Why someone would ask such a presumptive question, I hadn’t a clue. We had met only once, at a gathering of host families for an exchange program. My instant response was, “Yes, if you mean one willing to do the work.” I looked around the table at the others who looked as surprised by the question as I. Then we all seemed to relax and begin to get to know one another.
There’s another beginning to this story. I received a call from the lady who would later ask that question. She suggested that my wife, Louisa, and I, and our house guest, join her and her house guest for dinner. The house guests were a part of the same exchange program, had met and become casual friends. The idea of a group dinner sounded appealing. So there’s the background of how and when the question came up. But why? Initially I thought she could had been told something about our relationship by her house guest or some other host in the program. I learned, during that dinner, that it had more to do with comparing our happiness, or the extent that she knew of it, to her former marriage about which she still carried a lot of anger. Since then I’ve given more thought to my immediate response and what I meant by it.
I believe that Louisa and I do work to make our relationship enjoyable. I’d like to think that most long-term relationships endure or flourish because people do the work. What I mean by doing the work is being flexible, understanding and willing to compromise about the challenges that arise when any two people live together. In our case, the length of time is ongoing, so we can choose, as a benchmark, when we began dating in May 3, 1981, or when we were married on June 18, 1983.
Our initial challenges included blending our families. On our wedding day, our children were ages 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Louisa has two sons by her previous marriage and I have two sons and a daughter by my previous marriage. I’ll add that my older son, who has since passed away, was severely restricted by Cerebral Palsy. I submit that his condition never challenged our relationship. What did add to our relationship challenges was moving from Virginia to Colorado with all five children, Louisa’s dog and cat three days after our wedding. That’s all been chronicled in detail, so say the least, in my book, “You Used To Live In My House.”
What are you willing to do to be happy with someone with whom you’ve chosen to ‘spend the rest of your life?’ That’s the real question, not whether you have the perfect marriage. Whatever the perfect marriage will look like will certainly be someone’s own perspective based on his/her value judgment, and almost as certainly, it will be a work in progress. As long as those involved see it as perfect, what better definition could there be?
People who know us usually see us as being happy with each other. We are. I’ve learned that many of them, who’ve read my book, were shocked to learn what we’ve gone through, compared to what they see as the relationship we now enjoy. Here’s my value judgment on that. Marriages and families are often treated like possessions that are (seemingly) easier to replace than to take the time or expense for preventive maintenance or repair.
Am I being hypocritical? I too had a previous marriage. I would submit that we didn’t “toss it” easily. I’ll admit too, that I could have work harder to make it better. Of the 18 years we were married, we lived together 14. The cumulative difference accounts for the times we separated and then resolved to make our marriage work, before seeing it finally ‘run out of gas.’ I’ve borrowed that phrase from a friend and I’ll not disclose his name for fear that I may owe him royalties for the number of times I’ve used it.
Louisa and I were separated for 8 months in 1991. I initiated it and we ended it. And I thank God that I returned home and that she welcomed me. I shudder to think about how close I came to throwing away what we now have. We were blessed with knowledgeable counselors and courses such as Couples in Communication. I believe that the type of communication needed for healthy relationships does not come easily to my gender; it certainly didn’t to me.
I know there are days when our marriage is perfect. That’s because we’re doing the work. For us “work” means being flexible, considerate, passionate, trusting and a host of other adjectives. Perfect or not, I do not question whether it is worth the work.
R. Perry Coons