The fiancé and I were once asked what we thought the secret to making a relationship work was. It seemed a slightly odd question since, while we are very much in love, we each have a divorce under our belts. We gave answers like it being about finding the right person and that honesty was essential but we didn’t know. We were simply choosing not to let a once broken heart stop us living lives in hope of what was possible. We picked ourselves up from the wrecks of our marriages and made the active decision not to let the failure define us but beyond that we were as clueless as anyone.

Yet, there are one or two clues that make me think I might get it right this time around. When we had just started dating we attended a housewarming party (incidentally at the home of the person who asked us the question) where I made a joke to the host’s mother about marriage. She laughed and asked a question about my husband. I was thrown, what was she on about? I asked her to repeat the question and she pointed at the fiancé. I explained that he wasn’t my husband and that we’d only been dating a few months. I found myself looking at him and wondering what impression we made as a couple. To her at least we seemed married.

I think one thing in particular marked us as a long term couple; we weren’t hanging off each other. We had each found someone we found interesting to talk about and assumed we’d exchange stories in the car on the way home. We had plenty of time to talk to each other after all. And yet we were clearly together; we would often make eye contact across the room and there was a touch on the arm if one of us passed the other. But that kind of thing tells you little. We were a secure couple (in appearances at least) from our first date. We’d been friends for ages and he knew how I’d struggled with a controlling husband and I knew how he’d struggled with a clingy wife. By comparison my friends who just got married are rarely apart in a group. I think they’re a really strong couple so from my current position I’m loathe to see one approach as right or wrong as I hope that we all stay together until we’re old. Independence within a relationship works for us but my friends don’t appear to need it. The key there is clearly compatibility.

Compatibility isn’t the answer though. Even with a healthy dose of passion thrown in, there is something else needed. And I think I know what it is.

Oh yes, this isn’t one of those blog entries that hints at an elusive answer but only describes the problem. This is one of those blog entries that gives the answer.

Disclaimer: The answer rather sucks because it’s really hard!

I think the secret to lasting love is wanting it more than you want anything else. That sounds easy but lovers are full of empty promises. It’s easy to imagine when things are great that you’d die for this person, give anything for this person but come the crunch point most of us back down. Furthermore most of us are in denial about this fact. We create excuses and reasons but ultimately we’re just not ready to give up the thing we want more whatever it may be.

It can be silly things or big things, it doesn’t really matter. Take my mother and my late stepfather. They were once at a party and she left to powder her nose. He was surprised at her return because he thought she’d got bored and left because this was something his ex-wife used to do. My mother said that her role that night wasn’t to have fun but to be his escort. Actually she was enjoying herself but that was secondary to being there and supporting him. A tiny detail but one my mum subconsciously taught me from a young age – sometimes your desires are not the most important thing to consider.

That is why once a month I host a family dinner for the fiancé’s family. I generally enjoy the meals but that is largely irrelevant to my motivation. The important thing is that everyone comes together and the fiancé and the stepkids enjoy it. I subvert my ego because I want their happiness above my own (I’d almost always prefer a meal for just the four of us). But parties and family meals are easy. You just dress up, throw some food in the oven and put your game face on knowing you just need to smile for a few hours to make everyone happy. It gets hard when it’s the long term stuff, the stuff without an end point.

I’m terrible at it. I find it really really difficult to give up the things I want. I think the fiancé is a naturally more generous person but he’s far from selfless. At times there are such undercurrents of tension between conflicting desires beneath a facade of mature negotiation that it becomes absurd. We make it through because ultimately we want to be together more than anything else. In particular I want to be with him more than I want to be right.

Oh but how I’d like both. Can’t I just be right all the time and be with him?

No.

Urgh!

I think it’s especially important to take requests on board and unless it really is unbearable to say no, to do your upmost to grant them. I really don’t want to cook dinner tonight. I also cooked last night by the way (not that that is important). But then, whenever I say I don’t want to cook, he does (or orders a takeaway). The hotel we stayed in on Monday had a really big shower and he wanted us to shower together on Tuesday morning. I was distracted by wanting to get my thesis submitted but I didn’t say no. It’d be so easy to stop doing the little things because I don’t feel like them but that is where the glue of a relationship is.

It’s a fairly small thing for the fiancé to bring me a cup of tea in bed each morning and I confess that after eleven months living together I have started taking it for granted but it makes the start to every day as nice as it could be. It’s lovely and makes me feel loved. I want him to keep doing it. So I keep leaving this column to stir the chilli and garlic I’m frying. Silly little trade offs because receiving means more than giving. It only costs me a little to cook but he will really appreciate it. Taken as a sum, his appreciation will outweigh my grumbliness.

And that’s it in a nutshell. The secret to lasting love is taking into account both sets of wants and needs, not just your own. He just came downstairs and commented “something smells good.” I’m a fraction more tired but he’s happier. In the grand sum of both our feelings, me doing the cooking creates a bigger win for “us” than it does a loss.

It’s hard. A lot of the time it sucks. But it’s also great because I am very rarely denied anything. Can I say for sure I can keep it up for a lifetime with the same man? Of course not but if I can’t then it’s won’t be because I didn’t know how but because I didn’t feel it was worth the effort or because he didn’t feel it was worth the effort. So really, it’s down to us. If the answer is caring more about the “us” than the “me” then the key thing is the question; do you want lasting love or does it sound like too much work?


James Minchew
3/31/2011 09:34:13 pm

Your Mum rocks.

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Jan
5/19/2011 03:16:06 pm

i like it :)

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