Anyone who is married or lives with a long-term partner understands the challenges, both universal and particular. Once we are well past college age, sharing a living space with another person can be difficult. You appreciate order, your housemate tends toward chaos. You need calm to function at your best, your partner creates drama. To say nothing of the smaller moments that can begin to grate: You prefer falling asleep to music, your spouse needs quiet. You overheat toward the we hours of the morning, your bedmate runs cold and keeps pulling the covers up. You want TV shows with happy endings, your husband loves suspense laced with violence.
Over the years, you’re able to work out some of these differences. You buy a new bed that accommodates two blankets, one heavy and one light. You offer your husband one room in your house or apartment to absorb the clutter he creates. You agree that mornings are your time to meditate and move slowly, while early evenings, you are available for a bit of drama. But no matter how much you negotiate and even agree, certain old tensions persist and new ones arise.
If you asked your friends, “Do you have a good marriage?” most likely before attempting an answer, they would hesitate for a moment or two, wrinkle their foreheads and look off into the distance.
“Well,” they could respond, “It depends what you mean by ‘good marriage.’” Or they might say, “From certain perspectives yes, and others no.” Or, “Geez, that’s a difficult question!”
Assessing your own marriage is thorny. Do you use happiness as a criterion? What about the amount of tension? Or number of arguments in the previous several weeks? Or degree of intimacy.
And how many of us dare to draw global conclusions about our friends’ marriages? We might know these friends well, yet remain on the outside of their most intimate moments. We are wise enough not to try to know what is best for them. Or how they feel most deeply.
I am now one of the lucky few. Not that Stephen and I live without our tensions. Or that I could honestly tell you whether or not I have a good marriage. But last week a new acquaintance blessed my marriage so convincingly that whenever I feel the slightest bit annoyed with Stephen, I return to that moment, and feel flooded with happiness.
I’d heard about this person many times, but had never met her. Then we found ourselves at the same social event, in the same conversational circle. We talked about aging parents, grandchildren, my chic eyeglass frames—and then I slipped away to talk with someone else I knew. Later, when it was time to leave, I found Stephen talking to this same woman, whom he had already briefly encountered several times. I approached the two of them, took Stephen’s arm and smiled. “Oh, is he your husband?” the woman asked. And when I answered in the affirmative, she smiled broadly and her face lit up, as if a shaft of sunlight had just found her out.
“That makes me so happy,” she said, now grinning. “It really does.”
“Thank you so much,” I replied, feeling as if I had caught a thermal and were floating. At that moment, I felt an intense and intimate connection to this person I had just met. And ever since then, I find myself returning to that moment again and again and again. Five small words, “That makes me so happy,” have the power to jet me back onto that thermal and become aware of how bonded I feel to that woman, and to realize once again how much I love Stephen.