“I have been married for 44 years (4 children, 6 grandchildren). I think the most important thing that I have learned in those years is that the love you feel for each other is constantly changing. Sometimes you feel a deep love and satisfaction, other times you want nothing to do with your spouse; sometimes you laugh together, sometimes you’re screaming at each other. It’s like a roller-coaster ride, ups and downs all the time, but as you stay together long enough, the downs become less severe, and the ups are more loving and contented. So even if you feel like you could never love your partner any more, that can change, if you give it a chance. I think people give up too soon. You need to be the kind of person that you want your spouse to be. When you do that, it makes a world of difference.”
Out of the hundreds of emails I received, one stuck with me. A nurse wrote to say that she used to work with a lot of geriatric patients. One day, she was talking to a man in his late-80s about marriage and why his had lasted so long, and he said, “relationships exist as waves—people need to learn how to ride them.” The old man went on to say that, just like in the ocean, there are constant waves of emotion going on within a relationship—some waves last for hours, some last for months or even years. The key to success is to understand that few of those waves have anything to do with the quality of the relationship—people lose jobs, family members die, couples relocate, switch careers, make a lot of money, lose a lot of money. Your job as a committed partner is to simply ride the waves with the person you love, regardless of where they go. Because ultimately, none of these waves last. And you simply end up with each other.
“Two years ago, I suddenly began resenting my wife for any number of reasons. I felt as if we were floating along, doing a great job of co-existing and co-parenting, but not sustaining a real connection. It deteriorated to the point that I considered separating from her; however, whenever I gave the matter intense thought, I could not pinpoint a single issue that was a deal breaker. I knew her to be an amazing person, mother, and friend. I bit my tongue a lot and held out hope that the malaise would pass as suddenly as it had arrived. Fortunately, it did, and I love her more than ever. So, the final bit of wisdom is to afford your spouse the benefit of the doubt. If you have been happy for such a long period, that is the case for good reason. Be patient and focus on the many aspects of her that still exist that caused you to fall in love in the first place.”
I’d like to take a moment to thank all of the readers who took the time to write something and send it to me. As always, it was humbling to see the wisdom and life experience out there. There were many, many, many excellent responses, filled with kind, heartfelt advice. It was hard to choose the ones that ended up here, and in many cases, I could have put a dozen different quotes that said almost the exact same thing.
Exercises like this amaze me because when you ask thousands of people for advice on something, you expect to receive thousands of different answers. But I’ve done this on another subject, and in both cases, the vast majority of the advice has largely overlapped. It shows you how similar we really are. And how no matter how bad things may get, we are never as alone as we think.