My marriage was a story, not a fairy tale, and more like a mystery mixed in with fantasy. My ex and I were rarely on the same page of our story as it turns out, especially regarding infidelity, apparently one of his favorite pasttimes. (Couples really should discuss acceptable hobbies with each other.)
The prelude to my story was I thought my marriage was a good one, not perfect, but better than most I had first hand knowledge of. I believed we were committed friends; tender, ardent lovers; good parents to our children and loyal to each other and our family in everything. Looking back, I was certainly loyal to him to a fault; supporting him and his career over mine, moving our family several times as his career went up, then subsequently down; always bragged about his accomplishments to everyone; made hundreds of excuses about his alcoholic rages, his job losses, and his unexplained disappearances. My ex always used flowery words to describe his feelings for me and our life together, not only to me but everyone, (well, probably not to the many women he slept with). That's how he sold me on our story.
The epilogue to our story was our entire marriage was pure fiction. When the dust settled, after I found my husband out of town with the ex-employee he'd lied about for years, an amazing amount of true stories were revealed about him and his chronic lying and prolific cheating. He had never been any of the things he professed to be, never loyal and certainly not my friend. In hindsight, it was co-dependency that made me delusional about my marriage to an emotional manipulator. The 26 years between the beginning and the end is becoming with time, the old story of my life.
If you ask 20 married people what makes a good marriage, a perfect marriage, you will get some similarity in their responses, but also different answers. That's because a marriage consists of two people and people have self-interests in their relationships, not just mutual ones. (The answers I found varied from no nagging to lots of laughter and forgiveness, and eating dinner together.) When you consider the emotional baggage everyone hauls into any situation, especially an intimate one, perfect marriage is a misnomer.
I don't know anyone that would characterize their marriage as perfect, even the longest marriages are fraught with issues. Two couples I know well into their golden marriage years, literally act like they hate each other. When asked why they're still together, reasons include financial issues, fear of the unknown, and feeling they have nowhere else to go. The perfect marriage they've worked out is about perfect endurance. (A lot of "hallway sex" in those marriages, as in passing each other in the hallway and saying over their shoulders, "F&%# you").
A perfect marriage can only exist if the two people in that marriage consistently and continually believe their spouse is perfect for them, warts and all. No fairy tale stuff. Two people in a marriage should never look outside their relationship for intimacy, physically or emotionally. Once intimacy is breached, a wedge has been created that changes the marriage profoundly; dishonesty has been inserted and grows like a malignancy, destroying communication to its core. Opening up intimacy in any form, outside of the marriage relationship, is bringing a third person into the marriage uninvited by the other spouse; now the needs of three people that are being considered, versus two.
Everything needed to know about whether a happy, healthy marriage is realistic can be determined prior to saying "I do." Unfortunately, that premarital phase is like an audition or a job interview; everyone's on their best behavior, molding their ideas and their needs around what they think the other wants. It's like holding your breath for a long time and then whoosh, a big exhale and the realness begins. People rarely change, they are who they are; being honest about that from the beginning is the only way to avoid looking back and wondering who the hell am/was I married to?
The first thing on the list of eight things that make a perfect marriage is honesty and synonyms of that word are also the second through the eighth things. Honesty in all things, at all times; that about covers it. Truth keeps the communication clear, it assures intimacy emotionally as well as sexually. It prevents misunderstandings about financial matters or how to raise the children or who does what, when and how. After all, it's two people coming together to go through life cohesively. Without communication that is entirely truthful, eventually the issues begin to build up, the hurts, the oversights, the lies, and worse, the story we tell ourselves to justify the unjustifiable. How many couples splitting-up have complained, "he/she never understood me" or "he/she just didn't fulfill my needs." (My response to my husband's stunning statement well, we just grew apart, after I kicked him out, was "yep, growing apart typically happens when one spouse is inserting his penis into another woman's vagina." He did a lot "growing apart" throughout our marriage.)
Emphasis on communication cannot be stressed enough; a couple's inability to communicate truthfully, in an open and healthy manner, has kept many a therapist couch warm with unhappily married people's butts.
Here's what I believe is the deal breaker list, for a healthy marriage/relationship:
1. Truth; full-disclosure; complete honesty.
2. One hundred percent loyalty to each other, over all others: bosses, in-laws, religious leaders, friends, etc.
3. Commitment to never share physical or emotional intimacy with anyone outside of your marriage; a no-share zone clearly defined and reinforced.
4. The ability to understand the past with transparency, the present with clarity, and have clear mutual goals for the future.
5. Visualization of your lives together under the worse of circumstances, not the best, and an open, mature discussion how each should support the other.
6. A strong identity professionally and personally; self-proofing against manipulation and disrespect.
7. Each having solid emotional self-realization; two halves do not make a whole. One person cannot make up for what the other is missing in their emotional health.
8. Empathy versus egotism or kindness versus being an asshole.
I wish I had not been the princess of pretend when it came to the people I've loved, especially my husband. If I said it, well, it had to be true, unfortunately, that only spells co-dependency, not truth. Co-dependency is misplaced loyalty, pretty much 100 percent of the time.
My marriage lacked authenticity to begin with. It moved along to its slow, horrible death because of factors that always existed and, sadly, I didn't act on my concerns for many reasons that seem meaningless now. I wish I'd had a deal breaker list because there's no prize for staying in a bad marriage. None. There's only regret about a life wasted with the wrong person.
photo credit: Starbucks love via photopin (license)