Have you ever looked at another couple and wondered how they seem to get along so well and seem to have it all together? Or maybe you look and think that at least what you and your spouse struggle with aren’t as bad as others and nothing needs to change? Whether it is on social media or in the occasional interaction, it is only natural to wonder how other couples function. While other couples can appear to have a healthy relationship on the surface, we do not know what goes on at home and how they deal with the issues of their relationships. We are only privy to our own struggles. Comparison itself is not problematic, but rather how we choose to convey our curiosity to our partner or not is. Whether we are aware of them or not, we all have expectations and perspectives on what makes a relationship healthy. Marriage, as a concept, is very simple, but a concept that requires consistent effort. When we choose to assume and internalize a communal process like marriage, even with the best intentions the result of taking the easy path in marriage tends to be the most destructive.
The one thing in marriage that each individual has complete control of is how they love the other. We do not control what our spouse thinks or feels. Your spouse cannot read your mind and know what changes you expect from them. It is hard enough to just admit our expectations let alone explain them in a way someone else can understand. It is easy to love and care for someone we like. It is challenging to love someone we do not currently like and the reality of marriage is that two individuals undergoing constant growth and stress will not always like one another. That is where the simplicity of love kicks in. Our marital vows do not say I will love you unless you are not nice to me, or until you disagree with me, or as long as you do what I want you to do. “Easy” in marriage is destructive. “Simple” in marriage takes hard work and compromise throughout.
Within the context of marriage, easy is something that is all too common and “normal”. It is not uncommon to hear advice like, “don’t take your spouse for granted”. However, it is not always clear what that advice means. Easy in marriage is a concept full of assumption and minimal communication. Saying something once does not always clearly express the gravity of one’s desire. Unfortunately human nature makes us much more likely to only comment and pay attention when things are not going our way. People are much quicker to comment on what we do not like and what we want to stop long before we put thought into where we can improve in our relationship. People tend to say what they do not like under the assumption that the preferred alternative is obvious. When a husband asks his wife not to go out every night with friends and coworkers, he has an idea of what he would like her to do instead. However, she can stay home and find many other things to occupy her time and energy that might still upset him. If we want our spouse to spend time with us, do we do our job of making that expectation clear?
Rarely, in marriage, are areas of conflict, moral issues. That is not to say that conflicts of beliefs and behavior cannot be shared inappropriately. More likely conflict starts as a difference of perspective and priority that lends to worse behavior in attempts to get attention. It is not suddenly morally corrupt to spend time with friends or extended family when we get married. However, ideas of how much time is spent and how responsibility is shared may differ in the eyes of spouses. It is not a question of whether or not my spouse should have friends in marriage, but rather how I can feel more important and considered. That normative insecurity of wanting to be valued does not always come out as verbally constructive or kind. Verbalizing what we want in a calm and considerate way takes patience and respect to articulate well.
To put our marital vows as simply and practically as possible; all we can promise in marriage is love a person as much as we can for as long as we can. It is that simple, but simple is hard work. Our love should grow and change over time. The day of any couples’ wedding should ideally be that day in our marriage that we love each other the least. The pursuit starts when we get married to work on how we love and communicate our needs more effectively. Marriage itself is like finally getting to play in the major leagues. Players at that level need to work harder and have more assistance to stay at that level. Getting married is comparatively the easy part. Keeping a marriage healthy through job stress, children, moving, and building a support system is challenging. However, it is that very challenge that brings out the very best in marriage. It is not about being perfect and never struggling. Marriage is simply about having someone to go through struggles with.
When people put their spouse first in communication and trust, life becomes much simpler. Home becomes a bastion of support and love rather than another place of contention. Individual issues become less stressful when we have someone cheering us on and knowing the kind of encouragement we need. There is no shortcut to making a healthy marriage. Like most things in life it’s about finding a balance and regularity to grow and invest. You can always work on how we show interest in our spouse as they grow and work on how to make their job of loving you easier. When we try to take the easy route in marriage, it results in mutual loneliness and feeling exhausted for our efforts. However, it is never too late to invite your spouse into your ever changing reality and work intentionally to make life much simpler.