Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Marital Longevity

This blog will probably not be any kind of revelation for long-term married couples, but hopefully, I will hit a few notes here to which you can relate.

I don't consider successful marriage relationships to be rocket science, although I will admit that it requires a significant amount of effort.  Actually, that effort is  totally dependent upon the personalities of the two people in the relationship. If the people in question are fairly easy-going, and not terribly egotistical or selfish, maintaining the relationship will be much easier and more successful than if it involves two people who are all about themselves.

This blog entry is not scientific in that it's not based upon a pile of data, but that doesn't mean it's invalid.  My statements and opinions are based upon personal experience - our 44 year relationship as compared/contrasted to that of many couples we've known over the years.  Having been happily married for 44 years is a significant milestone when roughly half of all marriages end in divorce, so I think I can speak from some position of knowledge, understanding and success.

The diagram I created above is sort of borrowed from Maslow's hierarchy of needs, in that the lower sections are some of the more basic reasons for staying together and the upper sections represent things that can only be fully enjoyed and appreciated if your relationship has a firm foundation. Let's start at the bottom, shall we?

The gray base of the pyramid contains the only data I gleaned from the internet about why some couples remain together.  Granted, on one hand,it is a rather pathetic and dark reason (for the children), but on the positive side, one of the main joys of having children is raising them, watching them grow and develop, enjoying their innocence and sense of wonder. But it is sad to hear someone admit that the spark is gone in their relationship, and that they just put up with one another because the children deserve to have both a mother and father.  Hopefully, there's no blatant arguing or domestic violence going on; that certainly isn't healthy for any child.

The brown section represents the basic fear of loneliness; of growing old alone.  While there are some people who seem to enjoy a solitary existence, and while we all need periods of alone time, most people prefer to enjoy life with a partner, whether we're talking hetero or same-sex couples.  Someone to share Life's journey with, someone with which to share your thoughts, dreams, hopes, fears, etc.  Still, pretty basic stuff here, yet I've known people who - because of their upbringing - never really developed their inter-personal skills, and while there is a need inside them for companionship, they are basically so self-centered and incapable of giving, that they don't bring much to a relationship.  So, many people may desire companionship, but they just don't have much to offer the relationship in the way of empathy.  Truly, they'd be better off with a cat, only because dogs like to interact more with their owners.

The orange section is sad, and represents several couples I've known.  They're not happy in their relationships, and they've either tried (and failed) to repair what's wrong or they just don't know how to do that.  In either case, they plod along from day to day, not happy and perhaps not totally miserable, but just missing out on a lot of joy.  Whether the relationship is fairly new or many years old - and it's usually the man saying this - he doesn't want to get divorced because it's going to cost him more than just putting up with the current situation. That's truly pathetic. Perhaps there's not outright hatred and war, but there's no love, no real joy, and THAT'S the reason (hopefully) that people get married in the first place.

Now, we come to the good stuff - shared interests.  This area includes a lot of things, and it doesn't matter if its something small or large, as long as the two people involved enjoy doing it. It could be walks along the beach, or in the woods.  Or just sitting on the porch swing, reading.  When my wife and I first met, we were both passionate about music - recorded and live.  There was always music playing in the house.  We loved going to see top-name groups and performers and being part of the experience.  Soon, we learned that we shared an interest in camping, fishing, canoeing, exploring, nature, and gardening.  Life - for us - was not about acquiring things, but about doing things.  And, as much as our budget would allow, we've enjoyed pursuing those interests to the four compass points of the lower 48 states.  It's always been about the open road or what's around the next bend, or over the next hill.  And obviously, those shared interests have been part of a stable foundation for our life together. 

It really escapes me how couples can manage to forget the importance of sharing things together.  I don't know how they manage to drift into these separate unrelated individual activities.  And yes, yes, I realize that couples do need a certain amount of that, too.  As much as we share activities, we still do things, enjoy things by ourselves, but my point is, the majority of activities are shared and not solo.

And that brings us to the top of the pyramid, what I consider to be some of the highest quality moments; the ones that you can only fully appreciate if you love one another, if you like one another as people. I'm talking about the more tactile and intimate moments - from holding hands and cuddling to therapeutic massage to tender coupling to sweaty animalistic sex.  Surely, there is what we call casual sex and we've probably all had some of that, truth be told, but I'm talking about the kind of intimacy, the kind of bonding that only happens when people are in love (ok, and a combination of love and lust), and also when they've been together for a few decades.  That's some pretty powerful stuff, there. A relationship based primarily on sex can survive, but more often than not, it doesn't last long.  Sex is a powerful glue of sorts and I will admit that it's certainly one of our favorite activities, but it's also enhanced and amplified by the love we share and the years we've spent cultivating it.

I choose to put culinary delights in this top section, although they'd fit just as well in the one below.  And where physical pleasure is concerned, I don't want to diminish the pleasure and importance of hands-on therapy; rubbing sore muscles and such.  I can't emphasize that part enough for any couple, young or old.  Professional therapists get (on avg.) $60/hr for their services, and it's not that difficult to give your partner the benefit of healing touch.  You don't have to be a professional wrestler to give good massage. One of the biggest benefits of massage is just the relaxation of the muscles and the encouragement of circulation; getting the lactic acid out of the muscle tissues.  Of all the toys we own, one of our favorites is a professional folding massage table.  We've certainly gotten out money's worth out of that.

In addition to good therapy and good sex there's the sharing of ideas, philosophies, dreams on a mature level; discussing cosmic topics, controversial topics, or just anything that makes the brain tick. Intellectual stimulation.  And in fact, I neglected to mention above that the largest sexual organ in your body is your brain.  Related point - ED drugs like Viagra aren't magic.  They don't just automatically do what they do, like pain killers; they require mental stimulation.  Arousal.  Without it, they don't do anything.  So, what I'm suggesting is that mental stimulation - of any kind - is one of the higher order activities for couples.

And beyond that, what really escapes me, what I really find depressing about couples that are less than in love is that somehow, they seem to have lost track, lost sight of the fact of why they got together in the first place.  Granted, we all age, we all change, but down deep, where it counts, we're still basically the same person we were when we met.  I still have most of the same passions I had when I was 18.  They may have grown and developed, but they're the same passions.  And I still love my wife for the same reasons I loved her when we first met. 

Sadly, I've seen couples who seem to keep track of their affairs like accountants.  You'd think there should be a scoreboard in the kitchen.  Just about everything seems to be tit-for-tat.  Quid pro quo.  Gawd, what an exhausting way to maintain a relationship.  Like children counting out M&Ms, to be sure that no one got more than the other.

Do we argue?  Not very often, certainly not about things or money.  The minister that married us (one whom I did my Lutheran catechism studies under) told us that if we could avoid arguing about money, we'd be light years ahead of most couples.  And he was absolutely correct.  My answer to one person who asked if we still argued was,"we sorta got tired of that shit."  We'd sooner be in love than nit-picking about some stupid, small shit.

So, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.  If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.  We frequently joke about:  "yeah, we should have been marriage counselors."  We certainly have the experience….

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