So. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith were on Oprah* yesterday, and when they started talking about their marriage business plan, and I totally perked up my ears. Had it been someone less interesting than Will Smith, I’m sure ‘marriage business plan’ would have gotten a serious eye roll, but I had a feeling they were on to something. Which they were. What they were talking about was not making your marriage a business, or say, making lots of money with your partner. What they were talking about was the idea that it’s hard for a partnership to survive on just liking each other, or hell, on LOVING each other. And it’s hard for a partnership to survive on convenience – you earn the money, I’ll watch the kids, say. For a partnership to survive over the long haul, you need to feel like you’re going somewhere together. You need to feel like you have a purpose.
Of course, I loved it.
I’m generally skeptical of *love* driving a marriage. Yeah, I know how that sounds. But here is the thing – emotions are fickle. One day they are playing by your rules, and the next day – WATCH OUT. I mean, my mom’s tried and true marriage advice is always, “Good days and bad days? Try good years and bad years!” or “You know you love them when you find yourself thinking, ‘if you you don’t start making THAT BREATHING NOISE farther away from me, I might have to kill you.'”
Which? Right. That’s what we call realism.
So I really like the idea of the partnership mission statement,** even if it’s of the more unwritten, free-form kind. When friends of mine take me away for the relationship talk (you know the: ‘you’re in a happy, stable, long term relationship, whadda got?’ talk) I always say that part of the reason I married David (and I suspect part of the reason he married me) is that he makes my dreams seem do-able… and then he makes me do them. Like I’ll be whining about wedding planning, for example, and then he’ll say, “You should start your own wedding blog. You should call it A Practical Wedding.” And then he’ll make me do it. Or when I’m whining about not knowing what to do with my blog next, and how I want to redesign it, he’ll make me follow through and re-design it. And TRUST me, I do the same thing for him, wanted or not. I give a good swift-kick-in-the-pants.
So that’s why we work, long term. It’s not just love, though love is nice. But that fuzzy-love-emotion does not pay rent while you’re in law school, that’s the love-as-ass-kicking-goal-setting action. We both expect a lot from each other, and neither of us likes to be disappointed. Which doesn’t mean that we don’t both fail all over the place, and not live up, and whine. Because sweet baby jesus, we do. But then we encourage the other person to stand up and keep moving. And stop whining.
So for us, our marriage mission statement has evolved over our five plus years together. We have general goals, they keep changing, and we keep discussing them. Then we have specific goals. I’ve talked about how pre-wedding we both wrote out life lists, and then we compared them, and marked down the goals that were the same. That was helpful. Some of the goals are really serious (law school, say) and some of the goals are really frivolous (drinking whisky in Scotland, say) but it helps us to know what our goals are, and more than that to know that we both really value, and EXPECT, each other to keep on working to reach them.
So for us, that works. Most days. And on the other days, the days we want to kill each other, I just remind myself what my mom says, “GOOD YEARS AND BAD YEARS.” And realize that even though I want to KILL him, we keep on building a pretty good life together.
And usually, that’s enough. -ish.
*Yes. For the uninitiated, I totally watch Oprah. Maggie Mason has this great bit about watching Oprah and then in mixed company saying, “I saw…… on the…. TV” and most of the women in the room giving the knowing nod. I’m totally a knowing nod giver.
** A term first introduced to me by reader Hannah, she of the birthing of the baby family.