“Marriage is work.”
It’s the least sexy thing anyone ever says about long-term relationships. It’s not even sexy when a movie star says it.
It’s also one of the most famous things that Ben Affleck ever said about his and Jennifer Garner’s life together.
You can watch him muddle his way through it in front of an epic crowd, here:
“Thank you for working on our marriages for 10 Christmases,” he said, standing on the most famous stage in the world, clutching the award that marked the pinnacle of his brilliant career to date. “Because it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no-one I would rather work with.”
Affleck was slammed for that 2013 speech. It was deemed insulting and unromantic. There will those who, today, hearing about their impending divorce, will point to it as a huge, flashing danger sign. “See,” they’ll say. “He wasn’t happy. She was making it WORK.”
Because of course, marriage isn’t WORK. Relationships should be simple, sparkly things, made of equal parts friendship, laughter and mutual, multiple orgasms.
The people who think these things have not been in a relationship for 10 years.
They don’t understand that in the space of an entire decade, what starts as an explosive meeting of minds and pheromones morphs into something else. Not just once, but over, and over and over.
Sometimes, your other person becomes hard to see, blurry, almost invisible, amongst the unruly mountain of Other Stuff that fills your life.
Sometimes, they are all that you can see, and every move they make, every thing they do, is amplified as the thing that is Making You Unhappy.
Sometimes, your relationship is the thing in your life that you are least interested in.
Sometimes, you are completely overwhelmed with adoration for the person who you sleep alongside. You gasp in gratitude and wonder that anyone would choose to stay beside you, once they know you so well.
Sometimes you literally can’t keep your hands off them. Sometimes, their touch will make you recoil.
Day to day, week to week, we ask that person to stand next to us as we swing through our feelings about them. We expect them to witness us in intensely close proximity but never be blinded by our flaws.
Sometimes it seems our life’s relationship goal – marriage – takes the most special and extraordinary feeling in the universe, and crushes it with claustrophobia.
It’s beyond hard. Some days, it seems impossible.
And sometimes, it becomes impossible.
But at the very least, surviving that takes work. WORK.
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner knew that. As parents to three children under nine with big, all-encompassing careers, it would be easy for them to lose sight of each other, but they tried to work on putting each other first, like billions of couples around the world do every day, every month, every year.
The news of this movie-star split, like many others, will be greeted by a defeatist sigh. “If they can’t make it, what chance is there for mere mortals”.
But they did make it. They made it every day for 10 years. They made it to be loving parents to their little children. They made it through 12 Christmases.
There is no failure in that.
What chance is there for the rest of us? A chance for us to admit that the least sexy thing you can say about a long-term relationship is also the most true.
And keeping working.
Watch Ben & Jen fall for each other on TV. She is the only woman at the table. And she can’t take her eyes off him. 21:02 will break your heart (post continues after video)…
Would you describe your relationship as Work?
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