The Choice to Love

SHARED BY Rev. MANDI NEISER

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
— Mignon McLaughlin

The first time I heard those words, I felt a great sense of relief. My husband and I had been married for just over seven years, and we were experiencing a rough patch.

No, I don’t buy into the so-called seven-year itch. It is my belief and experience that there are several times throughout a marriage when you find yourself scratching. I believe the key is to see it for what it is and to know that it’s both normal and okay.

The Dream Life

Like a lot of young girls with a perfect mom and dad, living in a perfect house on a quiet street, I grew up with an idealized version of marriage that didn’t really serve my reality.

Two years after graduating from college and one month after my twenty-first birthday, my fiancé and I tied the knot in a lovely evening ceremony on July 23, 1982. It was sweltering hot that day! I would have much rather spent the evening in shorts, a tank top, and flip-flops instead of a long-sleeved, puffy dress that just didn’t feel like me.

It wasn’t long before the idealization of our dream life together started to show signs of stress at the seams. Our first year of marriage was one continuous argument followed by intense make-up sex that smoothed out the patches—until the next time. We were like two kids playing dress-up, albeit two intense individuals in love sharing an apartment together.

Adjusting Expectations

I had never even lived on my own before. I was going from a perfect life at home—where dinners were made, and every other need or desire was looked after—to being the other half of a partnership. Looking after bills, making dinners, and working to pay rent all of a sudden became a harsh reality, one I was certainly not prepared for!

We struggled immensely in those first few years, trying to find our way through the muck and the mire. It was a battle between the intense feelings of “What the hell did we do?” and “I love you more than anything," the typical emotions newlyweds experience while finding their way.

What I realized years later—after counseling, therapy and thousands of dollars in self-help seminars and books—is that the patterns, the hills and valleys, and most of the discontent in our marriage was a direct result of two things: the need to control and our expectations. 

Change from Within

After reflecting on my life and the relationships in my life (and how I navigated through them), it dawned on me that, if someone didn’t fit my ideal version of who I thought they should be, I would try to change them. I didn’t ask for their permission, and I didn’t think about how it would affect them. After all, it was all about me, right?

My only concern was for this person to fit my mold to satisfy my needs and my desires. If trying to control my partner’s behaviour wasn’t enough, I brought a sprinkle of expectation into the mix! Not only did I try to change him, I expected him to be what I wanted him to be. If things didn’t go my way, I got angry and shut him out.

Is that insidious or what?

The reason I share this vulnerable part of my past is because I know it’s exactly where some of you are right now in your own relationships. There is no such thing as only one of us experiencing something. What one of us experiences, many of us are going through or have gone through. It just isn’t talked about; we often feel “less than” for having these feelings.

The only behavior we can control is our own, and the only person who can live up to our expectations is the one staring back at us in the mirror. When we begin to realize that, our lives— and more importantly, our relationships—begin to change. Not only is there a sense of obligation lifted, there is a huge sense of relief when we just allow people to be as they are.

Newfound Freedom

The beauty of this is you can navigate through this new awareness on your own (in most cases, unless you’ve done work as a couple with a therapist, a counsellor or relationship coach). You don’t even have to express your newfound freedom to your partner—unless it involves an apology, in which case, I would encourage this for sure. All you have to do is acknowledge your new way of thinking and begin to live accordingly. You have to change first, and the world around you will change.

No matter what circumstances you and your partner experience on your journey through marriage, know that you are always in control of how you see a situation—how you choose to look at it, and more importantly, what you plan to do about it.

My husband and I have been married for thirty-five years this July. Although we have navigated through some very rough and stormy waters, there have been many blissful years when we enjoyed some smooth sailing on calmer seas.

We have stuck by one another, remembering we don’t have to feel in love every moment of every day to know we still truly love each other. We are still each other’s best friend and have one another’s back in all situations. Knowing all this, we have been able to navigate each day with the perspective that the future looks bright, even if we have moments of hiding under the covers with one eye peeking through the sheets.

 
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

At the age of thirty-five, after a series of synchronistic events, Mandi Neiser answered the call from within her heart to attend a non-denominational church one beautiful Sunday morning. That day changed the course of her life forever when the minister told her there was a light inside her that needed to shine. Twenty years later and having performed more than 1,300 ceremonies, Rev. Mandi has been part of the tapestry that has woven together so many lives—through weddings, baby blessings, celebrations of life, and vow renewals! Her life is far from perfect, but through her spiritual strength and faith in God, she navigates through each day with intuition as her guide and courage as her compass.