I don't often talk about my personal life here for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, recent life events brought an issue to the forefront that I feel deserve a few words. Namely, marriage and relationships. For some background I was married before while I was living in Australia but that didn't work out. I left my wife and two children behind to find work back in my native United States, and she decided not to follow. She sent me divorce papers and forced me to move on with my life so I did. Shortly after, I accepted a friend's invitation to join his game and there met the woman who would ultimately become my second wife. We've been together nearly ten years and look forward to the next ten years with great eagerness. She is in all matters my partner and my best friend, an achievement that I hoped for in my first marriage but never accomplished.
How did we do it? How did we succeed this time when I failed before? That's the rub.
At our wedding my best man (and one of my oldest and best friends) performed a magic trick. Yeah, it was that kind of wedding. We presented him with a problem, that we didn't have any rings to give to each other. He performed his trick and came up with a solution for us. And when I was watching the video of our ceremony it occurred to me that this made a useful metaphor for how people seem to treat relationships: magic.
It seems that almost everyone I know is having trouble with their relationships. My best man's marriage is on the rocks, and he's almost given up hope in finding a solution. My brother got divorced from his wife. My mother-in-law was talking about divorcing her husband. Another friend's wife has been cheating on him and has no intention of stopping. Everyone expresses how much they admire the relationship between my wife and I and how much in love we still are after so long together. It seems like magic to them, and unfortunately that's the problem.
It seems like it shouldn't need to be said, but good relationships don't simply happen. There's no magic trick that decides whether your relationship will succeed or fail. There are elements involved in any good relationship that require you to put effort into them. These elements include communication, honesty, respect and an open mind. You have to be able to give as well as take, leaving the burden on neither party to always give or always take. Sometimes you have to compromise. Sometimes you have to pay attention more than you're used to. Always, always you need to be talking with each other and not assume things. You have to be willing to accept and forgive. You can't assume that the other person is capable of reading your mind even if sometimes it seems like they can. You have to be willing to concede your mistakes, even on some occasions when you don't think you made any.
It all sounds easier than it is. It's hard to swallow your pride and let someone else win sometimes, even when you love them. I don't always manage it even when I know I should. Sometimes I get caught up in emotion and feel like I'm the one who has been giving all the time and dammit, it ought to be my turn to win one. It's natural to feel like that, but it isn't very healthy for the relationship. Sometimes when you win, you lose.
Trust is hard to win, and even harder to recover. One of my friends can't trust his wife after she cheated on him and she's not interested in earning back his trust. I have trouble trusting people who have hurt me badly enough. I recognize that when I hurt people I don't necessarily deserve to be trusted again. But trust is so incredibly important to relationships it can't be overstated. You have to be able to trust your partner. You have to be able to understand that sometimes we hurt each other because we don't understand the impact our actions are having. My wife can hurt me more than anyone else possibly could, and I trust her with that power over me. I trust she would never intentionally use it against me as others have. So far that trust has been vindicated and I don't imagine I'll ever regret it.
I don't love my wife and friends for who I expect them to be. I love them for who they are, even when I sometimes disagree with them or I don't share all their interests. I don't expect them to be me, I expect them to be themselves. At the same time I expect them to accept me for who I am, because I'm not going to conform to their expectations. I will communicate and compromise but in the end I can never be anyone but who I am. I'm not interested in anyone who wants to transform themselves into my ideal, I want someone who thinks for themselves and has their own preferences. I want someone who will challenge me and expose me to new ideas, someone with whom I can grow. If all you ever do is try to mirror me then you'll never show me who you really are. How can I love someone like that?
Magic tricks ultimately aren't real magic, they're illusion. If you rely on sleight of hand to make a relationship work you're going to draw more skepticism than admiration. There are no shortcuts to a good relationship, only dedication and communication. Eventually you'll find someone who is willing to invest as much into your relationship together as you do. It's worth it.