The Art of Turning Toward Your Spouse
Think back to what caught your eye about your spouse. Chances are, if you are like the many couples I’ve interviewed over the years, it had to do with something that no longer exists in your relationship.
For instance, maybe you fell in love with the way your spouse looked.
Looks change. Abdomens expand. Breasts sag. Faces wrinkle. Muscles shrivel. Hair disappears from the right places and starts growing in all the wrong ones.
Or maybe you fell in love with that elusive and hard-to-pin-down thing known as chemistry.
Chemistry changes, too. It changes when the wild “in love” brain chemicals settle down, allowing you to think straight and remain gainfully employed. It changes during and after pregnancy and during and after male and female menopause, too.
Or maybe you fell in love with excitement.
Yes, even that fades. It can fade slowly over time, as you both focus on your careers or it can fade in just one day when one of you pushes a very loud, needy and nocturnal family member into the world.
Maybe you married because your spouse was the only person who took an interest in you.
Being the center of someone’s world changes, too. Eventually someone —a baby, an aging parent, a child with special needs — will displace you.
Or perhaps you feel in love with like interests. Those too fall away. If you run together, one of you might get sidelined with a knee injury. If you play chess, there’s dementia. If you play cards, chances are one of you will develop arthritic fingers.
With aging, the superficial reasons for staying together are stripped away much like oversized toiletry items during in an airport security scan. One day you have everything you need. The next you’re wondering what you are doing traveling with this slow-walking, half-blind dolt who can never remember in which bag she’s stashed the jumbo-sized bottle of sunscreen.
And this is what makes life so beautifully and wonderfully tragic because it’s only once the superficial reasons for marrying are gone that you’ll discover all of the reasons for staying together.
If your relationship is weak, aging can cause you one day declare that you have nothing in common, that your relationship is dead, that you were never truly in love, that your spouse has changed, that you’ve changed or that so many things have changed that you don’t know who you are or what love is anymore.
If your relationship is strong, though, your love will spread like dandelions on an abandoned residential lawn.
That’s because, as life gets harder— and life will get harder— you’ll turn toward each other rather than away.
You might lose your beloved red Doberman, and when you start sobbing about it in the middle of a restaurant, your spouse will turn toward. He’ll order an iced tea for you, because he knows, without asking, that’s what you always order. When you smile through the tears, he’ll know you can’t thank him out loud because any attempt to talk will cause your voice sound like Ariana Grande after she’s inhaled 10 helium balloons and you hate when your voice sounds like that. So you will sit in silence and, through the silence, your love will flourish. Then, perhaps a year later, you’ll both look back on that day with fondness, and your love will grow still some more.
Or this turning toward might happen one day when you throw out your back. As you rest on all fours in the middle of your half cut lawn, your spouse might say, “You know that massage gift certificate you gave me for Mother’s Day? I’d like you to have it.” That’s when you’ll know she really loves you. She was really looking forward to getting that massage, after all. And your spouse will know you love her when you say, “No, I’ll be okay. That was a gift for you.” And, just like that, your back might be weaker, but your love is so much stronger.
Over the years you’ll turn toward each other countless times. You’ll do it through hardship and mental turmoil, through financial stress and disappointments, too.
It won’t always be easy. Sometimes it will require a great amount of courage. There will be times when, to turn toward, you have to admit weakness or be vulnerable or patient or just not something you ever would otherwise choose to be.
This turning toward won’t always be fair. For the love of your spouse, you might put in much more than 50 percent.
Maybe it’s more like 70.
Or, if your spouse is dying from cancer, it might be 100.
But you will do it, and you will keep doing it because you know that the alternative — turning away — isn’t an option. And neither is the easy life. On your wedding day — when you were both young, gainfully employed, pain free, and without any sense of loss —you had no idea that life could ever be so hard. But now it is.
So you turn toward and, with every hard and painful loss, you gain something precious: each other.
When do you turn toward your spouse? Or away? How do you stay strong when life leaves you weak? If you are reading by email and wish to leave a comment, don’t forget to click through to the blog.