Tina Karkera is a SheByShe guest blogger. In her post, below, she discusses how friendship, beyond love, can be an essential element in a happy marriage. Read more about how women feel about marriage in our SheByShe Marriage Today survey results here.
Growing up, I had what even I would call an unrealistic expectation of marriage. I expected that I would fall in love, get married, have a family, and live happily ever after, which is all fine. Except that I also expected that, for the rest of my life, the romance would be constant, like an ever present bouquet of roses (literally and figuratively).
But the reality is that romance can be fleeting. Many people feel that it is too easy to get married and even easier to get a divorce in this country and that, in part, is why marriage as an institution is weaker today than it was a generation or two ago. But the issue isn’t the accessibility of marriage or divorce. I wouldn’t want to live in a society where I’d have to jump through hoops to marry someone—it’s a shame that some people have to do that just to be with the one they love. Nor would I necessarily want it to be harder to leave someone, as there can be very legitimate reasons to get out of a relationship, especially violence. The issue is our expectations when we get married. We are a society of instant gratification: it’s why we love texting, and mobile banking, and 10-minute workouts, because we are short on time and want to see results immediately.
Marriage, on the other hand, is a long-term investment and we are a busy people. Women marry, but that’s only a small part of our active lives: we take care of our children, extended families, and our friends; we take care of the house and the pets; we have jobs; we work-out; we contribute to school bake-sales and the local library’s fundraising efforts; we donate our time and money to charity. Sometimes, the only way to get quality time with our spouses or families is to consciously schedule that into our calendars too. With such busy lives, it’s not surprising that marriage becomes the wallpaper of our lives, a backdrop to our hurriedness and exhaustion. We often forget to give it the attention and work it requires; we forget to check-in with our spouse about his or her day, about the challenges they faced that may be leading to their personal stresses, because we already have so much on our plates. And slowly the wallpaper starts to peel. With low energy levels and a long to-do list, sometimes conversations with spouses turn into arguments. For some people, then, it’s easier to just rip off the wallpaper. I mean, it’s just wallpaper, right? And the blame falls not on the exhaustion, the demanding lifestyle, but on the absence of love.
But is it really love that is missing? Over-scheduled lives may be unavoidable, especially if you have families and are an active member of your community. The key, I have found, is to like the person you are marrying. I mean, really like. I mean the this-is-the-person-I-would-choose-to-sit-and-talk-with-if-I-were-in-a-crowded-room kind of like. Because love is the air in a marriage, an unseen but essential element, something that helps a marriage survive. But what helps a marriage thrive is something more palpable, it’s friendship at its core. Don’t get me wrong; if you can have romance in your marriage consistently, more power to you (and please share your tips! J). But there is also romance beyond red roses and Hallmark cards. The happiest marriages I witnessed are those in which the spouses consistently make an effort to spend time together, even if that is simply grabbing coffee together in the morning or going to bed at the same time so you have a few minutes of pillow talk or scheduling a date night once every couple of months. They don’t just share a life together by living in the same space; they share their life experiences, even if it’s just through texts. Love grows more from these daily interactions that are not inherently romantic because they keep you connected to your spouse and, consequently, invested in your marriage.
At the end of the day, every family is busy and every marriage has its ups and downs. But if you marry someone with whom you share a connection deeper than just romance, it’ll be a stronger marriage. It won’t be just wallpaper, but the brick wall behind it, rock solid. So that when you go for days without a real conversation because you are both busied by children, work, and other responsibilities, and then you finally get a few seconds to catch your breath, you can share a laugh or an embrace that comforts you and reminds you that you are both in this together. Then together you can get back to the madness that is life.