I am blessed to be in a happy marriage. My husband Thor and I share delight and trust in each other. But my life hasn’t always been this way: I’m a survivor of two divorces, many more break-ups, and staggering amounts of emotional pain.
I notice that things can change. Specifically, people can change. We can grow, and make better choices. Here are some of the guiding principles of my and Thor’s happy marriage:
- Shared values. We cultivate good values, like Stephen Covey writes about: being of service to each other; keeping commitments; being strong in hard moments; attending to our elderly parents. (It wouldn’t work, for instance, if we both valued drugs, selfishness and laziness.)
- Shared mission in the world. In my marriage, this takes the shape of addressing global warming and carbon footprints. Other couples’ missions are quite different, but the principle is that marriage or relationship stands for something beyond itself, and is contributing to the greater good. For two people to focus only on each other after the early blush of romance would be unhealthy. Which ties in to the next thing.
- Many friends besides my spouse. Get-togethers with my girlfriends are so emotionally nurturing to me that I typically return home to Thor and shower him with hugs and kisses. It would be cruel to expect Thor to meet all my emotional needs. Rather, my needs get spread around to a whole friendship-community. For his part, Thor goes to a men’s group twice a month — and returns home calm, happy and loving.
- Intentional, loving sexuality Our sexuality, unlike our emotional lives, lands exclusively with each other. We set aside time every weekend to make love, because weekends are when we are rested, not rushed, and are lively and playful. (Or sultry and steamy.) I’ll add that the silly modern notion that good sex has to involve flawless, beautiful bodies is completely mistaken, in my experience. Loving, respectful behavior and being physically active with walking, bicycling, etc. are our aphrodisiacs.
- Intentional, responsible finances Like a good sex life, our healthy finances happen through ongoing intention, not by default or accident. We have and use a spending plan that includes saving and investing for the future. We talk about money openly and frequently, and always are clear on who is responsible for what tasks.
- Hands-on help The American principle of doing everything yourself is, in my experience, exhausting. I love help, and am never too proud to ask for help. I’ve even developed the skill of warmly supervising people who give me ongoing help. We have a pleasant young housemate, Scott, who works in exchange for rent, handling most housework and gardening and small repairs. Two high-powered careers under one roof would leave us highly stressed and with little time for each other without this kind of help. The barter, no-cash nature of it supports our and Scott’s finances, too.
These principles support true quality of life, I think, whether you’re seeking a happy marriage or a happy life as a single or ‘partnered’ person. I’ve often marveled at how different my relationship with Thor is than anything in my past. I really love this about being human: we have the power to change.