We’re going to take a bit of a break this week from the beautiful and tragic tale of my mother’s illness and final years. Since this weekend was one filled with tawdry romance and passion, with Vday and Hollywood’s first big budget soft-core porno, I thought I would add to the discussion with my own thoughts on love, sexuality and commitment. A discussion on how to stay committed in a marriage, without Mr. Grey handcuffing you. Although if that tickles your fancy, be sure to check out my radio interview on the topic of Fifty Shades with the sharp-witted and sharp-tongued Jeff McArthur, here.
Not too long ago, I read an article on Huff Post about the, “36 Things I Know After 36 Years of Marriage”, written by Winifred M. Reilly. You’ll see a lot of similar lists floating around, but hers is one of the best. It’s filled with common sensisms like: timely apologies, how our own happiness makes our partner seem less irritating, and not throwing around the word ‘divorce’ (nor throwing in the proverbial towel, too quickly). Winifred’s piece is worth a read, feel free to click on the hotlink in the title text and give it a perusal. As human beings, we learn from shared social experience, so here is what I’ve learned in my nine years of a monogamous, relatively stable relationship and marriage.
- I mentioned that we’re monogamous, and that’s not being done to cast shade upon non-traditional relationships—that’s what works for my partner and I. Regardless, I think that couples need to push the limits of their desires, and thoroughly define the rules of their sexual engagement. For a society so complicit to violence, we (North Americans) are practically puritanical when it comes to discussing sex, even with our life partners. You’ve made the vows, you’ve pledged your lives and souls to each other, now is not the time to be bashful about asking your partner to stick a finger up your bum, or telling your partner that you like rough nipple-play. Watch a porn together; it saves you the grief of catching your partner doing it, and that whole cycle of shaming someone for wanting to get turned on. We’re adults. We’re married. Our bodies are now the playgrounds for one another. Have fun, for God’s sake. Even if you’re staunchly religious, once married, your carnal pleasures have been sanctioned by the bearded gender-nonspecific deity upstairs (we shall make God neither a he, nor a she—and yet still, some will find reason to complain).
- Coming off that last point. Sex. Make sure you have it, and in the case of heterosexual pairings, not just if you’re stuck in a “we need a baby now” circuit. Hop in the shower with your partner, and give each other a good soaping up. Yes, it may break your morning routine. Yes, you may have to pick up your coffee on the way to work instead of having time to make one. However, I guarantee that the minutes you spare in that steamy shower—even if they turn bumbling and silly—will be ones that you remember in warm, private moments throughout the day. We forget the attraction to our mates too soon, and too easily. Stop and study your partner at least once a day. Take a moment to appreciate the curve of their jaw, the dazzle in their eyes, or the charm of their smile. Take a moment to appreciate their body. Better still, tell them of your observations.
- We’ve talked a lot about sex, and pleasing our most primal needs. Intimacy is not quite the same. Don’t let your partner leave the house without a hug and a kiss. Don’t stop saying “I love you”, or whatever the equivalent expression might be in your relationship. My partner and I—corny as it is—still say butterflies, since that is what we each felt fluttering in our stomachs the first time we saw each other.
- Marriages die because intimacy, sexuality, and respect are left to wither. Like a garden, these things need constant love and tending. Your attraction, attention and devotion to one another will wax and wane throughout the years. Marriage, like a garden, has seasons. Commitment, to me, means having hope—in each other—that you will endure the seasons together, that you’ll stay until the flowers once again bloom.
- You always hear this thing about “spontaneity”, and I kind of agree with the underlying sentiment behind surprising your mate, if not always the execution. Smaller romantic gestures—dinner dates, small gifts, picnics in the park, surprise flowers or event tickets—are a necessity. We usually throw out all the stops when we’re seducing someone, and while it’s unrealistic to keep that momentum up forever, we need to keep it up a little. Now grand romantic gestures require financial and logistical planning and should always have the buy-in of your partner before proceeding. Unless you’re a millionaire, you can’t just fuel up the private jet and fly to Hawaii on a whim. Overall, I find sexual spontaneity easier and just as fulfilling if I don’t have the time and resources to plan a romantic gesture, small or large.
- Figure out that one chore that your partner absolutely hates and still does because you don’t have the stomach or inclination for the task (for me it’s laundry—I’m an immaculate housekeeper, but I loathe doing the laundry). Next, do that chore for them once a month. They will appreciate the gesture, and it creates less ammo, tension and nagging-points for when the two of you have an argument. It creates less of the “you never do…” lines of conversation, which are entirely unproductive and used to derail and deflect in most arguments.
- If you feel like you are nagging, you probably are. For a bit of fun, record yourself once in an argument. I think it’s important to understand how ridiculous we can sound. I never would have believed what an irritating, pedantic shrew I could be until I heard my own recorded voice sniping from my iPhone. I did the recording myself, to hear myself. I would not advise recording an argument for the purpose of playing it back to your partner.
- Passive aggressive behavior. We all do it: male, female, straight/ gay/ other. We all have little secret expectations that we just wish our partner would do. Regrettably, since we’re not soul-linked through magik like our dear Morigan and the Wolf, we never really speak or dwell inside the head of our mate. If you want something from your partner, say it. Annunciate clearly and with words: I need you to do such and such. If you don’t have the courage to tell your partner what you need, then there could be deeper problems in play with your communication. “I shouldn’t have to tell my partner what I want!” You might say. Umm, yes, you do. Thinking otherwise leads me to believe that you are a person who is constantly disappointed by others (who don’t psychically intuit your wants). Sometimes what you need from your partner even bears repeating in a nice, non-naggy way, since perfection is rarely achieved on the first go. The most loving partner can be charmingly obtuse to our needs. Dialog will resolve the confusion over needs and gives your partner a chance to not disappoint you. We have this incredible shyness sometimes around the people with whom we should be the most intimate, the most ourselves. It serves no one.
- This will have been a common thread of wisdom throughout these sorts of advice pieces: marriage will be one of the hardest things that you ever commit yourself to doing. Do not enter into this contract lightly. Do not expect that it will be easy, because many times, many days will be like walking through fire. A good marriage though, one with two people who are willing, who can argue and not lose sight of the fact that they love each other…Well, that kind of marriage is one of the greatest human experiences and will bring you through any fire, any trial, unscathed. Marriage can quite literally give you the strength of two people, making you more than you could ever be alone. But you have to want it, and you have to nurture it, or there really is no point in saying the words: I do.
I am glad that I have found a partner as committed to the madness and thrill of this journey as I am. I hope for the same fortune upon all of you, should that be your wish.
All my love