I’m very curious about other people’s lives and relationships. You might even say I’m nosy, but it comes from a genuine desire to learn and grow. I love reading memoirs and watching biographies or movies about relationships and usually walk away with at least one piece of advice or lesson that I try to apply to my own life. I also try to pinpoint what I see as strengths (or weaknesses) in other’s relationships (yes, I am watching you, I just can’t help it).
I recently celebrated my ninth wedding anniversary and I’ve since done a lot of reflecting on relationships. What makes them work? How can they be improved? How do you maintain your sense of self and individualism while deepening the bond with your partner? How do you keep daily annoyances (like the freshly laundered and pressed shirt that’s now in a crumpled pile on the floor) from turning you into a homicidal maniac?
Beware growing distant
I finished reading Shania Twain’s memoir, From This Moment On, a few weeks ago and found it absolutely fascinating. If you’re out of the Shania loop, I’ll fill you in a little. She collaborated on all of her albums, except her first, with her husband and music producer, Robert "Mutt" Lange. They weren’t only a married couple, but business partners, creative partners and parents to one son.
After 14 years of marriage, he left Shania for his secretary – a woman who was also Shania’s friend and closest confidante. Ouch. But Shania prevailed, after much grieving and soul-searching, and married the love of her life, a man that also happened to be the husband (at the time of the affair) of the woman who had the affair with Shania’s husband. It’s a very inspiring and captivating read and she made some great points about relationships.
One that stuck with me was the importance of not giving your relationship with your partner the opportunity to grow distant. When you let space develop between you and your spouse, it provides the opportunity for damage to occur – and for others to take advantage of the cracks. Communicate deeply and communicate often.
Crazy, Stupid, Love
I really enjoyed the hilarious movie Crazy, Stupid, Love with Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gossling and Emma Stone. Crazy, Stupid, Love is the story (and cautionary tale) of a married couple, Cal and Emily (played by Carell and Moore), who’ve lost their spark, and a playboy, Jacbob (played by Gosling), whose life is thrown off kilter when he falls in love with Hannah (played by Stone).
Emily admits to an affair and as Cal is moving out of their home and about to drive away she says, “I don’t know when you and I stopped being us.” Perhaps there are couples who find that it takes no work to maintain a wonderful relationship, but I imagine that for most long term partners, myself included, it takes at least a little bit of work to stay “us”.
The stresses of every day, responsibilities at work, financial strain, and family life can take a front seat to the effort needed to keep your relationship special, especially as the years tick on and people settle into complacency and routine.
In the article “Crazy, Stupid, Love: Is this what divorce looks like?”, The Globe and Mail’s Dave McGinn asked divorce consultant Deborah Moskovitch: “Do you think that any middle-aged man who wears running shoes on a romantic date with his wife is headed straight to divorce city?” Her reply: “He’s not headed straight to a divorce, but he should head straight to Harry Rosen and work with a stylist.” Haha. Funny but, I think, true, and a sentiment that Jacob shared with Cal: “Your wife cheated on you because you lost sight of who you are as a man.”
This reminded me of a personal training client I worked with a few years ago who came to me because she wanted to lose weight. She said to me when I first met her, "you know how you gain about 20 pounds after you're married?" I was shocked by her attitude that it's okay to let yourself go after you've secured a mate "forever". I believe the opposite, that you should try to be your best self so that your partner is always reminded of what a great catch you are!
Celebrate the little things
When I was newly married I worked at a retirement home as the social director and fitness coordinator, and there were two couples living there who were great examples of enduring relationships that still had their spark. The first couple, in their late 80s, celebrated their “monthiversary” – once a month they would get dressed up and take a cab to a fancy restaurant for a romantic dinner.
The second couple (the wife 98 and the husband 102) often come to mind, as they were such an inspiration not only in their physical and mental health but in their complete adoration for each other after many, many years of marriage. Every day they walked to and from afternoon tea holding hands, and the husband once told me, with a chuckle, as they walked away that they were going off to “smooch”.
These two couples really had an impact on me and inspired me to make the extra effort to make my time with my husband special, as you never know when your time will come, and, as I often heard from the retirement home residents, life goes by too fast.
So unabashedly hold hands, celebrate your monthiversary, be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and always give each other the benefit of the doubt. Call me old fashioned but I love to have dinner ready when my husband gets home from work so we can talk about our day over a nice meal. But, I also love to get dressed up and go out for a date night (especially on our monthiversary), seated amongst the buzz of other couples at a cocktail bar with eyes only for each other.