I talk with my friends about marriage and relationships ALL the time. Whether discussing my own marriage, the dating life of friends or the up and down relationships of celebrities in a world far, far away, I definitely feel like it’s a topic we can all speak endlessly about.
As a young Gen-Y woman who married at a very early age (I wrote a somewhat controversial blog about that here) I’m often asked for my opinions about marriage: how I knew Navin was the one, why I decided to commit when I so young, and didn’t I want time to explore myself in my 20s etc, etc. There was one question that struck me recently though because my answer caught even me a little off guard.
“Caitlin, how do you know your marriage is going to work?”
Though the romantic in me wanted to reply “I just know” or “Because he’s the one”, I knew that definitely wasn’t the truth!
But instead it came out a little like this: “To be honest with you, I really don’t. But I actively work to love Navin every day.”
Sadly, I think it’s pretty clear with today’s divorce rates that making a marriage commitment is no sure fire way to guarantee things will always work out. Yet for some reason we all enter into relationships with complete confidence and belief that they will. Why? Because we believe, perhaps through the narrative that is weaved through many movies, books, songs and our own worlds around us, that when you enter into a marriage it will always work out, and if you love someone enough and you’ve picked the right person it’ll be super easy to reach your 50th wedding anniversary one day.
Unfortunately love the emotion and love the action are two very different things!
If I’ve learnt anything in the last three years of marriage, whilst of coursing hoping, praying and trusting that it will work out, it’s that time and time again I have to choose to love Navin and work at that every day. An active decision that without our commitment easily starts to create holes in a good relationship. Actively loving someone definitely isn’t easy, but I believe it’s an attitude that can build a marriage that lasts.
I’ve found two really practical tips that have helped me make this decision as I wake up in the morning and as I go to sleep at night. Though sometimes I’m infuriated by something Navin has done, and others completely ashamed by what I’ve done myself, these tips help me to love him and our marriage, no matter what the circumstances. These tips don’t just apply to marriages either – if I took the time to apply these to my friendships I know my relationships would be a lot healthier!
1. Get to know your love language.
Before you continue – do the quiz right now! (or just to get a refresher on the five languages!)
The 5 Love Languages is a book that has completely transformed the way I interact and relate to every close relationship in my life, but especially my marriage. In his book, author Gary Chapman describes five ways that humans like to be loved and show love in return. Of course, we’re all different and we walk around showing love in a way that feels real to us, while expecting to receive love in exactly the same way.
No surprises here, Navin and I are completely opposite in our love languages. My primary love language is Words of Affirmation and secondary is Quality Time whilst his primary love language is Acts of Service and secondary is Touch. (Poor Gifts misses the boat in our relationship… though I definitely don’t mind the surprise token of love through a gift!!) Before I considered what Navin’s love languages were, I would write him long letters, and beg for time where we could sit together and chat. These things made me feel really good, especially when he returned the favour by writing me cards or poems, but unfortunately he wasn’t really feeling the love. You see Navin would feel great if I cooked him a meal, washed the dishes or simply stopped what I was doing to give him a hug and a kiss when he came home from work. Equally, he was doing chores and holding my hand thinking that these things would make me feel loved but I was just begging for some words of affirmation!!
Because we’re aware of each others unique ways of expressing and receiving love, we’ve gotten a lot better at meeting each other in the middle and trying to show love in all four areas. Whilst writing a card might come more naturally to me, I actively choose to engage in things that make Navin feel loved in the way he receives it best… and he’s started planning the birthday CARD before even thinking about the present! By choosing to love each other in this way we’re building a foundation that will continue to grow and support our marriage.
2. Improve your “I’m sorry vs. It was your fault” ratio.
If you know me or have been a reader of my blog for a while you will have picked up that I’m a pretty proud person. I like to be right even when I’m probably wrong. Unfortunately for Navin I have a freakishly good memory so can generally remember key comments in previous discussions or arguments and use this to my advantage in future disagreements. Not only is this nasty and manipulative but instead of choosing to love Navin by admitting blame and apologising (even if I mightn’t believe I’m wrong!) I’m pointing the finger at him and making him feel unloved. Don’t learn this in a sense that allows you to be walked all over, but if both people in a relationship are actively choosing to love their partner by using the “I’m sorry” card a lot more than the “but it’s your fault or you’re wrong” card it goes a long way in building and sustaining a marriage or relationship that lasts.
There’s a reason this final scene in The Notebook resonates with me so much. Noah (Ryan Gosling) is spot on – you will have to work at it every day and relationships are REALLY hard. While I can’t 100% guarantee our marriage will last forever, I can definitely trust in my own decision (and hopefully the same for Navin!) to keep working to love him especially through the hardest days.
What’s your love language? I’d love to hear in the comments below! Do you have a story about feeling loved because someone “spoke” to you in your particular language?