Excerpt from A Laughing Matter of Pain

December begins with a snowstorm. Business is bad for a whole week. The advantage to this? I spend more time with Kathy. In the small house, there’s not much room for privacy. Dawson and Betty are never more than a room away. The four of us play cards or listen to the evening radio programs. Betty never complains about jazz like Ma did, although Dawson usually nods off within ten minutes of the radio going on. Betty sits with a book in one of the armchairs near the window while her husband snores away in the other. Most evenings, Kathy and I sit on the couch, although sometimes we remain in the kitchen long after dinner, talking over coffee and one after another cigarette for me.

The second week of December, the weather breaks. Dawson and I work all day in the cold, my fingers numb by the time dinner comes. After another busy day, Kathy’s parents rest in their usual spots in the living room while Kathy and I sit at the kitchen table. The crackle of the fire and Dawson’s snores are the only sounds.

“Has your dad always slept like he could sleep through a war?” I ask.

Kathy giggles. “Yeah, it’s pretty bad sometimes. I don’t know how Mom sleeps in the same room as him. I don’t suppose you snore?”

I shrug. “I wouldn’t know. My brother and me shared a room growing up. He never said anything. Why? You afraid I’d keep you up?” Realizing what I’ve said, I blush.

“That would assume sleeping in the same bed as me.” Kathy half-smiles and wrinkles her nose at me.

“Well, maybe…one day? I mean, if we ever, you know, married.” My blush deepens, as I know I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Are you asking?”

“Just…dreaming. A guy can dream, can’t he?”

“Nothing wrong with dreams.” Kathy takes my hand across the table. “Dreams are what keep us going through the hard times…and hope.”

“I like the sound of that. I think so, too.” I stare into her eyes, imaging her beautiful soul. “Your eyes are the same color as mine.” If we ever had kids together, they’d be sure to have blue eyes.

“You have nice eyes, Harry. And a nice smile.”

“A crooked smile, more like. My brother, Erik, was graced with the good looks in my family.” I laugh.

“Hmm, well, I don’t know what your brother looks like, but I don’t mind looking at you.”

“I’d rather look at you if it’s all the same.” I grin.

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Staying in Love Long-term

I have been married for thirteen and a half years.  That may not seem like long to someone who’s been married many more years, but it’s not uncommon for someone to tell me that I’ve already stayed married longer than a lot of couples.  Reaching the ten year mark is quite the accomplishment, I guess!

Believe it or not, 2016 marked a low in divorce rates since the early 1980s, when it peaked.  While some 40-50% of marriages still result in divorce, there are still plenty of couples who have stayed together long term.  My own parents will be married 47 years in May.

Back to my own marriage for a minute… On my wedding day, I was only 23.  Part of the reception involved the wedding dance where couples who have been married the longest stay on the dance floor the longest.  My husband, Erik’s, great uncle and aunt had just celebrated 50 years in 2003.  I remember watching them as they held each other on that dance floor, the way they looked into each other’s eyes after so many years and were still as much in love as they were when they first met.  After the dance ended, we hugged them, and I told them that I hoped my marriage would be as blessed as theirs and would last as long as theirs.  They smiled and thanked us, saying that it wasn’t too roses and butterflies in those 50 years, but that yes, they were still in love.  Since that time, they have celebrated their 60th anniversary and are still alive at 63 years of marriage.

Wow.

Can you imagine?

So, how do couples like my husband’s great aunt and uncle do it?

It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

We just celebrated Valentine’s Day this month.  It’s sort of funny that we have to have a holiday to celebrate love or being in love, as if this weren’t something we should be celebrating every day.  I realize that Valentine’s Day isn’t just about romantic love, but this blog’s focus will be on that sort of love.

hearts

When I asked others how they stayed in love long-term, I received many answers.  There is not magical, one-size-fits-all solution.  Different strategies work for different couples.

Also, let me be clear that I am not limiting staying together as a couple to just marriages.  Whatever your opinion on marriage, on cohabitation, or on gay or straight couples, the purpose of this blog is to cover all couples and how they remain in love for the long haul.  At the end of the day, it is commitment that matters.  Plenty of people are married and unfaithful.  Commitment, I believe, is the cornerstone upon which you build your love and marriage.  Without a full “yes, I do” to the other person, how can anything else grow upon what would be an unstable foundation?

Falling in love is easy.  Staying in love is hard.  That requires a choice to be made on a daily, almost moment-by-moment, basis.  Sometimes words of affirmation can help remind us of our commitment.  By saying “I love you” often and meaning it, we are reminded of our love.  Saying what you love about the other person and being grateful for all that they do and who they are also goes a long way.  But words only go so far.

Physical touch is also important.  For all you might hear that physical intimacy isn’t as important as the emotional piece, this just isn’t true.  Holding hands, hugging, and kissing are great ways to express your love, but having sex regularly is vital to any committed relationship.  It shouldn’t be a chore.  It is one of the ways people experience love, so sex is crucial to staying in love.  A relationship that’s run dry will likely not have much sex in it.  Of course, I am not saying that sex alone is enough!  Sex between two people who love each other is love, not lust.

Also go on regular dates, at least once a season, but try for once a month!  It doesn’t have to cost a lot.  An hour away from the kids (if you have them) to walk on the beach is free.  Paying a sitter for a few hours is worth keeping your marriage or relationship healthy.  Dating isn’t just for people when they first meet.

Staying in love requires perseverance.  Life is full of ups and downs.  You’ve probably heard something akin to a marriage or a long-term relationship being like a marathon and not a sprint.  You are in this for the long haul, so there are going to be times when you will have to buckle in and hunker down, knowing that through good times and bad, your relationship is worth keeping alive.  This may mean giving space when it’s needed.  This could be appreciating the little things and remembering to express gratitude for them.  Most of all, being a constant support, your spouse’s or significant other’s best friend, is going to be an essential building block for your foundation as a couple.

Seeing things through together, no matter what the crisis, can make a marriage or relationship stronger.  Bad things are bound to happen.  How do we deal with them?  Alone and cowering in a corner?  Blaming the other person, holding a grudge, being angry and bitter?  Or standing as a united front?  The marriage or relationship as a whole is bigger than the parts.  Stronger together than apart.  You know the old saying: United we stand, divided we fall.

Communication, communication, communication.  Talk about it.  Don’t keep things to yourself or expect your mate to read your mind and/or know what you’re thinking.  Be honest but fair.  Know when to compromise, but don’t compromise your love.  Ask yourself if what’s bothering you is really worth potentially ending a marriage or long-term relationship.  If it’s because your man or woman doesn’t put their socks in the laundry and it annoys you, it’s not worth blowing up about.  While true that little things can add up to big things, be mindful for what the big things really are.  Abuse of any sort, infidelity, or addiction are not okay.  These are the big roadblocks to any marriage.

Nothing should ultimately come between two people who are in love.  There will always be new challenges just around the bend in the road of life, but together, you drive the bumps and turns.

I am sure most of the things I’ve said are common sense or things you have heard before.  There is nothing new about this list, but it’s good to be reminded sometimes.  The stress of life can lead a person to feeling alone, like no one understands what they’re going through, and they may start to pull away from their partner.  To the partner who needs to be the strong one during times like this, push through it.

It will hurt.  It won’t be easy.  But I guarantee you, it will be worth it.  Stay in love.

Like what you’ve read?  Want to read more?  Consider downloading the e-book or ordering a paper copy of my original book, Hannah’s Rainbow, available on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

This blog will be updated at the end of every month.  Stay tuned for March’s blog: having an attitude of gratitude!

04/07/17 update: My apologies for no blog in the month of March.  Life happens, but in the month of April, I will be reblogging two previous autism-related posts due to April being Autism Awareness Month, and I will also be writing a new blog post by the end of April related to autism.  Stay tuned for a future blog post on the topic of having an attitude of gratitude!