I was shocked to find out that my brother-in-law had pulled my husband aside to share with him concerns he had about our marriage.
Apparently I was “condescending and disrespectful” in front of other people. My husband was taken aback. He considered our interaction to be banter, as did I. It upset me for a while and I began to question myself. Ultimately I decided to try and put it aside. If my husband didn’t have a problem with how I spoke to him that’s all that mattered to me.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something wrong with our marriage. Had years of disappointment and resentment built up to such a stage that our everyday communication was passive aggressive? I couldn’t bring up any of our real issues so I attacked the way he slurped when he ate watermelon instead? Worse yet, was I doing it in front of others with little thought given to how they might view it?
Rachel Jones is a writer who says she's experienced the exact same thing. She's had people take issue with her relationship, telling her that she and her husband "fight a lot", leaving her thinking, fighting? What fighting?
"But, we've been married for 16 years, and so we just kind of say stuff," she writes on Babble.com. "You know, stuff. Like when we have an opinion or when we disagree. We say it. I hated his moustache; I told him so. In front of guests. And I blogged about it. He disagreed with me on a political issue and made that clear. At dinner with friends."
Jones says she credits their habit of having a lot of little disagreements with greatly reducing the number of huge fights they end up having. They let out all the little hurts and annoyances immediately instead of saving them up for a epic, potentially relationship-ending argument later. That rings true for me. My husband and I rarely have huge fight - but we disagree often. We disagree in person and via text messages several times a week. Instead of considering it a problem, I think it may be one of the reasons we've been together for over 16 years.
Long-term relationships are completely misunderstood by those who've never experienced one. Short-term and mid-term relationships run by a completely different set of rules to those that have endured 16 years. Everyone whose been with the same person for 16-years and a deeply profound level.
I was introduced to the book Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix, by an incredible episode of Oprah Winfrey's Super Soul Sunday featuring singer Alanis Morissette. They spoke about the book and credited it with keeping their relationships together, with Oprah saying, "I wouldn't still be in a relationship with Stedman if it wasn't for that book." I bought it immediately and read it quickly, loving every single thing it had to say about getting the love you want.
Watch Oprah Winfrey and Alanis Morissette credit this book with keeping their relationships intact. Article continues after this video:
The phases of love were explained like this:
Romantic love - the incredible first stage where your body is flooded with attraction and feel good chemicals.
Power struggle - where romantic love beings to fade causing blame and resentment.
Knowledge and awareness - where you recognise your relationship can be more than it is if you both put in the necessary work.
Transformation - you consciously practice all the skills you've learned holding firm to the vision you each hold for your relationship.
Real love - where you respect and cherish each other forever.
I quickly realised that although my husband and I had been together for quite a long time we were still in the power struggle phase,. But we seemed to be transitioning to 'knowledge and awareness' because we both share an understanding about what is acceptable, what we both need and how to progress. Dealing with negative emotions is our way of preserving our relationship for the future. Every little spat and disagreement feeds our future.
Couples who have been together for a long time no longer believe the misconception that someone else is responsible for your happiness. They embrace their individual needs and tend not to always be on the same path, but happily run parallel.
They accept that closeness comes and goes, that happiness is a feeling, not a constant state of being. In the words of a wise man - Robert Duvall's character Capt. Spurgeon "Fish" Tanner in the movie Deep Impact - "You're a married man, you know what it's like. Every marriage has its good years and its bad years. We ended on a great year." That always makes me chuckle. When you've been together for a long time you tend to get your relationship wisdom from wherever possible, including Hollywood.
Only a couple who has been together for the long haul understands that a relationship can have challenging times that span a year or even more, and still get through to the other side in a way that we can still enjoy a great year. There are less and less deal-breakers and more reasons to keep at it.
I have a lot of younger friends and it always amazing me the sorts of things they fight about in their relationships - issues that those in long-term relationships left behind a long time ago. "He never wants to talk in the morning", "She doesn't seem happy when I get home", "He goes out with his friends a lot", "She never wants to watch the same movies as me".
Those in long relationships know that often there's one person who's happy and talkative in the morning (my husband) and the dedicated grunter who is slower to wake (me). They know that she is happy he is home (and listens for the sound of his key in the door) but just wants to finish this one little thing before greeting him properly (packing my work bag and trying not to forget anything). They aren't threatened by wanting to spend time apart, realising it's importance. There are some movies they watch together (This is 40) and some they don't (there was no way I was going to sit through American Sniper).
One thing still bothers me though - the thought that we've made our guests feel uncomfortable. Granted, we only usually speak to each other in this way in front of family, but I don't want us to be one of those couples that nobody wants to be around because of the tension.
While it's comforting to know that we aren't one of those couple who hold onto anger, saving it for a big blow up fight during the car ride home or seconds after we walk through the door, we also don't want our families feeling uncomfortable. We try to say everything in a playful way when we can, or we try and end disagreements quickly while letting everyone else know that we are okay, that nothing is wrong and that this is just how we interact after so many years together.