Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Rant

I've had more than one friend tell me how lucky I am to have a good relationship with my wife.  And here I thought our marriage was the result of hard work, shared values, and common goals! Implying that luck was the deciding factor belittles reality. We've had more than our share of fights and disagreements. There have been moments when our future together was uncertain.

My wife and I are constantly working on our relationship: that's why it's awesome. If you don't get along with your spouse, you're not the victim of bad luck; you're the victim of poor decision-making.

Think about all the people that ended up in your life without your approval. You're lucky if you get along with your parents, siblings, extended family, or co-workers; lucky because you didn't pick those people, they were chosen for you by circumstances beyond your control.

Barring some cultural tradition, you get to pick your spouse. No one forces you to get married.

You're not lucky if you get along with your friends; you're supposed to. That's the entire point of friendship. You'd never befriend someone who has nothing in common with you, someone who annoys you or who constantly criticizes you. Why would you marry such a person?

Whenever someone tells me about my good fortune I try to explain that luck played a tiny part at most. I try to explain that a successful marriage depends on three basic factors, but I usually get cut short. For someone who is trapped in a bad marriage, the idea that factors beyond pure chance play a part in the success of a marriage implies what I said at the beginning: that they made shitty decisions along the way. They don't want to hear what I have to say.

WELL YOU DON'T HAVE A CHOICE TODAY, FUCKERS. Today is St. Valentine's Day and you're my hostage. You have to listen to me now!


Behold! The three factors that make or break a relationship.

Ego

By far your worst enemy in all walks of life, the ego is a smooth-talking con artist who convinces you you're something you're not. The ego has good intentions: it works to spare your feelings and keep your self-esteem high. But sometimes it can undermine you. Like an artist paid to draw your portrait, the ego tends to airbrush imperfections while enhancing positive features. Let it get out of control and the portrait ends up looking like a stranger. 

If you don't see yourself as you truly are you're unlikely to see others as they truly are. This makes finding the right person and enjoying a long, healthy relationship very difficult.

Your ego prevents you from admitting fault. It makes you feel more important than you really are. If your ego is running wild, you'll start to put yourself above your marriage. You become a ball-hog, the player who doesn't pass no matter how many opponents are lined up between him and the hoop. 

In a team, there is no room for ego. The players must be ready to put the team ahead of personal wants and needs. 

Your ego will do everything in its power to prevent this.

Kill your ego. That's step one.

Balance

You ever meet that couple? You know the one. The wife works all day, rushes home, cleans up, cooks dinner, and does the dishes while the husband sits at home, "job-hunts," takes naps daily, and doesn't lift a finger around the house. Or maybe you met the husband who works all week, cooks supper every night, and takes extra work on the side while the wife works part-time and spends more than she makes.

These are hypotheticals, of course, extreme examples meant to illustrate a point: relationships in which power, responsibility, and work are unevenly distributed are breeding grounds for resentment and ill-concealed bitterness. Even the most enduring spouse is eventually going to get sick of their free-loading partner. It might take years, but one day the enduring spouse will snap, and then there's no putting the pieces together again.

I'm not saying that all duties and responsibilities should be split 50/50. That's not practical or possible in most cases. We're all blessed with different talents and subject to different circumstances. The key is finding how you can use those talents to make a fair contribution to the team. The closer you get to 50/50, the better.

Communication

Humans are poorly equipped for conveying complex ideas and emotions to other humans. We stand across from each other grimacing, grunting, and gesturing, and we expect to be understood. There are so many nuances, so many ways communication can break down and fail, it's no wonder misunderstandings abound.

I can't count how many times I've sat by while two friends argued angrily, each one saying more or less the exact same thing and not knowing it. I used to step in and clarify these misunderstandings but now I just let it go. Can't keep giving people fish; it's high time they start learning how to fish instead. 

I have a pretty good idea as to why communication is so difficult. Let me give you a hand. There's actually two components to communication: one is conveying information, the other is listening.

What's that, you ask? Listening? 

It means shutting up and trying to decipher what someone else is saying to you. Novel concept, I know. Listening--or active listening, as I call it--involves shutting up the voice inside your head--the one composing your next line of speech or wondering whether there's a new episode of the Walking Dead this Sunday--and really concentrating on the person talking to you. 

There's a serious shortage of listeners out there. If you're going to pay attention, make sure it's to your spouse.

Parting Words

This is an oversimplification, of course. There are other contributing factors to a successful marriage. Shared values, common interests, and sexual compatibility come to mind. Likewise, a bad marriage is the result of more than just bad decisions. A lack of balance and communication are, in my opinion, endemic to failed relationships.

And that ego. What a motherfucker.

As for me, I'd be lying if I didn't say luck played a part in my marriage. I was lucky to meet my wife when I did; lucky that she was attracted to me; lucky she didn't leave me all those times I deserved to be dumped; lucky she said "yes" when I asked her to marry me; and lucky she agreed to have my children. 

The way we get along, on the other hand, isn't a matter of luck. For me, it's actually pretty simple. She's beautiful, funny, smart, generous, functions well on little to no sleep, and is a wonderful mother. I look forward to coming home everyday and putting the kids to sleep so I can hang out with her. We sit around, watch TV, bake, clean, whatever. It doesn't really matter what we do, as long as we're together. She's my best friend.

If you don't feel the same way about your spouse, don't blame your luck. I didn't marry my wife and then discover how well we get along; I married her because of how well we get along. It was a conscious decision and the best one I ever made. 

Love you babe!

And Happy Valentine's Day to the rest of you helpless romantics.

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