It’s Not Hard and it’s Not Work
Today is our Silver Anniversary, 25 years. Yeah Us! So, I have been thinking a lot about marriage, relationships and what makes them last or at least what has made ours last. I consider myself extremely fortunate to share this life with Andrea. She is simply be best person I know, and I like to think I have become a better person because of her. I have learned so much from her about the joy of giving, kindness and compassion and will happily admit that she got the short end of the stick in this deal. I can be a bit rough around the edges, but with joyous effort, I try. Together we have travelled to many places around the world, created a home and raised a son, who we are very proud of and who is married to a wonderful young woman we think the world of. We have shared countless treasured moments of long walks on the beach or through a forest (yes this is something couples do and not simply a line in a personal ad), preparing meals, planning our next adventure and just living the day-to-day of a shared life. We hold so many wonderful memories, holidays with family, good times with great friends and those quiet moments alone sharing our thoughts and hearts. We have celebrated the joy of welcoming many nieces and nephews into this world as our extended family has grown. The grey in my beard testifies to the years, as does the fact that several of those nieces and nephews now have children of their own.
I took the advice of my spiritual teacher and friend, Geshe Tsulga, to heart when he said that I should always treat my spouse as the most honored guest to come into my home. Think about it. When you invite a guest into your home, even if it is someone you don’t care for, you always treat them with respect and kindness.
I would like to dispel one of today’s great myths about creating and maintaining a loving and happy marriage. It often comes from some grumpy old curmudgeons who are often not happy in their own marriage even though they have been together since the earth cooled. Folks like this seem to stay together more out of habit than love. I find it quite sad when a couple bases the success of their marriage on their years together rather than their love, which makes me wonder why anyone would heed their advice. So here it is, probably the worst piece of marital advice ever spoken, “Marriage is hard, it takes work to make it work.” This common refrain has been preached so often that people accept it as truth. The thing that troubles me most is it’s feels like an extremely negative way to approach marriage. It sounds more like a warning of doom and gloom and should be accompanied by one of those annoying weather-alert tones. It says you are joining into a union of drudgery and misery, but congratulations anyway. With words of wisdom like this it’s a wonder that anyone gets married at all.
Let’s look at this unhappy bit of misguided wisdom, breaking it into two parts beginning with, “Marriage is hard.” Everything in life is a choice and how we experience our life together is no different. Marriage is only hard if you both choose to make it and define it as such. There are a lot of things in life that we may think of as hard, like shooting a golf ball with your rifle at 300 yards, climbing a mountain, math and paying the bills. “Work”, the other part of this curmudgeonly gifted insight, is the hated word which refers to our daily grind, whether it be writing code, driving a trash truck, nursing, choose your job and its work. Work is the thing that comes around each Monday morning, unless you have some crazy shift. It is the dreaded daily commute, hard to get along with associates, clients and customers bringing with them all the tasks you don’t enjoy and often don’t care about. It is indeed a four-letter word. Even the best of jobs takes you away from the ones you love and time at the beach or whatever form of enjoyment you prefer. Many of us come to the conclusion early in life that work sucks. This is not a word that should be associated with marital bliss.
It has been my experience that if you want your marriage to be happy and successful, replacing the oh so negative advice with an upbeat and positive approach is a much better choice. Something realistic and achievable which you and your beloved would welcome into your world. Guidance that will inspire you to grow in your relationship and love. Try this. “A happy and healthy marriage takes joyous effort.”
One of the comments I have often heard from married couples, whether they have been together for only a few years or a lifetime, is about spark. “Oh, there is no spark between us.” Or “The spark is gone it if were ever really there.” My question to those making this complaint is, what are you doing to create spark? If you want spark in your marriage someone must light the match and that someone might as well be you. Don’t wait for your spouse to do it for you. Creating spark is a part of putting forth joyous effort. It is thoughtful and selfless giving. Your spouse will catch on and you will soon find yourself on the receiving end of these acts of love. To create spark you will find you don’t need fancy dinners and planned date nights. While these are not bad things, they will not make your heart go pitter-pat every time your love walks into the room. Try this. Look beyond what your partner is saying to what they are feeling and respond with loving kindness. “You look tired My Love. Why don’t you go relax in a hot bath and I’ll take care of the dishes.” It is so very easy and doesn’t cost a thing. Small acts of caring and love done consistently from the heart with joy, quickly become the norm. You will feel good about what you have done through this joyous effort and they will respond with appreciation. Spark!
If you are introducing joyous effort into a relationship where it has been absent it may take a little time for your loved one to recognize it as sincere. You must be consistent. Once the two of you make a habit of treating each other with respect and loving kindness you will take your relationship to levels you never dreamed of.
Coming from my 25 years of marriage and looking forward to many years ahead I can tell you from firsthand experience that joyous effort is what, to this day, creates spark in our marriage. Big nights out and expensive Valentines gifts may seem wonderful, but I wonder if they are truly an expression of love or are they an attempt to buy it? I have found these are not the things which makes a marriage sizzle through the years with joy and love. It is the thoughtful, from the heart, every day, often unexpected acts which create the magic. A spontaneous two-step around the kitchen will bring smiles and laughter.
Early on in our marriage I would keep a stack of small greeting cards on hand. They would often have a little message I wanted to share with her, while others simply had a picture which reminded me of us in some way. I might place one in her car, pocketbook, under her pillow, in the cupboard with the coffee or anywhere she would find it unexpectedly. There didn’t need to be a special occasion for these and we both enjoyed the random expression of love. When I traveled for work it was always nice to get to my hotel room and find in my bag a card saying she missed me. Andrea is very good about picking out a card that spoke to where we were in our life together. There were often heart shaped cutouts like the little candy hearts at Valentine’s Day with a message of “I love you”, “Hurry Home” or “I miss you”. Spark scattered throughout my bags! To this day we both have a box where we keep these little gifts from joyous effort.
I’m not a marriage councilor or therapist of any kind. I’m simply a guy who has been very happily married for a long time now. A guy who wishes that you might enjoy the same type of relationship and love that we have. We have not had to work at our relationship because it has always been a joyous effort. Yes, we have worked together as partners to build our home and our life. Yes, we have been through hard times, losing those we dearly loved unexpectedly, illness and have together faced the challenges of career, paying the bills and raising a child. Through all of the adversity and challenges we have faced I can, in all honesty, say that our relationship has never been hard. It has been one of joyous effort and has rewarded us with happiness, fulfillment and love.
I truly hope you have found a little spark of inspiration here and through joyous effort all of your dreams come true. If you have some examples of joyous effort and spark in your life please share it here for others to see. You may just light the spark of romance and happiness.
William C. Judge 2019