Marriage Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

This time of sheltering-in-place due to COVID, is a rupture.

The thing about rupture is, if we can actually sit with the uncomfortable feelings that come up, what’s on the other side can be liberation.

As humans, especially in Western culture, we get addicted to certainty. Have you noticed? We don’t like it when things change. Especially if the change is seemingly bad. And, yet, many times, sooner or later, things improve. At the point of rupture, it might look to us like a mess. But we can have faith. Everything changes.

Whatever looks real and permanent now, is going to be different. And maybe better.

Life keeps happening.

When I first wrote this post, it was still May, and the only thing on most of our minds, was COVID, sheltering, and what is essential or not.

But then, a bigger rupture occurred, changing the entire landscape of our culture, as we speak. What I wrote above, was meant to be about marriage and relationships. But it also applies to anti-racism work and #blacklivesmatter.

For today, I am sharing about my marriage. As we are all experiencing the acceleration caused by the pandemic, our relationships are equally or even more impacted by the intense energies of social change.

The rest of this post is about marriage, and a tool for negotiating rupture therein. Please feel free to see it for what it is, and also to adapt the message below to ruptures and social justice conversations, where it applies.

As I wrote in my last post, my husband Scott and I are celebrating 20 years of marriage in September. This milestone has us really looking at what we want as a couple, and for ourselves, over the next 20 years. We both agree that we want each other to have autonomy. We want each other to be living our best lives. The confronting question for any couple who has been married 20 years is: Do we want to keep choosing this marriage after the kids are gone?

In going deep with this inquiry, we both got in touch with our attachment styles. My attachment style can be anxious when I am not fully resourced, and Scott’s is avoidant in response. We’ve grown a lot from the early years when we really used to play those roles full out and the essence of our styles remains, but we are forever growing.

(You can find great detailed information about attachment styles in the book, Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt and I highly recommend it to anyone who is in partnership and for that matter so does Oprah).

We are asking ourselves the hard questions because that’s how we roll. We are truly, deeply, madly in love with each other, but we are also so different, as we’ve each stepped into our authentic grown-up selves.

I, for one, did what many women do in their passionate pursuit of a man — I contorted myself to please him once upon a time and sometimes still fall back on that bad habit even today. These days, I have taken some time to contemplate if I was doing what many anxiously-attached women do — associating that feeling of safety with love.

This is my one precious life. How do I want to live it? Our kids are getting closer to college age. After they are gone, will we want to live this one rare gift-of-a- life together?

I go over my life, looking for evidence…

When Scott is gone for a week, I miss him.

We have great conversations when we are together. We are still hot for each other but in an even more meaningful, soulful way then our early years.

But on the daily, when he is being critical and introverted, when he is making me wrong, when he’s not fulfilling his passions… Do I want to be having this experience for the rest of my life?

To be fair, it’s likely we both have pondered this question. Scott once said, “It’s not a complete conversation if we don’t discuss this.”

I have a dream future for us. In my dream future, we have a retreat house in Lovers’ Leap. I go there whenever I want to get away on my own, focus on my writing, have girlfriends up for the weekend, host a workshop. I have an art shed and a yoga studio. And a red light sauna.

It’s a place where I can be with people, where we cook together, pray together, walk together, relax, enjoy, grow…

Truthfully, that retreat house in Lovers’ Leap could be mine whether or not my relationship carries forward over the next two decades or more. And yet, I think there is something to this dream, a way that we can be apart and together, have what we need with each other, and nourish ourselves separately; this is part of the vision I am holding, for us.

What I am realizing is: I don’t need someone to grow at my pace, but I do need someone who is committed to growth. What I know about Scott is, he wants to be a better person; and he’s always been my biggest champion. I wouldn’t be who I am without him. And that feels like love to me.

Do we have harmony and can we be in our separateness together?

According to Allison Armstrong (and I tend to agree with her), men and women, we are not in sync. How we date; how we operate, how we parent, and especially how we communicate.

There are magic questions that help us reconnect: What do you need? What can I do for you right now? What do you want to be acknowledged for?

Recently, Scott surprised me with a trip to the mountains for nature time. Something we both want and need. But it didn’t start off smoothly and by that I mean I was being anxious and he was being avoidant. He was silent on the drive — 2-1/2 hours not speaking. I didn’t know where we were going but I know him. I know I can trust that I will be safe in his care and I was trying hard not to be anxious about the fact that he was in his stoic masculine silence. And I wanted to be trusting and confident in his leadership.

But as we got closer to our destination and I realized I knew very little about where we were headed, I didn’t like the feeling of not being prepared, I wanted to ask questions, but I also wanted to let him direct. Be in charge. If you really knew me you would know that’s hard for me. I didn’t even realize that I was annoyed until he asked me if I had brought a backpack. He’s the one who prepares us for the wilderness! No, I did not have a backpack! Nor did I have a hat and it was sunny and hot.

He quickly pulled out a hat but it went downhill from there. For a while anyway. Both of us projecting stories about the other and taking our minds down dangerous, curvy paths. Or at least that was what was true for me. It hit a really big snag in the conversation when Scott suggested we examine whether this marriage is for the long haul or not. WHAT?! I was bereft. Like seriously bereft. I couldn’t hear it at the time because my brain was short-circuiting. “It wouldn’t be a complete conversation without this being a part of the discussion,” he said. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. How could he possibly SAY that?!

But after the rage and the grief came and went and all the words were spoken, I saw his logic and he’s right. And THAT is why he’s my guy. He is willing to examine shadows. To see and own his part. To let me say what I see. So — while I can be anxious and he can be avoidant — we have found our way home to each other time and time again. And that is why a good marriage is a marathon.

Satisfying and exhilarating.

We train for it every single time we show up in our vulnerable honesty, doing the work that needs to be done to make ours a deep and meaningful life together.