When I first got together with the Boss, I thought we had a finite list of “issues” we’d work through. I assumed over the course of our relationship, we’d come to know each other better, learn how to communicate better, and each year things would get better and better until one day we would “arrive” at marital bliss, having checked off most everything on our relationship bucket list.
It sounds pretty naive when I say it, but in my defense, I didn’t explicitly “think” that. I didn’t think at all. It was more of a subconscious assumption. A fairly bad one.
As the years went by, we did work through stuff. But six or seven years in I started feeling upset. It seemed like it wasn’t getting easier. We’d address one issue, and another would take it’s place. It was exhausting. It was demotivating.
I realized before it was too late that my expectations were wrong. I was aiming for a target that could and would never be reached. If my definition of happiness was unreachable, how could I ever be happy?
Over the years whenever I’ve discussed this realization I always think of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Leon, starring Jean Reno and a young Natalie Portman. She’s in the hallway of her apartment with a bloody nose, no doubt the result of getting smacked by her dirtbag father. Her neighbor, Leon, walks past and she asks “Is life always this hard, or just when you’re a kid?”. After a moment of poignant reflection, he says “always like this”.
I’ve come to believe that addressing issues in a relationship is like peeling an onion that’s still growing. You get through one layer, and there’s another, and another. You never “arrive” at the center. To expect that, is to set yourself up for failure and unhappiness, chasing after something you will never have.
But with that realization comes freedom. It’s not “bad”. You have to eat every day. Sometimes you’re hungry and it sucks. But you don’t say “why the hell do I need to eat?” It rains outside. Sometimes you get wet and it sucks. But you don’t curse the sky and say “why does it have to rain?”. At worse you satisfy your hunger and get an umbrella. At best you cook a delicious meal and play in the puddles.
As soon as I reset my expectations, a lot of the weariness went away. My head cleared. My cup of patience refilled. I reset my eyes on the horizon and established a new pace. I started focusing on the journey and how to make it more pleasant.
And in doing so, I realized that the onion DOES get smaller and it grows slower. 15 years into our marriage, it seems less things come up less frequently, and when then do, we deal with them better and quicker.
That might change. There may be challenges ahead. In fact I’m sure there are.