Recent Statistics Canada information indicates that marriages last an average of 13 years. Forty-one per cent of marriages in this country end in divorce. Undoubtedly the managing of stress plays a role.
When I started working at the Prairie Messenger in 1994, Russ and I had already beaten the average, having been married 15 years. At the time, I was 36 years old, mother to a four-year-old son, and daughters aged five, nine and 12. With my new job, a stressful and busy life was about to get more hectic.
We are called to vocations — careers in the arts, technology, trades — the list is as endless as there are people. To fulfil any vocation requires a great deal of study, hard work and ongoing practice. Marriage, a vocation within other vocations, also takes work, and for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, you are fortunate. Also, I don’t believe you.
On the surface, new love relationships seem easy. It’s exciting to be together. No problem. One can’t imagine the relationship ever changing. However, beyond the infatuation stage, what can be easy about two people from different family backgrounds, different unspoken expectations, sometimes different cultures and countries, getting together to live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, and form a harmonious bond intended to last a lifetime?
Relationships are always a work in progress, and ours was no different. When I married Russ, I knew him to be sensible, hard-working, not given to displays of emotion, and generally undemonstrative. I, however, craved attention, was often overwhelmed, depressed, and given to an unpredictable range of emotional outbursts.
Within the challenges we coped together as best as any two people could. But, six years into my job and 21 years into our marriage, conflicting expectations, lack of constructive communication, workplace demands, and my undiagnosed mental illness caused both of us to lose hope, and the will to work together. Our foundation gradually crumbled. Looking at the rubble, it seemed an insurmountable task to rebuild.
“Brick by brick, my citizens,” the Roman emperor Hadrian supposedly said while building the Roman Empire. He meant focusing on the small tasks rather than getting overwhelmed by how much was left.
Some couples choose to walk away from the mess because there is nothing left to salvage. For others, the fear of picking among the ruins for something worth saving is too frightening. And who is anyone to judge how people respond?
For us, not trying was too frightening, and we decided to rebuild, brick by brick.
In May my work here at the PM will come to an end, and in June I will turn 60. It seemed a good time for Russ and I to take a winter vacation. Our trip was a sort of “romantic getaway” — we hadn’t been on holiday together, without some sort of involvement with our children, for a few years.
The hotel where we stayed in Puerto Vallarta was adults-only. There were couples of all kinds — elderly couples, gay and lesbian couples, younger couples, one of which was expecting a baby, and couples who were obviously newlyweds.
I took note of one elderly husband who appeared fragile, and his wife was attentive by his side as they walked around the pool, or through the restaurant. Another couple, perhaps mid-70s, looked elegant, serene, and comfortable together.
On holiday, young couples tend to frolic, gaze into each other’s eyes and smile knowingly when one whispers into the other’s ear. The intimacy of one couple’s passionate energy was palpable, even from the vantage point of my pod-like cocoon by the pool. Not that I’m nosey. It’s just interesting to observe relationships at various stages.
Apparently we were also being observed. A couple we’d said hello to in passing over a few days came to visit us while we sat poolside. They made small talk for a few minutes, and then one of them said they were curious. They wanted to know if we were a “new love,” or if we were “long-term and had a good thing going.” They said they had noticed we talked a lot, and “obviously enjoy each other’s company,” which got them to wondering what the story was. Interesting they felt they could ask.
We were delighted. I told them we’d be celebrating our 39th anniversary this July.
There’s a sense of ease between two people who have been together a long time — especially if they like each other. Everybody talks about love, but like is part of the equation.
I wouldn’t have guessed the highlight of our romantic getaway would be that strangers observing from a distance would think our relationship was new. When you’re a pro, you can make it look easy.