It is likely it was because I was such a dreamer and such a romantic growing up, but all my memories of my parents’—primarily my mother’s—advice on marriage are about how marriage takes work. I remember hearing that every spouse, in every marriage, has grounds for divorce, but that you work through it. My mother said that her mother and father taught that the only grounds for divorce was physical abuse, and that if you had to get a divorce for that reason, you could never marry again. Staunch Presbyterians, my grandparents!
Regardless, I learned the lesson well. Marriage takes work. You have to stick it out (almost) no matter what.
I took it all to heart. Marc and I had some rocky times before we married. We decided our relationship was important and we would find a way to make it work. I told my mother this quite proudly.
“We’ve decided our relationship is important and we’re going to work on it really hard.” There was silence on the other end of the phone for a minute.
“Well,” my mother said, “that’s all well and good, Margie, but your relationship should be fun, too.”
To be fair, it is likely that part of my mother’s reaction was because she didn’t particularly like Marc and would have been just fine if our relationship hadn’t “worked out.”
Well, Marc and I have worked it out for thirty-six years now. I have to say, we’ve worked on our relationship a lot. We’ve worked through the worry of living paycheck to paycheck (and doing the “payday dance” every two weeks.) We’ve lived through the stress of raising children, the never-ending “list” of major house repairs that are needed, the frenzy of the holidays. We were wise enough to take a vacation every year, even when we could ill afford it; to make a big deal out of everybody’s birthday; and to take time out every February for “Oasis Weekend” when Marc and I went away alone.
As the years have passed, we have emphasized the “work” of marriage less and less, and instead have emphasized finding the “joy”. Not necessarily the big things like the trips; we had that one down. But taking time to sit down with one another to just talk. Taking a walk together. Having a relaxing meal with candlelight and a glass of wine. Little day-to-day joys. So, after thirty-six years, I am pretty sure what I want to tell our sons.
Find the joy.
Find the joy in the day-to-day, because that’s what keeps you going. Find the silliness and the delight, and the intimate and the romantic. Say I love you often, and with intentionality. Hold hands. Share jokes and opinions and worries and little victories.
You see, it might be the work that gets you through some of it, but what is the work worth if what you are working on doesn’t bring you joy?
So yes, this is where I segue to following a healthy lifestyle. Of course it takes work to change your habits and how you view just about every aspect of yourself! Of course you can hit plateaus and get discouraged and want to flex when you’ve already flexed a few times too many. But, you can also find the joy in it and the fun. I will tell you that the first time I ate chocolate in front of other people, slowly and carefully and absolutely guilt-free, it was a chocolate revelation. I had simply never enjoyed a treat so much! My past experience was that treats were enjoyed quickly and sneakily, frequently in large amounts so I was overfilled and uncomfortable, and always, always followed with feelings of guilt and shame. What a joyous revelation to shed all that emotional baggage!
During this time of deep turmoil and isolation, when none of us knows what the future will hold, it is especially important that we find the joy. Giving other people a reason to smile has always been a source of joy and satisfaction for me, so I keep finding ways to reach out to other people and help them feel connected. I’m picking up the phone more, and using email less. I’m getting outside whenever I can because that just makes my heart fill with peace. I’m petting Gracie, and hugging her, and letting her know how glad I am that she came into my life. It all helps, all these little smiles and joys.
Of anything we can do right now for our emotional well-being, I can’t think of anything wiser than finding our joy in this new world. Taking the time to get off whatever roller coaster we’ve set ourselves on to just be. Quiet, peaceful. Joyful. It is a gift we can give to ourselves every single day, without any work at all.