Three Little Words

Alan and I celebrated our anniversary last week.

Actually, our anniversary was on Saturday and we celebrated on Tuesday because one of the things I’ve learned about maintaining a long, happy marriage is that it’s good to be flexible with the dates. One particularly trying year, we didn’t get out to dinner till November.

We don’t actually feel like we’ve been married a long time, certainly not as long a time as thirty-two years sounds, but if I could locate our marriage certificate and check the date, there it would be: The Dawn of Time.

Once you hit a certain amount of time together, people start asking what your secret is. I was shocked the first time it happened. I mean, marital longevity is what our parents had. We’re just getting warmed up here! But the question keeps being asked, so here goes.

Outside of sheer, dumb luck, (and the importance of this must not be underestimated in the pursuit of a happy marriage. We’re not the only ones who think so. Other couples, who have been married even longer than us report the same thing, but how the hell do you use that to sell books or weekend retreats?) the next thing is frequent deployment of three little words.

I know what you’re thinking. And, yes, ‘I love you’ is a great way to get the ball rolling and is really lovely to hear on a daily basis. But the three little words that have kept this boat in the water all these years are ‘Let’s try again.’

“I’m sorry I shouted at you when I was hungry and you were asking so many questions. But here’s a bunch of snacks you can chuck at me next time it happens. Let’s try again.”

“That didn’t go quite the way I planned. I’ll clean up the mess. Let’s try again.”

“Holy crap. I can’t believe I did that! Are you OK???? Let’s try again.”

“I’m sorry I forgot your birthday, but look! I’ve entered it into my calendar for the next hundred and fifty years, just in case, so, please, let’s try again.”

Saying any of these while also brandishing a drippy bouquet of flowers or opening a bottle of wine gives them a little more oomph, experience has taught.

These three little words acknowledge that none of us is perfect and that marriage, or, really, any relationship is an on-going series of attempts, many of which fail badly. The cake that falls, the investment that tanks, the career that actually makes you sick. It shouldn’t impinge on your life, but we’re in this together, so what affects me affects you, so let’s try again.

If you spend any time on Pinterest or Facebook, you can see some truly terrible relationship advice. There is the expectation that we will all always be on our best behaviour and photo-ready for the one we truly love. And if we’re not, then that love is suspect. We are led to believe that betrayals, hurts and farting in front of each other spells the end of the romance and mean that the relationship is irretrievably dead.

But my experience has been that the good stuff begins to happen once you’ve got a few hurts and betrayals  (and, let’s face it, farts) behind you, once you’ve seen each other through some really awful times. There’s nothing at all romantic about going through a stomach bug together. Especially when it’s also Christmas. But if you can laugh at the worst of it, fetch each other glasses of water and give each other back rubs when you’re able to stand physical contact again, it helps. Understanding that every single person on earth has succumbed to something like this at one time or another is also good.

Living through a renovation while simultaneously launching a business and trying to start a family? Marital gold! There’s a reason I’m not including a photo with this post…

Knowing that you can make mistakes, from accidentally mowing the hostas to being completely unbearable in the morning rush  and still be loved gives life a security that the more camera-ready moments will never have.

Depression is not a pretty disease to live with. And there are times (so many) when I wish that Alan had never seen me in the throes of it. But what could possibly be sweeter than someone seeing you at your absolute worst and still wanting to be with you?

So if your relationships are less than Pinterest-worthy but you still want to spend time with each other, you’re doing it right.

When Alan and I were living with my Mum, I would help her get ready for bed at night. It was a reversal of my childhood, when she’d help my into my jammies, hear my nightly prayers and tuck me in.

I’d rub lotion on her back before helping her on with her nightie and we’d talk about the day. Some nights we’d be able to add it up and agree. “Today was a good day.” But her health was failing, her mobility was diminishing with each passing day, we were all grieving my Dad. Many days were just plain bad. I would help her in to bed, take hold of her hand, we’d apologize for harsh words and I would say, “Try again tomorrow?”

“OK,” she’d say, as I turned out the light and tiptoed away.

As a prayer, I think it’s hard to beat.

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