(then comes growing the f**k up)
Filling out official documents, I used to wonder why marital status options were “single, married, widowed, or divorced.” Where was the committed relationship box? As a serial monogamist, I always felt dishonest putting a check next to “single.” But after being married a few years now, I completely understand.
I used to think professing my love on social media meant I was in a committed relationship. I thought splitting rent and grocery shopping together was being committed. There’s a long list of things that I confused with commitment, but they were really just involvement.
Yeah, before I got married, I was essentially a single person. Check.
When I was twelve years old, I asked Ana to be my girlfriend. She said yes! We hung out, held hands, walked around the neighborhood, watched movies, did a little snuggling, kissed a few times – my first committed relationship. It was amazing.
Then one day I was like “Ok, I’m done,” and dumped her – for no particular reason. She was crushed. I remember being completely surprised by how hard she took it. Obviously I had the emotional intelligence of a tarantula.
When I was twenty-nine years old, I asked Jessica to be my girlfriend. She said yes! Although it was slightly adultier than my first relationship, we did many of the same things together. What a magical time we had. I loved her. She loved me too. We were planning our future together. Then I dumped her.
Seventeen years later, I was still a damn tarantula.
Falling in love always came easily to me (see Falling in Love with Falling in Love). Emotional immaturity, low self-esteem, anxious attachment style – yeah, I could fall in love with literally anyone, at will. It was my superpower. The problem was, I didn’t have the skills to back it.
I used to do relationships like a bottle rocket – an impressive display of sparks and colorful excitement, an explosion in the sky for everyone to see, followed by nothing. Not a goddamn thing. Just a puff of smoke that would soon vanish in the breeze.
Eventually I realized that this was not a strategy for success. I was starting to recycle the same tired-ass excuses that even I wasn’t buying anymore. If finger-pointing became an Olympic sport, I could’ve made a career out of it, but I had no such luck.
After turning thirty, I remember thinking Oh dang, this is getting serious. If I wanted to be an adult, I would have to stop acting like a twelve-year-old. Who wants to marry a balding man-baby?
So I dove into therapy, started reading books on relationships, and joined some recovery groups. It felt like I was taking remedial classes for being human. Emotional immaturity had made such a mess of all my relationships. It was time to clean up the wreckage and change my ways.
A few years of consistent effort and dedication to no longer being a nomadic, emotional parasite allowed me to show up in a relationship with integrity. I had finally attained the prerequisites for an entry-level position in a truly committed partnership (see Relationships Are Not Hard).
Even still, I don’t think anything could’ve prepared me for the maturity requirements of marriage.
I didn’t marry my wife because I thought she was perfect or that life would be smooth sailing with her by my side. That’s delusional. I married her (among other reasons) because I knew that she knew we were both flawed, and she was willing to work together to make this marriage purr.
You see, I had never worked together with someone before. I was accustomed to making unilateral decisions about relationships. If an issue ever arose, I would retreat into my skull to discuss it with fear, shame, and resentment, then finalize my decision to do something selfish. It worked like a charm, zero percent of the time, and usually ended with me running away from the problem.
I had to learn to practice healthy communication to keep from burning my marriage to the ground.
During our first year as husband and wife, I noticed that we were drifting apart a bit emotionally. I came up with a suggestion that has worked out great for us. Every Sunday and Wednesday, like clockwork, my wife and I sit down (or go for a walk) to intentionally discuss our feelings. We talk about our marriage, personal challenges, fears, joys – anything. No hiding. Stuffing emotions is not allowed in our house – especially resentments.
Resentments are widow-makers. You’ve got to air those things out ASAP.
Compliance was another one of my immature relationship patterns. For years, I thought being compliant was kind, generous, and self-sacrificing. I would go along to get along – avoiding confrontation and uncomfortable conversations like the plague. I would do whatever she wanted me to do. Such a swell guy, huh?
What I was actually doing was emotionally abandoning myself and our relationship. By shrinking, complying, swallowing my opinions, not stating my wants and needs or sharing my preferences, I was doing a disappearing act in slow-motion. And one day she would wake up and I would be fucking gone – just like that.
That’s not how a healthy relationship works. You have to show up for it. All the way. Every day (see Vulnerability Is The Price Of Admission).
In other words, you have to be honest. At some point I realized that being a “nice guy” all the time was fundamentally dishonest. It’s like Jordan Peterson says, “When you have something to say, silence is a lie.” So not sharing your whole self with your partner is lying. And liars don’t get to have happy marriages. Not really.
So I have to be real with my wife – when it’s awkward, uncomfortable, or scary. Even when I know she’s not going to like it, then most especially I need to double down on courage and speak my truth. Authenticity is the window to the soul. And she can’t be my soulmate if I don’t give her the real me. She’ll be a roommate at best.
Not Running Away
The convenient thing about not being married is, if things aren’t going your way, you can just bounce and go find someone else to put up with your immature ass for a little while. I did this for years. But after I got married, I realized this option was no longer on the table.
I had to take off the running shoes and lace up my work boots.
I remember being frustrated with Rebecca one day, and the old impulse to run bubbled up. Then I thought, What the hell am I gonna do? Go find a different wife? The thought was so ridiculous, I actually laughed.
She wasn’t the problem. My inability to cope with not getting my way was the problem.
A bitter pill to swallow, but it was just the medicine I needed. Washed it down with a tall glass of grow the fuck up.
What I’ve found is that there is usually a win-win solution to any difficulty we face if we are willing to be humble, kind, and brave enough to sit down and talk it out like civilized people. Certainly sounds a hell of a lot easier than it actually is. But it’s definitely possible. You just gotta lead with love.
The thing that has kept either one of us from committing marital hari-kari is the understanding that we are both still learning. We are humble, and open to the possibility of being wrong. There is a mutual understanding that our intentions are always good, even though we may inadvertently do or say something hurtful from time to time. We are committed to learning, growing, and working together so our marriage doesn’t suck.
We both understand that, if we wanna stay married, we have to grow.