By: Frank Schaeffer
To love takes courage. Falling in love is easy. Staying in love is hard.
Whoever said anything worth doing is easy? Most of us know that it takes failure and heartbreak to do anything and do it well. So how come we rarely admit that building good relationships—ones that thrive and pass the test of time—involve struggle too?
My wife, Genie and I have been together fifty-one years and are sometimes asked how our marriage works and how we are (as they put it) “still happy.”
We’ve learned a few things. For instance, that you can’t change another person but if you love them, you can slowly change yourself for them. And if the person you commit to loves you back, they will reward you by making some changes too. It’s called growing together instead of apart. And this takes time and is hard to do
Here are 4 tips for a happy marriage:
Do the “small things” well
Here’s one reason Genie and I are happy together: I do the dishes. Don’t laugh, it’s the small stuff that adds up.
I happen to wake up at 3 A.M. to write each day. Genie wakes at about 6 A.M. Most mornings when Genie wakes up, last nights’ dishes are done and the kitchen has been cleaned. Why? Did she give me some speech about “shared housework?” Never. But when I make my 5 A.M. second cup of coffee, I take a break from my Big Fancy Self-Important Writing Career and clean the kitchen. Why? BECAUSE I LOVE GENIE.
Love is also the only “reason” that Genie vacuums our house. It’s why I do the cooking seven days a week and Genie stacks four cords of firewood every fall for our wood-burning stove. This is not complicated. Genie is happier walking into a clean kitchen. I write better knowing while I do my “important” work that the kitchen sparkles and Genie’s day is starting with her feeling loved. And Genie knows I am happier because I don’t have to do all the heavy lifting on our property because she stacks truckloads of firewood. Result? We both feel cared for—because we are. Duh!
Moral of the story: Go out of your way to be kind and never take any “ordinary” action for granted.
Good sex is the glue that binds a long loving relationship together
Good sex (to me anyway) is the opposite of those clichéd first-encounter sex scenes where lovers are hoisted onto tables or slammed against walls and clothes are ripped off “passionately.” Great sex is relaxed, happy, and friendly, feels safe and is built on learning what another person loves to do, feel, and be. It’s not about how to become some sort of generic “great lover” but about discovering what another person likes best and what you like best. And those likes and dislikes change.
Or put it this way: Good sex is something like cooking. For instance, I cook every day but most of the time (now that the kids are grown) in the evenings I have only one “client.” Just cooking isn’t the point—Genie is. I am cooking for Genie. I never enjoy food so much alone or with anyone else as I enjoy it when I’m watching Genie relish the tastes and textures of what I’ve made for her. I’m not just a good cook, I’m a good cook for one person because I really know her and what she likes.
Fight for your relationship
If you’ve been together for a longish time and hit a bad patch lasting days, months, or even years, work through it. And NO—I am not urging anyone to put up with physical abuse. That said the person who has been with you all those years knows you. To be known is a gift. They don’t have to have everything explained—again. They were there. Fight for your relationship.
Do not listen to all the idiots who ask you if you are tired of being with one person. If you love the person you are with—and stay together for a longish time and have worked to “produce” a romantic movie out of your lives—you will not run out of interest in each other. That is because no person is static. Their story is unfolding.
The seventy-year-old lover I’m with today is not the teen I met fifty-two years ago. She’s not the twenty-something young mother. She’s not the forty-something young grandmother. She’s an altogether different person now. And since I’ve been with her every step of the way, I have had a privileged ringside seat seeing the ongoing creation of a fabulous being.
I know one person well. And she has become the luminous lens through which I see all other people and their lives, loves and losses. What do I have in common with all these people? Rich or poor, young or old—if anything awful were to happen to the one we love, the universe as we know it would end. We understand each other. To love deeply is to fear loss. As I said before, to love takes courage.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Frank Schaeffer is a New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen fiction and nonfiction books, including Crazy for God and Keeping Faith: A Father Son Story about Love and the United States Marine Corps. Frank’s three semi-biographical novels about growing up in a fundamentalist mission, Portofino, Zermatt and Saving Grandma, have a worldwide following and have been translated into nine languages.
In his new book, Fall in Love, Have Children, Stay Put, Save the Planet, Be Happy, Frank offers a passionate political, social, and lifestyle “blueprint” for changes that millions of us know are needed to rebalance our work lives with thriving relationships.
Visit his website at: lovechildrenplanet.com.