The best relationship advice I ever got was from an old boss. At the time, we were driving in his car to meet with clients for a disability/housing discrimination case we were working on. It was a weird conversation to have and I’m not sure how it came up. I remember that at the time there were rumors circulating about my boss around the office — that he was/had cheated on his wife. (I digress for a minute, but I should also mention that there was a time that he came into my office and told me that his wife was going to call me because she was concerned about an upcoming business trip we were taking together and he asked me not to answer my phone.) But the point is, he still gave me some great relationship advice that I still think about today. He said:
If you are ever thinking about divorce, GIVE IT A YEAR. Because a year, even if it is the worst year ever, is a small amount of time in the course of a 50-year marriage.
Think about it! It’s so true, it’s a blip.
I have come back to this advice several times in my marriage. The last time a couple of years ago, when Chris and I were going through a tough time. With a 6-year-old and 4-year-old twins we were acting like parents, but not partners. Neither of us were really “in” the relationship. In fact, we were both escaping it (and all the stress and responsibilities that come with marriage and family life) in our own ways.
At the time, I was thinking about divorce. Not in the deep “I’ve decided” kind of way but more in the “I don’t know if I can do this anymore kind of way.” I wrote a whole article on this kind of thinking here and how it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think it can be really positive — it’s actually necessary to check-in with each other, reevaluate your relationship and seek out opportunities for growth.
Chris and I were recently talking about how this last year has been the best year of our entire 12 year marriage. I talk about this on Episode 1 of the Podcast (coming soon!). He decided to start showing up in our relationship in a real way. He decided that he wanted to be a better partner and that he still wanted to choose us and I decided that I still wanted to choose us too.
Love is intentional. Relationships are a Choice.
One thing I remember doing that factored into my decision was making a list of what I would want in a partner if Chris and I were to divorce. Here’s what it looked like:
- 38-45 years-old
- With a career and financially independent
- Loves kids (because I have 3 of them, and they are a handful)
- Attractive to me (I have to want to have sex with you!)
- Someone I could have fun with, who likes to try new things, new adventures
I looked at the list and I realized that I was describing my husband. Other than #7 he hit every other thing on my list out of the park.
So I started to think about #7. This is something we used to have. We used to have A LOT of fun together — we used to have A LOT of dreams of new adventures. But over the years I put a lot of my desires and dreams aside in part because of “the rat race we are all in”, in part because of “family life” and my “mom guilt”, and in part because of Chris’s need for stability, consistency, routine. Chris has been described as a “family hoarder” and “as a tree, who grows roots.” I honestly don’t know how he ever moved from New York to California. He doesn’t like change.
In reality though these are all GREAT qualities and Chris’s amazing loyalty and stability are some of the things I absolutely love most about him. Qualities I desperately need coming from a background of divorce, growing up without seeing any examples of great relationships or any examples of happy couples. Chris is the rock in our relationship.
But I needed that rock to move a little. I needed (still need) more fun, more risk, more adventures. (A start-up is not enough of a risk I guess!)
I recently met a woman who had just moved to California from the East Coast in her late 40’s. I asked how she was adjusting leaving behind all of her friends and family and surprisingly, she was so positive about it. She said when her husband approached her about moving she thought:
I’m not dead yet!
I really admired her attitude and that’s exactly how I feel. I’m not dead yet, and not even close to being done dreaming.
So that’s what we’re working on right now. A balance between our opposite personalities. More dreams, goals and adventures for us as a couple, that don’t involve our kids or anyone else. Chris and I are actually going to climb Machu Picchu in a few weeks. We’re leaving the kids over Thanksgiving. You might be thinking how can you leave your kids over a holiday?! The short answer is “easily”, lol. No, but seriously, it’s because Chris is a teacher and our vacation times are limited to his breaks. Chris and I need to keep investing in our relationship, because without that there is no family. And when the kids leave home (which will be before we know it) I don’t want us to look at each other and realize we don’t have our own relationship anymore.