I was talking with a Sex Surge Consult client last week and was reminded of something that I don’t say enough: marriage is a box, but you can define that box any way you want, as long as you do it with your partner.
One of my favorite sex and marriage therapists is Esther Perel. And she has this wonderful idea that humans are probably meant for 2-3 major relationships over the course of their adulthood- and if we’re lucky or develop skills, those relationships can be with the same person.
My husband and I are on our third marriage currently; I expect one or two more before we die. As we both have changed, so has our marriage- it’s very different than what it started from when we first married in 1997.
Our first marriage ‘ended’ the day I said to him, as we were ripping wallpaper off our Victorian home’s walls, “If you don’t talk to me about your feelings, I can’t stay. If you can’t tell me what’s going on inside you so I can make better decisions that will help us both, this will not last. I can’t do it.”
My husband, not a dope, got the message loud and clear. And he worked on telling me how he felt (he’s *awesome* at it now! <— skills development takes time). Along the way, he also told me that it was hard for him to share his feelings sometimes because of my reactions to them. So! It was time for me to learn and grow, too. We have healed many old patterns and stories from our families and from previous relationships.
And that gave us the tools to deal with our second marriage: when the Sex Surge hit.
This phase was probably the most difficult we have been through. We went through infertility struggles, as well (which introduced me to herbalism), but the Surge took a lot of energy and patience and didn’t result in something like a baby. It resulted in simply staying together because we knew we wanted to.
But the tools we learned in the Surge years lead to our third marriage, what we have currently. And what we have currently is a gift. We communicate well, we have gorgeous sex of many varieties (which is part of communication!), and we are both super supportive of each other reaching our dreams.
It’s not as if we built a new marriage from scratch each time. That would be impossible. No, we built from our old marriages, and headed into new directions each time. And often those directions went further and further from what society calls ‘marriage.’
Society gives us a box called ‘marriage’ that we try to fit into at first. In fact, that box may suit us at the beginning! In the box are roles (sometimes gender-based, like ‘dudes take out the garbage’) and expectations (new cars first, then the house), and a very well-worn path that is supported by unrealistic images from the 1950s and current television shows.
But, if you haven’t noticed, that marriage box doesn’t work for 50% of people.
Here is the thing about the marriage box, though: you can blow out the walls or paint it green and blue stripes, or get rid of it entirely as long as the changes are something you and your partner desire and agree to.
People change, women iterate, and marriages probably need to, as well. Who I was at 22 had no idea what life would throw at her, or her marriage, and to travel some well-worn path, or try to live in a box that was too small…I either had to throw my marriage away, or the box. The choice was easy.
Now, I know that choice isn’t so easy for some. And for some their partner won’t grow much- so they have to limit growth in some places to make it work (there is no shame in ‘staying steady’ if it gives you what you want). But that is another place you can throw out the marriage box- it isn’t always like what’s on TV. Sometimes the rub of difficulty can smooth us into something new, the way sandpaper does with wood.
Marriage is a beautiful concept- two people making a wonderful connection together for their whole lives. But I really do believe that building that connection the way you want it is the most important part of the connection. Don’t be afraid to blow out the marriage box and make it into what works for you both. That’s how you give it the best possible circumstances to make it last.