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Our Own 50 Shades of Grey

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“It’s grey today,” I murmur as I wrestle with my bra clasp and rummage through my underwear drawer, scavenging for something lacy, bright and racy to offset the grey. He’s in his bathroom and I'm in mine. His mouth is full of toothpaste as he gurgles back,  “Yes indeed, my dear.”  He always calls me dear. Some days are just grey – the routine in all of its monotony, the dishwashers, the grocery store, the food – bland and unenticing –  the subtle aches and pains, the same annoying issues or people… the Groundhog day to end all Groundhog days. Indeed, life can get grey if you let it.

I’d be lying not to admit that marriage occasionally feels a bit like this at times. You can’t have sex with the same person for twenty plus years and not feel a yawn coming on if you don’t mix it up. Not all the time, but some of the time, marriage takes on a Monday kinda feel… restless with a need for something different. As I turn to grab my keys and purse from my bathroom vanity I see the tiny dry cleaning tag wedged between my Sonicare toothbrush bristles and I chuckle to myself (it’s an ongoing, long running joke between my husband and me).  He takes it off his shirt collar every morning and hides it where he knows I will discover it – like on the toilet seat or my razor. He always makes me smile.

What is it, then, that keeps marriage alive through the grey days? How can we continue to be in love with one another over the years? Why do people at the hotel pool ask us if we are honeymooning? How come he still sneaks a grab at the back pocket of my jeans at the airport and holds my hand in the car while our two kids are in the backseat? Why does he still bring me roses, and why do I text him random I love you’s? What’s the secret to keeping it going? In watching couples in turmoil as a counselor and in our twenty plus years together, I can honestly sum it up pretty neatly:

50shades_secondaryRespect one another. And I mean truly respect your partner with words and actions. It’s so easy to take them for granted, like an old chair you’ve had for years and are like…”So what if I spill something on that old thing?” It matters how you treat one another day in and day out. Honor them. Let them know you value them – body and soul, wrinkles and all – every bit of them as your life partner. Remind them often what you respect and love about them.  It creates an impermeable bond. Say you’re sorry when you have disrespected them. Own it. Do better.

Keep growing. Not just as individuals but as a couple. In the bedroom and intellectually… keep evolving. What does this translate into? In the bedroom… just check in. Shake it up sometimes…wear something different, ask what your partner wants. Stagnation is the kiss of death (literally). If you have issues, address them in therapy and communicate. Don’t turn away from what isn’t working or what you are lacking. Intellectually, keep reaching for new knowledge… have conversations for Pete’s sake. I cannot stand to see a couple at a beautiful restaurant staring at one another blankly or, worse yet, incessantly on their phones. BE with each other. Be present. Explore new interests and hobbies and, better yet, do new things together. Explore the world and one another.

Have rituals. I mentioned the dry cleaning tag. We have lots of those because tradition is endearing. The characteristics of my husband are endearing. When we are away from one another, I long for these things. Have things that are just yours—specifically unique to you as couple. Things you do, things you say, YOUR restaurants, inside jokes, looks. Love is in the tiny transactions…. it really is the little things that glue it all together.

Laugh together.  A long life together is bound to have many difficult times. A sense of humor goes a really long way. Try not to be so critical. Try to give your partner the benefit of the doubt before you jump down their throat about something. Next time something they do pushes your button; try to not fly off the handle. Breathe, and approach them in a softer way. Make it lighter when things get heavy – I can say it has always been our saving grace that we see the world as funny and enjoy our twisted comedic view as we walk through life together. Heaven knows,  it’s a mandatory skill required in parenthood and marriage alike.

So, that’s my take on keeping marriage alive.

It’s a typical Saturday morning. The sun is beaming through the window and I smell waves of espresso wafting in the air (I swear I could smell it miles away). The pocket doors of our bedroom slide open and my husband materializes in his tattered, well-worn robe offering up my espresso just the way I like it (three shots and 1% milk). I must look scary, I think to myself, having done the drop the clothes by the bedside, forget the face wash, teeth brush after a late night in my smeary mascara and disheveled braid with laugh lines and wrinkles that seem to deepen by the second these days. We’re so familiar, I think. He lies back down next to me face to face and stares lovingly at me  “You’re beautiful, you know, ” he says. He never sees my imperfections – and I know that’s pure magic. I scan his face and smooth my hand over the frayed edges on the collar of his robe, noticing the rugged little lines around his pitch black eyes that have seen so much life along with me and I forget everything grey. The sun is shining again.