Serendipity: the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.
I have experienced this event or feeling many times in my life, but none as defining as with my first encounter with my husband of almost 15 years at the end of summer 1997. I am sure he will agree… Instant connection. Even though we had lived two blocks away from each other most of our lives, we met in August 1997, got married next June. Bing, bang, boom!
After many ups and downs, two children, three dogs, and endless moments of uncertainty as well as bliss, we have managed to survive and been able to acknowledge that we are two ever-changing individuals living a life together who are (independently of each other) relatively “happy” and committed to our family and marital relationship. If that makes any sense.
As I recently posted in my Facebook page while sharing a link to another blog post on relationships sent to me by a close friend, “marriage is one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my life (after parenting). Its always a work in progress… sometimes I feel we are still strangers! We have to “feed” our relationships not only with love, but with common interests, intimacy, communication, respect, friendship, trust, laughter, personal space, commitment and support for one another, doing checks and balances ALL THE TIME! I must add to this list, making room in your life for “adult time” when there are children in the equation. It makes a big difference!” I admit, sometimes I get mentally and emotionally exhausted when it comes to marriage! Oftentimes thinking, “why does it have to be so hard. No one told me about this or that. The movies, magazines and society have screwed us over.. WE HAVE BEEN FOOLED, I SAY, fooled with happily ever after dreams!” Then, I come back to my own marriage realities…
Reality #1 There is no 50/50 universal standard. This was my father’s (a progressive and modern man) one and only advice. Don’t go into marriage expecting 50/50 all the time. Sometimes in life, you will give 70 and your partner will give 30 and vice-versa. In real life, it is usually the woman who gives more, he emphatically said. Embrace and realize this and you will succeed. On the other hand, remember no one is more important or is entitled to more in the relationship just because he/she brings more money to the bank. Couples share responsibilities in their own capacities which work together for the betterment of both individuals. Sadly, this is used by many to control their spouses and its very detrimental to a marriage.
Reality #2 You will both change as time goes by. Physically, emotionally. Life has its way of turning some people bitter and sad. If both of you don’t pay close attention and make adjustments, those emotions will get the best of you and ruin your relationship. Routine is your number one enemy. Always keep in mind that if you must change, make sure you let your life partner know which road you are taking so he/she can follow the same direction and/or meet you further ahead.
Reality #3 The word commitment has to be at the top of the priorities list for both of you. There is nothing you can do to save a relationship without commitment. Ah, love and admiration have to be part of the equation as well. Love does not conquer all, but you need love to overcome difficulties along the way. There are three things that can either make or break a marriage: a child is born, financial hardship and/or illness/death in the family, so the foundations and commitment have to be pretty solid when one (sometimes all at once) of these comes along.
Reality #4 Intimacy is the glue that keeps us together, not the kids. Sure the kids are very important and a big responsibility and take a lot of time and energy, but please don’t hide behind them to avoid intimacy. The kids grow up and start their own families, and then what? Nurture your physical and emotional intimacy by scheduling a couples weekend, date night, golf date or day trip. Only the two of you. With all the hustle and bustle of work and family this can be tricky, BUT DO IT! This is one of the things that drive most couples apart.
Reality #6 Each one deals with the troubles, tribulations and personalities of their family of origin. I don’t mess with my in-laws. They are my family to respect and love. Lay the ground rules and set the boundaries so that this goes both ways.
Reality #7 Having patience, compassion and empathy will get you a long way when the going gets tough and your spouse faces personal challenges like death of a parent, work problems, health, financial problems. There is nothing worse than feeling your spouse doesn’t support you or understands you in a time of need. Do not judge or say I told you so. In moments of desperation, I always say : This too shall pass.
Reality #8 RENEGOTIATE your relationship every couple of years. Priorities, needs and wants are altered as life progresses. Make room for change,which is sometimes good. EVERY couple should read The Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman. Don’t wait until your relationship is in trouble or you are too tired or too damaged to fight. At that moment it might be too late.
Reality #9 YES it is true! Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus… now get over it and learn to appreciate the differences! My husband and I are soooo different in sooo many ways of thinking, behaving, upbringing, interests, etc., but we see these differences as complements to each others’ lives instead of hinderance. As opportunities, instead of problems. Be a team, a partnership!
Reality #10 It is scientifically proven that those butterflies in the stomach or the feeling of “being in love” goes away in a couple of years into the relationship. Make sure your relationship is based on more than physical attraction and sex. As time goes by, don’t expect to have the same feelings that you had when you met a long time ago, rather create a deeper connection through the years interweaving the new life experiences and the old factors that brought you together in the first place. Make the best of what you have. If the grass is greener at the other side of the fence… its time to tend to your grass!
Reality #11 You have to pick your battles to win the war. So many of us lose focus by paying attention to little egotistical things. There is no room for ego in a healthy relationship. Indeed, stand your ground on issues that are important to you, but don’t lose perspective on your final goal: which is to make wise choices considering the common good of the relationship and your nuclear family. Sometimes when you lose, you win. Look for your individual happiness without interfering with your spouse’s happiness, please. This is when negotiation and communication skills make a huge difference for its not what you say but how you say it. A nice home cooked meal or handy-man chores can also get the task done. Je, je!
Reality #12 Build a strong foundation of ethical values to promote character in your children, co-workers, neighbors etc. and live by those rules. This one is really hard, but eventually its second nature and will keep everyone out of trouble. Break away from the damaging behavioral patterns that we bring from our upbringing or past relationships. Identify these conducts, talk about them, sort them out, deal with them and move on. Don’t settle just because that’s all your knew at a certain point in your life. Grow from constructive criticism given to you by your spouse. He/she is not the enemy.
Reality #13 Be spontaneous. Have initiative. A sense of humor goes a long way and can be really sexy. Value each other’s opinions even though you might not agree. Bring out the best in each other. Remind each other what attracts you the most about that person.
Reality #14 Resolve conflict. Each of us has our own way of dealing with conflict. My husband and I are at the opposite side of the spectrum. I am more of a “here and now” kind of gal and he is more of a “let me sleep on it” kind of guy. I am more calm, monotone in my discussions when resolving conflict, whereas he is an all over the place hysterical kind of person who forgets about what it was what we were arguing to start with in about 30 seconds. However, we have managed to work around our differences to reach a happy medium. This is ALWAYS a work in progress.
Reality #15 Choose to spend time with other couples who also value and respect their spouses. We cannot choose our family but we can choose our friends.
Reality #16 Acceptance. We cannot change people. People can decide to change themselves in some extreme situations, but its more common for people to modify certain behaviors. In order to come to terms with our relationships, with our spouses and with ourselves, we need to learn to accept the good, the bad and the ugly as a whole package.
Reality #17 NEVER, EVER do something that might jeopardize your spouse’s trust in you. Guard this characteristic zealously disregarding peer pressures and immediate personal gratification. When trust is broken it is something very hard to overcome in every aspect of your life. Teach your children about the importance of trustworthiness. Lying to your spouse is toxic to a relationship. ( I mean big life changing lies, not little white lies, use your common sense).
Reality #18 Treat other’s the way you want to be treated. This applies to your spouse too even if you sleep in the same bed every night. Don’t take each other for granted. Live with an open heart and always with good intention.
Reality #19 Give each other personal space. Cultivate YOUR lifelong friendships. Allow each other to enjoy YOUR hobbies and YOUR alone time. This gives each one an opportunity to re-charge and reconnect with your inner self.
Reality #20 Frustration and bitterness comes when you expect things that the other person cannot or is not willing to deliver. Also, when you expect others to give as much as you would in a given situation. For example, my husband has never sent me Valentine’s day flowers or taken me out to dinner for that occasion. However, he likes to cook for me on Mother’s Day, I always get a nice gift for my birthday or he takes me out for lunch in midweek. Its the little things that count and I can live with that.
I humbly share these tips with you from what I have learned along the way, because sometimes we are afraid to talk to others about the ugly and plain truth about relationships. These “realities” are all based on the assumption that two consenting adults are in a relationship based on love and respect. Anyone who is in a relationship where abuse and disrespect is the norm should seek the help of a health professional and/or a lawyer. If my experience can help someone else find meaning and direction well, so be it. I am not an expert, therapist, psychologist or life coach, these are only my musings about marriage. There is no right or wrong and God only knows if we will survive the marriage rat race one more year… but we are giving it a shot. Ja!
Now going back to the word serendipity, I want to share with you a special anecdote. One day during our courtship, I saw Emilio was wearing a Cactus Cantina polo shirt. When I asked how he got it, he mentioned his mother’s cousin owned the restaurant. I couldn’t believe it! Many times had I visited this mexican restaurant near my apartment while I lived as a college student in north-west Washington, DC., especially during the summer months.
A couple of years ago, we had dinner at his cousin’s house in Miami. He is now retired and his son in law, Jaime, runs the restaurants. I asked Jaime about the home made Salsa Fresca from Cactus Cantina which is famous and serendipitously!, he told me the key to the salsa is that the tomatoes are roasted. You know me, once I got home I made some salsa fresca with roasted tomatoes and here are the results which are pretty amazing. I make it often and serve it during our Taco Tuesday nights at home.
4 tomatoes (about 20 ounces)
1 jalapeño, fresh or canned
1/3 cup of white onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup of cilantro, coarsely chopped
2 tsp of salt
pepper to taste
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1. Place tomatoes and jalapeño in a baking sheet and place in broil until golden. Set aside and let cool a bit.
2. Meanwhile, place onion and cilantro in a food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times until cut in small pieces but not pureed.
3. Add rest of ingredients, including roasted jalapeño and tomatoes, and pulse 3 or 4 times just to combine but not liquify. Serve with totopos, nachos or as a sauce for burritos, tacos, quesadillas etc.