I seem to get a lot of advice to just deal with my marriage. That every relationship is filled with problems, and it would simply be trading in one set of problems for another. Because life happens and makes relationships go bad. They are all equal except for the work you put in.
When I think about that I think of the extreme of what they are saying. Rather than going through the dating process to try to find someone who I’m compatible with rather I should’ve just found the first woman I ran into and offered to marry her. Looks, personality, life goals, none of that matters because life happens and affects all relationships. Why fight it? Just get married to any random woman then work hard at making it last. If you work hard enough you can do it.
But we don’t do that. Most of us take years vetting a person before we marry them. We try to find someone who we are very compatible with on a number of levels. We go to tremendous effort to do so. Because it is really important to the long term health of the relationship. Yes there is work involved and there always will be, but it takes much more than just work.
The first step then is to find compatibility. Whether that be certain matching or opposing characteristics; long term goals; personality and emotional connections; physical attraction; or sexual desires. We all take time to try to find the best overall match based on numerous criteria, much of which is subconscious. That all happens in the dating process.
No matter how compatible any two people are there will still be gaps which will require work. None of us are perfect, and we will never be able to cover our partners needs completely by ourselves. The work is to either better yourself in some area, such as communication, or open your mind to ideas, such as sexual desires or political theories your partner may have. How you end up dealing with the differences and compromising is up to each couple. Sometimes you will also have to agree to disagree.
Once you have everything figured out or a plan on what to work on then a new concept arises: over time people change. This is often the death-knell of long term relationships that don’t last. All of us are constantly growing and changing. Some are growing at a faster pace than others. Sometimes we grow in different directions. Most of the time though we do tend to grow together if not purely because of proximity.
How do we deal with this change? For many it is just a natural part of getting older. Party in your 20’s together. Raise kids in your 30’s, start to get your life back in your 40’s etc… we go through life stages together. You work through life’s problems together, and you continue building your relationship upon a deeper and deeper foundation. There may be times where cracks develop, but hopefully you find ways to patch them up.
There are other folks where they tried like might to grow together, but somewhere along the way they went off track. You wake up one day and realize that what you thought your marriage was going to be is not going to happen. In fact it was an illusion that it ever could happen, but you don’t know that until many years have gone by. Many of us give our partners the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the changes they will be able to make. We are also often overconfident in our own abilities to change. Most people generally revert to the mean. Which means if we always did things a certain way, we may be able to change for a time, but we will eventually go back to our old ways.
Looking at myself I know I’ve changed. Over the last 17 years I have grown and changed quite a lot. So has Wife. Most of it has been for the good. We have grown into adulthood well. We are responsible, parents, financially sound, productive, and much more. Many of my immature habits as a young man have been overcome. I can’t even remember the last time I was blackout drunk. Wife has also been able to move from constant student to effective worker and leader. We grew up; we changed; we did it together.
Yet the person I fell in love with at 19 is not the same person I’m with today. There are core things that are the same, but much has changed. I don’t know if I would even have the patience for 19 year old Wife now. She is older and wiser and I like old and wise. I’m an old man at my core.
There are ways in which we are growing apart as well. The absolute major one for us is sexual compatibility. You see as I have grown older I have started to learn a great deal about myself and my sexual desires. Most of them have been there for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t really understand them or why they were so important. I just figured sex was sex, and eventually Wife would come around. Wife, on the other hand, has not grown the same way in her sexual desires. It is to a point now where I don’t really want to have sex with her anymore. That is not good for a romantic relationship.
We also have some core personality traits that we did not develop well together. On my side I am very patient, and low energy. If Wife comes in with high energy I will deflect and defer. Take a heated argument for example. I never have heated arguments. Ever. With anyone. No one in my family does either. It’s just not how we communicate. Yet I find myself on the receiving end of heated arguments by Wife quite often. It completely overwhelms and shuts me down. I assumed my reactions would eventually help her to see who I was and stop that type of pattern. It did not. She got results from it. I never learned to push back which is what she needed. Her family gets louder and pushes back. She never learned to tone it down for me.
Another is my intense desire to discuss ideas. I relish in discussing ideas of all kinds. Walking them through their stages. Sometimes for fun, but often to find an executable idea. I have a good friend who I discuss ideas with all the time, but I cannot do so with Wife. Her personality type does not stand for such discussions. They are impractical and she loses interest quickly. Sometimes snapping at me which shuts me down quite effectively. Over time I’ve stopped sharing this part of me with her. Again not good. It’s a really important part of who I am.
Wife also has a very defensive trait and often comes at me with an assumption that I’m out to get her. That I have malicious intent. After 17 years you would think she could understand that every single time I’m on her side and there is no malice. Yet she still does it. That type of thing wears me down little by little as a rock hit by the waves. Forces me to defend myself as if I were the asshole she makes me out to be. I am not. I end up changing myself into a less confident and more cautious person around her. Not a healthy place to be.
The last thing that notes how we grew apart that I want to discuss is our life goals. I have always had goals of working on various artistic endeavors that require a lot of my focused time to complete. Most of my life has consisted of putting those on hold to help Wife complete her goals. She has now achieved her lifelong goal. Over the course of our marriage I would slowly try to transition to my own goals. There would be a conference here and a book to read there. Sometimes I would even get a little time to practice at a project or two. Wife gave nominal support to them. Yet for me to really pursue them we would need to make major changes such as we did for her. She cannot bring herself to do that. She will say she supports me but when I try to walk toward my goals she gets angry at me, and/or tells me “not now”.
There will never be a now. She gets angry because I need her to step up and put something important to her on hold. She can’t do it. Her response is never as direct as I put it here, but the pattern is consistent. She would deny it is what she does, but she can’t see how those little things add up to the big thing I need.
The worst part is now I don’t know if I even want to try these things with Wife anymore. Any change she tries feels disingenuous. If she loves me, and understands my needs, then why couldn’t she do it before I told her I was unhappy? She’s never going to give me what I want sexually. I don’t think she can give me what I need for my long term goals either. I’m just pursuing a hobby to her. She doesn’t need to change. It’s frustrating. She’s heard me say what I want and need many times, but the way I communicate does not resonate with her.
Here I stay in a constant state of almost good, but not great. Not ever going to reach my goals, but going to be encouraged to just keep reaching. That’s how relationships go. You just keep working at them. Or do you?