I used to think that once you’d been married a certain (although unspecified) period of time, your marriage was “safe”. I don’t know where I got that idea, nor why I thought that, particularly since my parents split up after twenty-plus years of marriage. Maybe I read too many happily-ever-after stories growing up, watched too many teen romance movies. I mean, even Sixteen Candles ends with the kiss. You’re never told what happens later, after kids, mortgages, moves, job changes.
I’m not one who actively seeks out Hollywood news, but you hear it or see it pretty much everywhere…on the radio, in line at the grocery store, even on regular network evening news. I distinctly recall hearing three long-term marriages ending essentially on the same weekend, or at least the press releases came out the same weekend. And I’m talking long-term…..thirteen, seventeen, twenty-four years. I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was. And I just thought to myself, “Well, geez, when is it safe? Where’s that magic line you cross and don’t have to worry about your relationship any longer?” The more I pondered that question, and my own marriage, I realized there is no magic line. You don’t get to sit back and relax, ever. You don’t coast after a certain point, especially if you want a successful, happy marriage.
We’ve gone through our seasons in our almost-seventeen-years of marriage. There are days I like him more, days I like him less. I always love him. The romance comes and goes. We’ve survived a lot of things which were sources of huge stress, those things that have the biggest potential to rip relationships apart. But while we’ve survived those events, I still don’t think we’re safe enough to not be vigilant, to keep working, to keep caring about and nurturing our marriage.
We have both changed immensely since the day we said, “I do.” That means I have to keep figuring him out, caring what his needs, wants, and desires are. I need to stay on my toes, not sit back and just rest on the laurels of staying together this long. I still have to decide every day this is where I want to be, and that I want to do what it takes to make it keep working well. We are getting close to another danger zone….that time when kids are leaving the nest and we are staring at each other, wondering “What now? Who are you?” I think that makes me more twitchy, pushes me to keep working on us, keep the us alive.
There’s no magic number. There’s no amount of time you spend married that then allows you to stop working on your relationship. The good thing is, if it really matters, if you really love that person, it doesn’t really feel like work in that grudging sort of way. It’s a natural out-flow of loving that person.