Years went by - six to be exact - before our professional paths crossed again. I learned this young man had excelled in his work and that he was steadily climbing the ladder of success within his industry -- no surprise there -- he is indeed a talented professional with many talents including great communication skills. I also found out he and his wife now have two young children and he talked about them with the same down to earth gratefulness and excitement as I had heard him speak of his wife to be when we first met. Our catching up on things was another example of just how fast the years fly by - It seems like only yesterday my husband and I were celebrating our seventh anniversary and now here we are so many, many years later. How very quickly the years have passed.
It also got me thinking about how much things change in a relationship through the years and with every big event -- especially when we become parents. It's really amazing to note the evolution of any married couple over time. The differences noted when you look back on the "us" we were before the children, the "us" we became after their arrival and the "us" that continues to evolve.
So here's my primary question for all of us within this post:
If we're married or in a committed long term relationship, what are we proactively doing every single day to nurture, celebrate and ensure that we remain a healthy "us?"
The first year of a marriage flies by so dang quickly although some of the more challenging days may seem like they will never end. That first year starts off with all the excitement spilling over from the wedding. That excitement needs to be remembered and tapped into often when needed to boost things up a bit. Its dominant role, hoewver, in your days begins to gradually fade out. In its place are lots of getting to know each other moments (good, interesting and a few not so good perhaps). It is during this first year usually that we realize an inevitable fact which is -- the honeymoon is over and we are each evolving and transitioning from being single to being a married couple who have chosen to be an "us."
Down the road if we choose to become parents and to raise a family then it's essential for us to be committed to being the best parents we can be. That means we never, ever stop learning how to meet our children's needs, to teach and to improve our parenting skills where needed. This is true even when those wild little ones are all grown up and raising children of their own!
We quickly learn how natural and instantaneous it is to love our children with all our hearts and all our being. We also all too quickly realize how super challenging it can be to be a parent. It's the most wonderful "job" in the world, but it could never be labeled an easy one. They do grow up and leave to develop their own skills, wings, careers and families all too quickly. What is left behind is a full circle back to the "just us." If it has been negleced for too long and in too many ways there may, sadly, only be the shattered, worn out remnants of an "us."
The taking good care of the "us" in a relationship can be all too easily put on the back burner. Or, it can inadvertently be ignored altogether in the midst of our 90 mph days juggling life's responsibilities and surprises, our jobs and our children. After a while, the lack of caring for our "us" will start to show evidence of its neglect just as it would if we failed to take regular, wise and good care of our cars through the years. Little spats can become much more frequent, but usually over small stuff in the big scheme of life. Then nastier disagreements begin erupting over differences about how best to discipline and raise the children, who's pitching in enough, heated financial disputes may occur or arguments over each other's respective family's idiosyncrasies and the list goes on.
Bottom line is that I am certainly not a marriage expert and, of course, I do not know what might work best for you and your relationships. I have learned, however, that no matter what marital "age" we are currently living through (e.g. first year, seven, ten, thirty...) and no matter how crazy chaotic our days may seem, we absolutely cannot afford to ever stop taking continuing and deliberate care of our "us." Never.
My husband and I years ago made a joint list of the top ten things the two of us love doing and sharing together. We look at our list frequently and tweak it if needed with newly found shared interests. This simple little system has really helped keep us mindful of those fun things and more importantly, it reminds us to make time each month for doing some of those activities that we love doing together (for "us!) - in spite of how busy our days may be otherwise. All too easy to put off or to forget to do these types of things together in the busyness of this thing called living. A good reminder system is a smart tool to have in your taking care of "us" toolbox.
We also have always left "ILY" and "Ditto" notes around the house and other places for each other every single day (including in the other's suitcase if one of us will be traveling). To this day, my heart feels a heartwarming hug and I smile every single time I find one from him - even when we may be mad as heck with one another at the moment. ?Yes, we know we love each other and our "ILY" notes may sound a bit silly to some folks perhaps, but they make every day a better and brighter one no matter what else is going on to make it otherwise.
Again, I am sure not an expert in this department, but after 50+ years of sharing lifes ups and downs with my wonderful husband, I strongly believe in the following "us maintenance" routine. Oh and yes, I do this quick mental exercise religiously at the start of each new day and here it is:
Reflecting on those three things before ever getting out of bed and rushing into my days has made a huge and positive difference in countless ways. Regardless of what "tools" or rituals may work best for each of us, we must be committed to actively maintaining a healthy "us"on a daily basis -- it does not happen merely because our hearts and intentions are good. And, who doesn't want relationships that can withstand life's challenges and curveballs thrown our way?
So what's the danger if we don't have a daily action plan for keeping our "us" healthy and vibrant? Well, at a minimum, the two folks making up the "us" may find themselves eventually living their lives on autopilot, going through the motions and being okay with a "just okay" kind of relationship. They may have lost the excitement, fun and energizing spirit of their earliest years together - perhaps they've settled for a "It is what is is" kind of marriage and become before they know it they become an old, tired and disengaged "us."
Worse case scenario - One or both of the "us" wakes up one day and decides enough is enough. They feel there is nothing of "us" left worth salvaging. A painful divorce may begin and a torn apart family must figure out how to move forward separate and apart from one another.
As an aside, I may be an ol' fogey, but it seems as if too many throw in the towel all too quickly these days. My husband and I have endured some very tough and grueling times together and we are so thankful that we made it through and are still a team sharing this chapter of life together. For whatever assortment of reasons, effort and luck it may be that has helped our marriage "stick," we are beyond grateful!
So back to my young married business acquaintance mentioned at the start of this now very loooong post (if you're still with me, I hope you grabbed that second cup of coffee beforehand!). I wish him and his family all the best as they approach and celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary. And, if they asked for my advice on the secret of a long marriage like ours, I would tell them it is normal to have lots of peaks and valleys as Alan Alda said in the old but still great movie, "Four Seasons." Yet another reason for maintaining a healthy and strong "us" -- to be ready for those inevitable valleys and the tougher times of any long term relationship.
I'd strongly suggest lots (and lots!) of shared laughter and that it's also important to be able to laugh at yourself ("Blessed on those who can laugh at themselves -- for they shall be forever amused.").
I would suggest they always settle disputes by asking "What is the best solution for the marriage and for "us?" vs. getting stuck unconstructivcely solely on "What is the best solution for me?"
I would tell them that there are just no magical or perfect answers to a great or long marriage or relationship, but!....that whatever your toolbox may include for maintaing a healthy "us," there will for sure be a zillion benefits for trying and AND especially to be able to say at our stage of life that you are STILL each other's bestest buddy.
And, finally -- I would remind them one more time that their relationship can indeed stay happy, strong and healthy if they commit to a proacative plan for recommitment and for proactively caring for their "us" -- Every. Single. Day.