By Genevieve A. Suzuki
Marriage is not for the weakhearted.
I know the last thing you think you’d hear from your local divorce attorney is how to stay married, but I think many of my colleagues and I have seen enough to be able to tell you what can help keep a marriage intact.
And although you’d think it’s counterintuitive to be selfish in a union of two people, one of the most important things you can do to enjoy your marriage is to advocate for your own needs.
I’m not talking about selfish desires like telling your partner, “Hey, I’d really like to sow my wild oats while being married to you” or “I would love for you to completely financially support me while I watch the latest season of whatever housewives is on TV” or even “You raise the kids while I hang out with my friends as though we’re in college.”
When I tell you to be your own advocate, I mean you need to tell your partner what you need to feel satisfied in your marriage.
The other day I was talking to a friend whose marriage was on shaky ground. He and his spouse had grown apart and he was starting to think about calling it quits. “We just like different things,” he said, talking about how he liked to focus on his career while his wife enjoyed going to movies. In the very next breath, however, he talked about how beautiful she was and showed me the latest photo.
I stared at him for a beat before chastising him. They had been married for 12 years and he was going to toss it to the side because they were doing different things? Was she disloyal to the marriage when she was going to movies? Was she dating someone else?
No, he admitted. “Neither of us has betrayed the other.”
Unacceptable, I told him. “You are clearly still in love with her. Make it work. Go to counseling.”
He worried his wife would wonder why he was willing to try now, after a year of squabbling.
I advised him to look into her eyes and tell her the truth: He had been talking to a divorce attorney when he realized he wasn’t going to give up. “Tell her that even the divorce attorney could see the truth; tell her, ‘I’m still in love with you.’”
He was struck by that; so simple to say, but still so hard to manage. It’s funny how, when we are first wooing each other in the beginning of a relationship, we are willing to take risks, but during a relationship we become too prideful to admit our vulnerabilities.
But that one simple admission may go a long way toward healing a rift caused by the refusal to engage in meaningful communication.
“While you’re at it,” I said, “plan to go to a movie with her next month. And then ask her to hang out with you on the Sunday you’re not working.”
My husband, Derek, and I have been married for 18 years. We both acknowledge marriage is work. Yes, you need to compromise with your spouse, but you also need to ask for things you want, otherwise you can easily get lost along the way.
It’s easy to accuse a person with “You never did this…” — it’s harder to answer the question, “But did you ask?”
For example, I have sat through, and will continue to sit through, LeBron James’ games, whether James is with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat or the Los Angeles Lakers. Derek in turn has endured my obsession with soap and lotion, sometimes taking us throughout the city on the hunt for a special brand.
There are times where we each groan through the various games and excursions, but for the most part it’s good for us. Among many things, I love my husband for knowing I’d like to visit the Fresh store while we are in Los Angeles and I’m sure he appreciates the tickets I bought him to see James play his first game as a Laker. It’s almost like Stockholm syndrome, except it comes with health benefits and being jointly tortured by our minor children.
This Valentine’s Day, take a few minutes to sit down with your loved one, spouse or significant other, and agree to devote time to each other’s needs. That fine balance between being selfish and selfless will prove worth it as your relationship grows and matures.
—Genevieve A. Suzuki is a local attorney who lives and works in La Mesa.
[Photo courtesy of www.canstockphoto.com]