A wise girlfriend and I had an interesting talk over lunch the other day, musing over the state of marital affairs in contemporary American society, and even within our own circle of friends. We were sorry to reflect on the increasing number of marriages that have fallen, or are falling, apart in our midst, but empathetic because we understand just how difficult marriage can be/is (none exempted). If you’re married and have lived in this world long enough, without blind eyes or a snooty, judging heart, to experience or at least learn from others’ experiences, there should be no room, desire or naïveté left for judging others’ marriages or marital status. Marriage is just…hard. Period. And if any married person says differently, frankly, I don’t believe him. (Just ask his wife [husband], haha.) (And if she [he] genuinely agrees with him, I eat my words and say, “Marriage on, supernatural couple, with my blessing and admiration! Oh, and share some tips, would ‘ya?”)
Where was I? Anyways, Friend wasn’t judgmental either, with respect to our friends’ past or pending divorces. But she did lament the fact that we’re no longer shocked/surprised when friends and acquaintances split. You see, as Korean Christians, we come from two cultures that historically had, and may still (depending on which set of statistics you’re looking at) have, a lower divorce rate. Now I’m not an advocate of staying miserably and insufferably married just because you’re Korean (and it might “shame” your family, honor or people to do otherwise; the stigma, if it still exists, is exaggerated and inconsequential bollocks in the bigger scheme of things) or just because you’re Christian (for being a Christian certainly doesn’t make marriage any easier or simpler). But I look around and indeed, things have changed and divorce is becoming increasingly common in our close and immediate communities. And I can’t help wondering — is it because our generation is more liberated, vulnerable and honest with ourselves (about the state of our marriages and what we can handle) so we choose “keepin’ it real” over the martyrdom of older generations? Or is it because we are actually more fragile, disillusioned, uncertain, and less patient or tolerant than our predecessors? I honestly don’t know. Granted, the “why” is unique for each couple. (And don’t judge, for unless you’re one of the two people in a particular marriage, you really don’t know what it’s like to be in that marriage. Nor can others fully grasp all the ins-and-outs of your marriage from your perspective and experience.)
Friend explained, “I always say, ‘What you want is not necessarily what you need in a partner.'” She shared that the thing that won her over about her husband before marriage — his kind, humble goodness and generosity of spirit — later became the thing that bothered her most. Where was his ambition, his drive, his initiative? But the latter were things she wanted, not what she needed. She, a fiery go-getter (not unlike myself), needs a kind, humble, good, generous-spirited man. Not that she’s not kind, humble and good herself (for she’s quite impressively so), but in many ways, they temper, or balance out, one another.
Similarly, when we were dating, I loved that DH was so easy-going, game for pretty much anything I wanted to do and anywhere I wanted to go. So we didn’t go to a movie together until about five months into dating; rather, we hiked, played tennis, bowled, roller-bladed on the beach, river-rafted, karaoked, went out with friends, traveled… It was awesome. And then we got married, and reality kicked in. We worked most of the day, commuted much longer distances than when we were dating (i.e., came home cranky after fighting extensive traffic), and literally and figuratively stopped dating. It sucked. I felt as if I’d been duped. I had thought he was so exciting and adventurous and fun. Slowly, it started dawning on me that he was simply, as I said earlier, easy-going and game for whatever I initiated. So if I didn’t initiate, we likely weren’t going anywhere or doing anything, and I was just realizing that for the first time.
But here’s the thing, folks, there is a (negative) flip-side to each one of our qualities, just as there is a (positive) flip-side to each of our negative traits. DH’s eyes and mine were first opened to this concept in some very constructive marriage counseling years ago. For instance, depending on your perspective:
“selfish” can foster great drive and ambition, and “ambitious” can also mean self-centered and incompatible with quality marriage/family time;
“generous” or “selfless” can sometimes translate into a martyr-like pushover, or “self-sacrificing” can seem chivalrous and loving in an amazing, unconditional way; and
the “laid-back” may not do much initiating but they’re usually also undemanding and flexible in a refreshing way. And so on and so on.
In other words, it really does depend on how you choose to look at a person’s traits, and whether you’re willing to take the bad with the good. So as much as I complain(ed) that DH doesn’t do enough initiating, I know that he and his personality are exactly what I need. (Don’t get me wrong; he pretty much makes all the big decisions and calls all the big shots in our life together, which I appreciate, trust and admire.) But if I had married someone more like myself — i.e., with heightened emotions, a short fuse, boundless energy, (unnecessarily) endless to-do lists and need for busy-ness, and a (let’s be honest) somewhat demanding personality, I’m not sure how we’d make it through this life together. So today, DH and I are fairly cozy and content with each other and our lives. Now I say, “DH grounds me. If I didn’t have him, I’d be a hot mess with no anchor.” And DH says, “Anita makes my life interesting. If I didn’t have her, life would be dull and monotonous.” From what I can discern, we’ve accepted (or surrendered) the things that we can’t change and haven’t given up hope on the things that we can.