My husband used to buy me flowers. He rarely does that anymore. He doesn’t take me to fancy dinners these days, either. He never gives me greeting cards—not even for my birthday. And aside from my engagement ring, he’s never once bought me a piece of jewelry.
The reason he doesn’t do those things is not because our relationship has gone cold; it’s because he knows me. He knows that I don’t like to spend our money on something beautiful that’s going to die in a week. He knows that I think $4.00 for a greeting card is highway robbery. He knows I’d rather soak in the ambience of a funky coffee shop than go out for an expensive dinner. He knows that I don’t give a rat’s rear end about jewelry. He knows me well.
That’s one of the best things about being married for 15 years. We know each other really, really well. We know what we like and dislike, what we need and don’t need, what makes each other happy and what drives each other crazy. He knows I love it when he folds the laundry and speaks in a fake (but still crazy sexy) Scottish accent. I know he likes it when I gently stroke his arm while we watch Scrubs reruns. We don’t have to try out different romantic gestures to see what makes us giddy. We know those things.
Not to say that knowing each other well always makes things easy. As I always tell the kids— knowing and doing are two different things. But knowing definitely helps.
I’m not a marriage counselor, so I’m hardly qualified to give relationship advice. But I figure a decade and a half of marital bliss with no end in sight allows me to spew some wisdom and experience regarding marriage. So here goes:
The truth is, partnering with someone for life is as much an act of sacrifice as it is an act of love. Even two people who are highly compatible are still going to have to give some parts of themselves to create a unified life together. Again, I’m no marriage counselor, but I’m willing to bet that attachment to “self”—opinions, desires, ways of interacting, pride, ego, etc.—kills otherwise healthy marriages more than anything else. Marriage theoretically should make us better people, and having to give up some of our selfishness is part of why marriage is good for us. We live in a society that teaches us to focus on ourselves, A LOT. How we feel, what we want, who we are, what we’re passionate about. Sacrificing any of those things isn’t really seen as a positive thing.
I’m certainly not saying we should give up who we are for marriage—not at all. But some sacrifice on both sides is part of a happy marriage equation. It’s as important as love. When we neglect the sacrifice part of marriage, the love part suffers. And when we neglect the love part, the sacrifice part becomes burdensome. When love and sacrifice are balanced, they make for a lasting, pleasant relationship.
And call me crazy, but I think marriage should be lasting and pleasant, like a warm, cozy fire. Romance, passion, “spark”—those things are all well and good. But sparks are not fire. A spark is a means by which a flame is started, as well as a byproduct of a healthy fire. Once it’s started, fire produces its own heat and sparks—as long as it’s fed. Many people feel their marriage growing cold and think they need “spark,” but often what they really need is oxygen and fuel. Love and sacrifice are like oxygen and fuel in a marriage. If those things are not supplied in the right proportion, no amount of “spark” is going to help in the long run. Sparks fly from a healthy, fueled fire, not the other way around.
Love is like oxygen because it’s something you have to actively, continually supply to a marriage. Love has many definitions, but in a marriage context, love is more of an action verb than an abstract noun. It’s not just something you passively feel, but something you actively do. Sometimes you don’t notice this action—love is just a given, like oxygen is in the air. But other times, under certain circumstances, you have consciously breathe more love into your relationship, like bellows are used to fan a flame.
Love also changes over time. It’s supposed to. The love that starts a relationship looks very different than the love that maintains it. The love that sparks a relationship is often overwhelming, like a match being consumed by a flame. But a match only lasts so long before it dies out. Its purpose is to light a fire, not to keep it going. If you don’t shift from a fire-making mindset to a fire-maintaining mindset in marriage, your relationship will suffer.
We all love that initial spark, though, don’t we? It’s exciting and thrilling and life-affirming. I think that’s the biggest reason people cheat—they yearn for the thrill of the start-of-a-relationship spark. But fire can be thrilling, too, just in a different way. A blazing fire is mesmerizing and mysterious, reliable yet still unpredictable. The light and heat are constant and cozy, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. If you throw a little extra fuel or blow a little extra oxygen on a healthy fire, you can create some spectacular sparks. Really.
Keeping the “spark” in your marriage isn’t about recreating the romance at the beginning of a relationship, but about feeding the fire. And that’s a practical skill. It takes effort. It takes commitment and sacrifice. It takes continually breathing love into it. But it’s a pretty foolproof recipe. There may be environments and circumstances and weather that can make it harder to maintain, but fire itself isn’t all that complicated.
I certainly don’t know everything about love and marriage—far from it. But I know we’re happy. I know we’re in this for the long haul. I know that love is more of a verb than a noun. I know that sacrifice is a gift.
I know that it takes effort to keep a fire going, and I know that that effort is worthwhile. I know that a spark is hot, but a blazing fire is hotter.
I know my husband, and he knows me. And thankfully, he knows that doing the dishes and telling me I’m beautiful in my morning jammies does more to fuel our fire than flowers or jewelry ever could.
|Fifteen years and still smiling. Well, fifteen and a half, technically. But who’s counting?