accepting him for ‘him’”[which is in itself often debatable], how do you expect him to “know” and “truly accept” you if he does not understand you?
We expect someone else to “truly accept” us for “who we are” when we don’t even know who we are? Half the time we have opinions or reactions and have no idea why - or where they came from!
If all this still seems like too much work, or discomfort exists within the career analogy, let me break it down just a little more.
Isn’t parenting considered to be the “hardest and most important JOB on earth?” No problem with the analogy there.
But why is it the hardest and most important job on earth?
I will cut to the chase.
Because everyone one of us had a parent (or two) who were “present” - or desperately wished we did.
The “present” is what matters in parenting. The “present” is also what matters in a partner relationship.
Being “present” is work. "Love" is work. Relationships are work. Marriage is work.
But the rewards can be exponential.
But the rewards can be exponential.