We’ve all heard the phrase ‘relationships are hard work’, and if there is one lucky couple in a long term relationship who don’t agree, I certainly don’t want to hear from them. For the vast majority of us, our most natural and uninhibited selves would kill a relationship dead.
Maybe that’s why there are so many books, website and self-help guides that advocate how to put ‘work’ into your relationship to make it stronger, better and easier. At the end of the day, that’s what we want right, a relationship that will keep making us happy for the rest of our lives.
Being a bit of a geek, once I got married I started studying up. There was so much to take in! Love languages, communication strategies, things you must never ever say, things you must always say every day or else, habits that will strengthen your relationship and others that will destroy it in a single moment! Good little student that I am, I devoted plenty of time to reading about these and trying to implement them.
These ‘working at your marriage’ stories normally start to go, ‘and a funny thing happened next… We began to connect in an amazing ways and spent days in the bedroom as if we were having a second honeymoon’. In my story, things didn’t play out quite so well. What actually happened?
I started to get frustrated.
There I was in my free time, studying up to be the perfect wife. And then I’d look over to my husband who would be fully absorbed in a tv show, video game or just messing around on his phone. While I was struggling for our marriage, trying to squeeze in relationship studies while having a full time job and taking on the majority of the housework and cleaning, he was completely oblivious to the TERRIBLE DANGER our relationship was in (according to the internet). It culminated one day with me after following all the advice and seeing no change in his behaviour, shouting “Don’t you even know what your love language is?!” across the room and throwing laundry at him.
Of course I’m not saying working on your relationship is nonsense. My fellow blogger Sidra has written a great post about how it can work really well. But it raises a lot of questions for me. For one thing, it’s almost always women who look at this. Men generally have a ‘if it’s not broke’ approach. After learning techniques it’s always up to women to put it into effect. Since having a baby I’ve been told numerous times that I need to make sure she sleeps early, so that I can have alone time with my husband. Somehow, both child care AND the health of the marriage seems to fall on the woman, again and again. Men, as usual, are simply expected to show up.
What I have learned in studying relationships and trying to put these wise teachings into practice, is that they don’t work for me. Trying to ‘work’ at relationships only makes me frustrated, unhappy and feeling unappreciated. So what works for me is instead of working on my marriage, I’ve been working on myself. I don’t try and speak in a certain way for my husband, I try to be a better communicator in all my relationships. I don’t set aside time for my husband, I set aside time for myself and invite him to join. I don’t try to be kind to my husband. I just try to be kind.
And in the end, in all the surveys, courses, rules and manifestos, that’s the key message. Be the best version of yourself that you can be, and with some luck, you’ll go the distance. I wish you all the most fulfilling relationships, whether you work at it or not.