Realizing that “long-term relationship” is a choice

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Sitting Ringside

My husband and I have been married for six and a half years. We met when we were in college, and eloped after three months of dating when we were 21 and 22. We had a pretty good run of it until two years ago, when our relationship seemingly imploded and we found ourselves without the necessary skills to deal with it. Instead of communicating, we did a lot of silent brooding, which turned into passive-aggressive blaming, which turned into alternating trips away from one another and plotting the happier days in which we’d be free of one another’s tyrannical claws.

This was two years ago, and somehow we find ourselves in this place: making the choice to happily work on our relationship.

I’m 28, and my friend circle (both close and extended) is definitely experiencing the first wave of divorces. As someone who regularly contemplated divorce for two years, I can see the appeal: freeeeeeeeeedom. I’m also someone who is adamantly pro-divorce: if it’s not working and you want out, get out. To me, divorce is nothing to be ashamed of regardless of the reasons leading up to it.

But yet… I remain un-divorced. Like I said, I’m even happy about it. Why?

I’m lucky: my husband and I weren’t ready to divorce because someone cheated or someone was emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive to someone else. While I was the primary breadwinner, my husband had a job. We have a great kid, and we’re a seriously cohesive and positive family. In short, things were good enough: nice, respectful man with a nice, respectful woman who are raising a (mostly) nice, (mostly) respectful kid. Throw in our dogs and bright yellow car and you have some “Awws” just waiting to come out of your mouths.

We were ready to divorce because we were just so fucking tired of having to deal with each other. We weren’t yelling or raging, we were just… done. Part of this was due to only having been together three months before we eloped — a situation I totally think can work, but it does leave you without any clue as to how your partner deals with stress, or even how he or she fights in an argument. We didn’t have several years experience dealing with one another, and when we got married we didn’t even know what one another’s buttons or triggers were. It was all very fast and romantic, but when things started to get hard two years later we were suddenly hit with the realization that there were huge areas of our lives that we had no idea about.

Instead of doing what everyone tells you to do (communicate, go to therapy), we retreated. We became like ships passing in the night, not even turning on the light to acknowledge one another. We communicated mostly about our son, and put on big smiles for nearly everyone in our lives. It sucked.

We went through good periods in which we would talk our problems out and pledge our loyalty — to each other and to the relationship itself. It was clear that we didn’t necessarily want things to end as much as we wanted them to change, but since we didn’t have the relationship skills to help them change… it seemed like only ending it would work. My husband moved out, he moved back in, he moved out, he moved back in. Close family and friends heard that it was over three times, and each time we really thought it was.

But still: we kept coming back to one another.

I would love to be able to say that the reason we kept coming back together was because of some inexplicable, magical bond that was pre-determined by fate and will keep us together always, but the real reason is significantly more practical than that: we were making a choice. Somewhere along the line, in between silent dinners and hours spent watching TV alone on the couch, we each made a choice to stick it out, to keep trying. We were choosing even when we were both miserable, choosing even when telling the other that we weren’t.

I grew up a really quiet, idealistic, romantic kid and teen. I subscribed to all of the books, movies, and songs that tell you how love is supposed to be. I’m still this way — my favorite book is Love in the Time of Cholera, and I will defend the idea of fate and soul mates and true love until I’m out of breath. But what I’m realizing is what many a person in a long-term relationship will tell you: “forever” is a choice that you make. As sweet as it is to say you’re the one for me and I’m the one for you, I think most of us realize there are many, many “ones” out there in the world that we could easily be happy with — but we’re choosing to be with the one we have.

In its own way, making that choice is ridiculously romantic. Staring divorce in the face and saying, “You know what? Maybe later” is kind of hot. It doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, and it doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to have shitty periods in our life, but for now we’re choosing to have those awful times together over potentially amazing times with someone else. This isn’t news to anyone who has been in a relationship longer than I have, but it’s a realization I’m happy to have made.

Comments on Realizing that “long-term relationship” is a choice

  1. Ah this post makes me super happy. You have coherently put together thoughts in my head for me! Soul mates and fate are great, but reality is a real bitch sometimes. At times I feel like books, poems, and movies give us this false sense of what ‘real’ love looks like, or that to be madly in love you have to do x, y, and z, or else you are clearly not committed to that person. Bump status quo.

    • Completely agree. The problem with relationships shown in movies, tv, books etc is that it most of the time it’s not really love that we’re seeing. Most of the time it centers on the beginning of a relationship and that’s infatuation, not love. Real love is what’s shown in the letter above and it’s not always pretty. You want to see a movie about real love? Go watch “Amour,” that movie will absolutely WRECK you. Oh also, I’m gonna recommend “Take This Waltz” because not enough people have seen it. It’s a movie that shows a couple that has real intimate love but one of them gives it up for the thrill of a new paramour.

  2. This is so well thought out, and something I really needed help with right now. I love it when people acknowledge that practical perspectives can also be romantic as hell.

  3. One of the wisest pieces of advice I was ever given? That the most important thing to learn to do in any relationship – friendship, romantic, familial – is learn how to have an argument. It took me awhile to understand said advice, but the lovely elderly family friend who gave it to me was SO RIGHT. Good times are easy to deal with, but the bad times and awkward times and arguments… if you don’t know how to communicate, how to deal with the problems and then get to the other side and make up and/or compromise, that’s when you have Problems.

    Part of our wedding vows was this:
    I will always listen to what you have to say, even when we don’t see eye to eye.
    I will remember that love means saying ‘I feel differently’ instead of ‘you’re wrong.’

    We have our vows nicely printed & framed and they hang in our bedroom. Sometimes it helps just to re-read them and remember what we promised each other to do, then pull our socks up and get on and do it!

  4. Love this article! I’m in a long term relationship(10 years) and it’s definitely a commitment to work through the good,bad, and boring together. One of my favorite movies is “The Kids Are Alright” because Julianne Moore and Annette Benning are the perfect example of a couple who deeply love each other but have to deal with the day-to-day malaise and work of staying together. Moore’s quote about how marriage is two people “slogging through the shit” everyday and being in the trenches together. It’s just the perfect description of a long time relationship.

  5. In a way, it’s more romantic knowing there are plenty of people out there that you could build a happy life with, but you chose that one person above all the rest, the good and the bad. 🙂

  6. Me and My husband are going through relationship counselling as our ’emotional’ communication has been so bad…particularly my husbands to me. I thought I was the only one fighting for us but when he agreed to go to relationship counselling I thought it spoke volumes. He is very closed emotionally and we had hardly ever argued, he prefers to pretend everything is ok when things clearly aren’t and it has made me feel lonely for quite a while. He has a job where he has to shut off emotionally and I think it may have effected the way he is with me over the years . We have had 2 sessions, things got worse before they are now starting to get better. I have felt so incredibly low and I was literally at the point of planning my life without him but something draw me back in, our relationship wasn’t obviously bad no violence or cheating just a total lack of discussing serious personal issues in our relationship. Things are on the up. It took a 3rd person to make us both understand where the other was coming from. I think it may have saved us. We have been to together 9 years married for nearly3. Nobody likes the idea of discussing their problems with someone else. Friends and family will give you advice but it is good to get someone in that doesn’t know either of you.

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