Sunday, June 22, 2008

Long-term happiness

We recently crossed our 16th anniversary. We've been friends for about 25 years business partners for 21, and very close for about 20. For the most part, our married life has been easy, even if life all around has often been difficult. We are nearly always together, even though we try to work separately -- if not to diversify our income/benefits, to bring new experience to the mix. We do tend to rush home to each other.

I sometimes worry that maybe I am too complacent. Can someone be too sure about their relationship? It makes me occasionally paranoid and I have that "waiting for the other shoe to drop" feeling. Aging in a society of youth worshiping does nothing to allay my paranoia. How is it that we're having an easier time? More compatible overall? I doubt it.

I have been thinking about the past years and what two people can get through. We've survived life-threatening diseases (remission for more than 20 years with one and 7 with the other). We've lost friends and family and had close calls. We've grieved through the separation from some other friends and family because of the inordinate stress those people created. We've had long layoffs. We've survived an unbelievably complicated pregnancy. One child is half way through his undergraduate work. Another child is prematurely on her way to completing grade school. No doubt there were other threats to our relationship that we each dealt with individually.

Recently a friend told me how unstressed and happy we appear and I was surprised to hear it. Without the example of a happy, long-term relationship in her family, she has been looking to us as an example. Are we that calm and happy? Well, I guess so, in public. I think in public we tend to be so lighthearted that we turn into the entertainment. More privately, we do have our anxious moments. I have been thinking about it ever since she said it. Over the years I think the hard parts helped us peel away what was unimportant, superficial. We don't argue the little things very much, unless a small argument is just the kind of release that is needed. We seem to reach a natural and fair consensus very quickly. I don't think either one of us can be called the loser. I think fundamentally we treat each other with more than a small amount of respect. When we fight, we no longer try to win points against each other. Really, there is no winning in taking down your partner, anyway.

In the early days we kept the house neat, we kept the schedule in our organizers, in pen. Over the years the schedule and the house can get a bit muddy and we're happy to go with it. Periodically we clean up. This leaves us feeling renewed and productive.

The marriage was the same way. Early on, we were overly careful, easily stressed, over-planned, over-prepared and worked too hard. Now we work on things when it is necessary, or to get a bit of fresh perspective and enjoy just being together. If you spend too much time grooming and cleaning, you never actually get to the living life part.

I was listening to a marriage counselor/sex therapist on a news program. She had come to the conclusion that long-term relationships are unnatural and that we are all really designed for serial monogamy. It was a reckless and destructive thing for her to say. Perhaps this might be true at a reptile-brain-stem level, but in a society where two incomes are necessary to attain financial security, who really benefits from the destruction of a relationship just past the point when the children have become somewhat self-sufficient? I wonder where I would be if my parents had self-destructed as soon as I hit moderate self-reliance? Their 57+years together means we have a solid foundation that continues to benefit even my 56 y.o. sibling. Not the least of the benefits is that they are self-sufficient in their old age, which apparently is becoming less common. I can't imagine a more shameful thing than coming to rely on my kids some day for financial support.


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