When we think about a happy marriage we often think it’s a matter of simple compatibility—and let’s just say it—good luck. On the flip side, we’re constantly being told that “marriage is hard work,” and in our popular culture, we’re barraged with articles with titles like, “10 tips to heighten your love/sex/communication in marriage,” as if those tips could right a sinking ship or a distancing stance between us.
But the path to a happy marriage is neither. It’s not good luck that allows us to get along, grow close, and have a good time together. It’s also not hard work and constant focus on “processing” that makes us deepen our experience together. What it is—and here’s the magic word—is willingness.
First, it’s willingness to include our partner’s point of view and experience, and willingness to use that information to create something that works with both of our needs included.
I remember when I was 17, when my parents were in the midst of a messy divorce, and there were lots of conversations about who should have been doing what and who wasn’t, and what was right and what was wrong. And that got my parents nowhere. Later, in my own love life, the same thing was true: when I stood on the sidelines of my relationship with my own private army (think: “My girlfriends say you’re just not trying hard enough!” and, “Well, no other woman has ever complained about that before, so why are you complaining?”), what I got was more distance.
I didn’t understand that the truth about love—regardless of engrained gender expectations, prejudice about who should do what when, and how things “ought to be” based on our own viewpoint and biases—is that it requires two people to build a road in the middle or not. Meaning, there are no guideposts in marriage, really. There’s only me and you, and we either craft a road together in the middle or we don’t. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or what everyone else has done. We have to craft marriage, ourselves, from our own mutual values and created agreement.
And that takes willingness.
That doesn’t mean we can’t get some help or pick up some good ideas along the way. That’s what my new book Naked Marriage is all about—present-moment tips that allow us to try a few simple things that can deepen our intimacy—without having to dig up the past.
The good news is, building a happy marriage doesn’t have to be grueling, hard work. When we come from the heart, tell our own truth about what we’re experiencing and what we can handle and not handle (without taking our partner’s inventory), we’re in a genuine position to hear, and listen, and share, and craft something that works for us both.
When we hold willingness as the key to partnering, we can stand up strongly on the road that we’re building together, offer our arm to our partner, and walk ahead together. And that’s the way lovers were meant to walk: arm in arm, hearts open, moving sweetly into life as the closest of partners.