Roll with the Changes: Enjoy the Ride
I've always been a sucker for rides. Take me to the fair or a roadside carnival, and turn me every which way but loose. From the Ferris wheels to the crazy cups, I love them all. But nothing quite compares to a good rollercoaster-nothing, that is, short of the thrilling ride called marriage. With its uphill climbs, downhill plunges, sharp curves and rickety-rackety bumps along the way, it's a treacherous journey. But like a good coaster ride, I find it to be one of life's most exhilarating experiences.
You must be this tall to ride
One thing is certain: Marriage is not for the faint of heart. If you are tall enough to get on, be sure you are big enough to endure the ride. Then get ready for a series of surprises. Just when you are coasting along and feeling good about your relationship, brace yourself, because change is coming. It may not be today or tomorrow or even next week or next month. But at some point, life is going to jerk you around so fast you won't know whether to scream bloody murder or shout hallelujah. That's when you hold on for dear life.
Yes, every change, positive or negative, has the potential to throw your marriage off its track. Think about some of life's big events: the birth of a baby, a death in the family, a job loss, a promotion, relocation, retirement, an accident, a physical illness or disability. Even the natural process of aging is fraught with change. I often say it's a good thing we can't see around every bend, or it would scare the living daylights out of us! The key is to take it as it comes.
According to Judith Wallerstien, author of The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts, couples who have the ability to adapt to unexpected change are more likely to have a strong and lasting relationship. The common thread characterizing good marriages is flexibility, she says.
Generally speaking, flexibility is not my strong suit. I am a creature of habit. I thrive on routine. Contrary to the thrill-seeking side of my personality is the part of me who likes to be in control. But somewhere between the Mind Bender, the Wild Mouse, Space Mountain, the Great American Scream Machine and my marriage, I have learned the necessary coping skills to manage change. Here are a few of my personal pointers on how to roll with it:
Learn to value change: Recognize that you won't have the same marriage today that you had five years ago or that you will have five years from now. Begin to see each stage of your life together as an opportunity to embrace the changes and try something new. Engage in activities to continually get to know each other. Adjust your lifestyle to accommodate current needs, and resist the urge to look back.
Find a new constant: While it is important to value change, when the rug is swept out from under your feet-when everything seems to be changing at once-add something to your daily routine that will give you that stability you crave. It can be something as simple as sipping coffee together over the morning paper, lighting a few candles in the evening or taking a walk around the block after dinner-anything that you can do regularly to put your marriage in "safe mode."
Allow for personal growth: Growth means change. While our core values generally remain the same, as we mature, our interests and even our outlook on life can change. True love that deepens over time fosters a sense of mutual acceptance. It gives us the freedom to be ourselves. So give your mate room to grow. Love him for who he is TODAY.
Appreciate the uniqueness of your marriage: While we all face similar obstacles in life, circumstances vary, and each couple is unique in how they approach problems and changes. Try not to compare your relationship to others. Focus on what works for you individually and as a couple.
Adjust your view: Don't think that your marriage is a failure because you are going through periods when you can't get along. View difficulties as a sign that something needs to be sorted out. Share your expectations with one another; focus on love, acceptance and compromise; find new ways of doing things and a new way of relating to one another. Your marriage can and will endure in the context of love, friendship and respect.
Ask for help: There may be times when the ride is so rough your marriage develops a case of whiplash. This is the time to seek professional help. A marriage counselor can help you wade through the emotions that are hindering your growth and help you find solutions that work for you.
Make the choice: How you handle change is a choice. You can meet it with resistance and negativity or with acceptance and hope. When big changes come-and they will-hold tight to the basics. Go back to your vows and actively choose to honor your commitment.
Ready or not, change is coming, and how you manage it is critical to the health of your marriage. Let's look at those wedding vows again. Hmmmm. Nowhere is there a provision for stopping the ride to get off. What changes are you currently facing? This is where that other "C" word comes into play-communication. Open up. Discuss your needs and expectations. Sometimes a simple conversation can clear the air, and a few minor adjustments can help you regain your equilibrium. But remember this: For every uphill struggle, there is the promise of a downhill rush. There is great joy to be found in triumph over trouble. Be creative and adventurous. Stop focusing on the fairytale version of happily ever after and you will discover the thrill of the ride.