“You need to write a blog about loyalty and marriage and accepting each other and growing together…”
I stared at the message in my inbox, taken aback by the request. In all the time I’ve been blogging, this was the first time a reader had requested a specific post. I felt proud that someone found comfort enough in my words to come to me for advice, yet I also felt a little scared that I couldn’t rise to the challenge.
The more I thought about it, however, the more that fear dissipated. As both someone who writes romance novels and someone who has been with her partner for 11 years, I’ve definitely learned a few things about what makes a relationship thrive. I’ve spent my entire life watching the people around me and learning from both their struggles and their successes. I’ve done a fair about of reading on ways to improve in various aspects of life. Surely I can shed some light on this topic.
I think most of us can agree that marriage is a big deal. I mean, standing in front of all your family and friends to declare that you are going to spend the rest of your life committed to the person beside you isn’t something to be taken lightly. With a room full of witnesses, you make promises to one another. You promise to let nothing come between you, to remain loyal, and to grow together. Forever. In our case, we also asked those in attendance to make a vow to respect and uphold our marriage as well, to refrain from behaviours that could tear us apart and to hold us accountable to the promises they heard us make.
While most of us grasp the weight of this ritual, we also carry these mythical notions of what marriage looks like. We all want the fairytale “happily ever after”, but none of us really have a clue what that looks like. We get it into our heads that love should always be easy and that any amount of struggle is a sign of impending failure. The romantic notion of stability clashes with the inevitable changes that we and our partners will go through. Anything that doesn’t fit the perfect script in our heads causes us to fear that something is wrong, and we begin to see “warning signs” everywhere. Left unchecked, this can spiral into chaos and tear a relationship apart.
On the flipside, the desire for happily ever after can be the very thing that causes us to reevaluate our notions of what a healthy marriage looks like. It can allow us to see the things that we can improve upon to strengthen our bonds.
The reader mentioned three things in their request: loyalty, acceptance, and growing together. I believe these are the 3 biggest components to a successful marriage. I also think they can be the most challenging.
This goes beyond “in sickness and in health” or “for richer or poorer”. Sure, there are external circumstances that cause stress and we have to be willing to go through those times together, but there are also a lot of internal circumstances that we tend to overlook.
The thing is, none of us are perfect. Truly loving someone means accepting them for 100% of who they are at any given moment. Not the 60% you fell in love with. Not the 10% you know they could be. The totality of who they are and the history that shaped them.
Acceptance comes with knowing who they are and why they do the things they do. It’s respecting each other’s differences, as well as respecting each others’ boundaries and priorities. It’s knowing that it’s okay to not always be on the same page. It’s knowing when to let those things go and when to search for a compromise.
This doesn’t mean you have to like every single thing about a person. There are plenty of things about my husband that drive me nuts. Likewise, he has to deal with my insecurities, indecisiveness, and a slew of annoying habits. He loves me through these moments, accepts them as part of the deal, but he also doesn’t keep me there.
Which leads us to the next point:
We all want to see our partner be healthy and happy. When you love someone, you want what is best for them. However, this can lead us into a trap of thinking we know what’s best for someone else. This sort of thinking can lead to resentment on both sides and poison our relationships with one another. There can also be a fear of growth. If one of us changes, could it harm the relationship in some way?
Everyone of us will grow and change throughout our lifetimes. It’s up to us to make a conscious decision to grow together. To teach and be taught by one another as new points of view and habits develop. You have to be willing to learn to love each other at each new stage.
You must provide a safe space for one another to grow physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Be there to lend an ear or offer your thoughts. Give them encouragement and praise as they reach new milestones. Allow them to explore their own interests without fearing that it takes away from what you have built. Look at your challenges as a couple as lessons to learn together.
All of this must be done with a gentle touch. You can absolutely suggest a healthy change without seeming domineering. You can encourage them to take better care of themselves without forcing the issue. Accept them where they are and move forward together. This also means letting hurts of the past fall from your mind. If we’re hanging on to old resentments, we’re blinding ourselves to any positive changes that are right in front of us.
When we think of loyalty, a lot of people’s minds often go straight to issues of fidelity. While remaining faithful is certainly a part of loyalty, there are many other components that are just as important.
Loyalty means being committed to standing by one another during difficult times. It means putting the needs of your relationship first and choosing to stay and fight instead of cutting out when things get hard.
This can come in many forms. Sometimes it means putting the needs of your partner before your own for the sake of the union. Sometimes it means standing up for your partner or your relationship when others make critical remarks. Sometimes it means holding your tongue when you feel like complaining to someone else, and discussing the issue directly with your partner.
Loyalty means thinking about how every decision you make affects the relationship as a whole. It means discarding the opinions of others who would have you fail and standing by your convictions.
Of course, the key to all three of these points is communication. We can’t read each other’s minds or reach conclusions based on assumptions. You have to be willing to be vulnerable and transparent. You also have to be willing to listen to your partner without judgement when they speak their truth. You have to learn to speak each other’s language and find ways to reach understanding, even when it seems impossible.
Every couple is different. It’s up to you to determine what works for your marriage and to work together to create the framework that allows your love to flourish.
Love starts with a feeling, but it’s survival is a choice.