Dr. Romance: It’s a Dirty Job
Dr. Romance writes:
Richard and I have been married since 1982 It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s definitely been worth it. In the first year of our marriage, after a difficult struggle between us, I gave my husband a card. On the front it said, "I love you", many times, and inside it said, "It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it." That phrase has carried us through many difficult times since. We have kept our love alive, and the joy of this relationship carries us through the rest of life.
I read many articles about what happens after the passion dies in long-term relationships, and my clients frequently are worried about the same question. I believe what happens, when all goes
well, is that a sense of humor sets in.
The burden of passion can be a heavy one. Having to rev up the energy for a passionate, heavy-breathing session making love after a hard day's work can be an appalling prospect. How much more inviting it is to be able to have a silly giggle session, complete with sexual play, with the dearest person I know. Suddenly, the heaviness and obligation are gone, and if I'm too tired to be passionate and alluring, I always seem to have the energy to mess around .
Arguments are hard to have with a lovable three- year -old, which is what Richard can become at the drop of an accusation. He puts his hands on his hips, sticks out his chin, and (in a perfect imitation of a kid mimicking an angry parent) says, "Who did that?" He then points his finger at whatever offense (a messy table, a forgotten chore, lights left on) I've lost my sense of humor about. Watching him, I can't hang on to my anger. After we laugh, then we can do something constructive about the problem.
Please understand that I'm speaking of humor, not irresponsibility. We are both adults with successful businesses, and we have an equal, relatively balanced relationship. We hashed that out many years ago. We get angry with each other mostly out of irritability, exhaustion and frustration with our heavy schedules - not because either one of us is slacking off. Things don't get done at times because we have hectic lives, and hectic lives benefit greatly from a sense of humor.
I guess it takes a certain amount of self-acceptance to create healthy humor, rather than the hurtful kind; but then again, this loving, shared laughter has also enhanced my degree of self- acceptance. The paradox seems to be that having permission for child-like play also gives permission to be responsible and self-accepting. We don't make nasty jokes about each other and our love, and I don't exactly know how to express the difference. What I do know is we laugh together, and it feels good.
We have been together more than a quarter century. We could still grow apart, but I don't think so. This is my second marriage, and the first long term relationship where I don't feel in danger of being bored. I seem to easily run out of tilings to be passionate about, or dramatic about, but laughter never gets boring. It's also difficult to store up resentments against the person in my life who makes it easiest for me to laugh.
I find myself looking for ways to make Richard laugh; and over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. He knows my laugh buttons better, too. Could he be looking for them? I wouldn't be surprised.
So, rather than treasuring old grudges, old hurts, we treasure old jokes and funny lines. I know I can turn to Richard and say it's a dirty job ... and get an answering smile. I also know he understands when I say that phrase, that I love him, “warts and all" It's a good feeling.
There are times when an overwhelming feeling of warmth and caring flows over me, and many of those times are when I laugh with Richard. Humor seems to be the secret, at least for us, in both keeping our love fresh and alive, and in feeling confident that we will not lose our specialness to each other.
The more we learn about living together, The less we struggle, and the less we struggle, the more we laugh and play. One of things I have learned as a therapist, is that struggle is often used by families to structure time. As a partner in this relationship, I have learned that replacing the drama of struggle with the delight of humor can be a positive addiction; and a powerful solution for what to do with our time together.
The net result of all this is that I have become an advocate of the silly solution , and it is working better than all the seriousness I used to think my relationships required. There is a blessing in the joy of shared laughter.
Here are three ways to help your relationship become a blessing:
1. Have a weekly State of the Union discussion.
This is not an argument or complaint session, it’s an opportunity to update each other on how things are going between you. I recommend it because couples often tend to avoid talking about what’s going on until a problem is created. If you keep each other informed of both the good things and the problems on a regular basis, nothing will get out of hand or become too dramatic to solve easily. This works every time with every couple in counseling with me who are willing to do it.
2. Express Love, Kindness and Sweetness.
The relationships depicted in the media (and probably your own parents’ relationship) do not model kind, loving and considerate behavior very well. Although the press may be bored by politeness, kindness and happiness, those traits will make your partner and your relationship flourish and blossom. Consider kindness to be the lubricant of your communication; and expressing love to be the fertilizer that makes the relationship bloom.
3. Show caring for yourself and your partner.
Guard against sacrificing too much by making sure you care about yourself, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. Guard against narcissism and selfishness by caring about your partner in the same four areas. Achieving balance in these areas is the best way to ensure that your relationship will thrive, and no one will carry too much resentment, which is the only emotion that can destroy love.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.