Treat Them Like You Did When You Were Dating

My ex-husband and I had two wedding anniversaries. The long story short is that we got engaged, planned and paid for a gorgeous destination wedding, then he found out he had Crohn’s disease, but didn’t have health insurance. So, on a rainy weekday, on very little notice to anyone, we got married in the Courthouse so he could be on my health insurance before his next doctor visit. We went ahead with the destination wedding, too. So, we celebrated both. In our years together, we created the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen, our daughter. We had some amazing times. But we also struggled. Hard. So hard in fact that just as suddenly as we married, I stopped fighting for our marriage and we got divorced. On another weekday, seven years later than the first one, I abruptly said that I wasn’t coming home that night, and I never came back. A week later, I filed for divorce. I think back to when I was willing to marry this man on a moment’s notice in the rain, and I think about where we are today, virtual strangers who can barely get along well enough to co-parent our gorgeous daughter, and I wonder how we got to such a different place.

I can say this: At times, we were the ones to hurt each other the most deeply, and the ones to crush each other’s spirits in ways that no one else quite could. Those moments are the ones that change the dynamic forever and destroy the bond. I spend a lot of time now thinking about how people can prevent these moments and keep their bond intact. I’m no expert, obviously, but I’ve learned some things over the course of marrying and divorcing that I’d like to share. You may be surprised to know that I actually wrote most of this piece right before I left my marriage and filed for divorce. The fight we had over me writing this story was the one that made me realize I didn’t want to fight anymore. So, this advice was gathered by me too late to save my own marriage, and maybe even contributed to me knowing that what I had could not be salvaged. But I still write it in the hope that I can learn from it moving forward, and that others, who aren’t past the point of no return can also.

Last year I shared a story on my personal Facebook page about an encounter I had at the grocery. I saw a little old man pushing a small cart with a gorgeous bouquet of roses on top. I told him they were beautiful and asked him if he was planning on making someone’s day? “Yeah, my wife!” he says, “She’s been my princess for 43 years now!” I thought about how, after all those years of marriage, this man was treating his wife: like his princess, like the girl he fell in love with, like the girl he was working to keep. That’s the way we all treat our spouse when we’re first dating them. But, life and jobs and mortgages and comfort levels start creeping into the relationship and wearing away at that magic. Before we know it, if we aren’t careful, we can end up in a place that we aren’t sure how we got to. I started thinking that if we all made the effort, like this wise fellow, to treat our spouse like we did when we were dating, that maybe things wouldn’t be so hard.

So that might look something like this:

Be willing to listen and talk. You know the feeling when you first meet someone special. You talk for hours and hours on end. You’re dying to know everything about the other person and tell them everything about you. You are delighted by the similarities and the differences. You are inspired and enamored by each other’s hopes and dreams, so much so that you want to be a part of them. But as the years roll on, we stop listening. We talk over each other. We stop really talking at all. It’s not a good time, there’s too many other things to do right now. I don’t want to hear all the negativity I know will come if I speak my mind. We don’t open our ears, hearts, or words to each other in that free flowing way that once felt so natural. We lose sight of each other’s hopes and dreams, and we stop getting to know each other. But it doesn’t have to be so. People often say they married their best friend, so keep being that best friend. Talk, long and often. Yes, you have laundry to do, so talk while you’re folding. Listen when your partner wants to daydream about whatever topic it is he loves that you stopped caring about 3 years ago. Get back to making your spouse the first person you really talk things through with, and really listen when they talk it through with you.

Fight fair. Was there ever a time in our relationship when my ex-husband and I didn’t fight? Hell no! We are both extremely opinionated and head strong people, and one of us is a lawyer, for Pete’s sake. We argued. We always argued. But when we were dating it was different. We had better boundaries. When one of us said something completely irrational and ridiculous, the other just refused to engage, without hurting the other person. There was no spiraling downhill in a race to outdo each other with the most meaningful insults and the deepest wounds. No drudging up of sins of the past and old hurts. There wasn’t this compulsive need to over engage every word. We would just let the other person know that whatever was happening was not ok and we found a way to make it stop. It didn’t have to be more complicated than that, and it really doesn’t now. We’re parents now. We’re 40. We take ourselves more seriously, but that doesn’t mean we have more of a right to be right all the time. We have more of a duty to preserve the peace, if anything, and that simply means that we return to knowing how to live within appropriate boundaries, knowing when to engage and when to let go.

Make the Effort. If there’s one thing I picked up from my friend at the grocery, it’s the effect of continuing to make the effort. I was blown away by those beautiful flowers. I can only imagine how his wife felt when she saw them. When we’re dating, there is nothing we won’t do to try to impress the person we love. We connect with them physically as often and as thoughtfully as we can, buy them gifts, take them out to their favorite places, introduce them to all the things we love, do lots of big and small things that we think will mean something to them and make their life easier. There isn’t so much of a focus on hitting or missing the other person’s love language, because we are speaking every love language. Doing everything in our power to show that other person how we feel and gauge how they feel. And they receive every kind gesture from us with beaming admiration and gratitude. Fast forward a few years and we are skating by doing maybe the minimum we know is required at special occasions. Our efforts are expected rather than appreciated, or are looked upon with criticism and cynicism. If we don’t read our partner’s mind exactly, they harshly assume that we’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. When you’re at the point now that you’ve built your lives around each other, you have so much more invested than when you were in the honeymoon phase. So, why not see that for what it is, the greatest gift you’ve ever been given. And treat it accordingly. If you’re willing to hang the moon for your boyfriend or girlfriend, be willing to make the moon from scratch for your husband or wife.

This is one divorced gal’s take on how love can be improved upon and sustained. What would you add to the conversation? What have your relationships taught you?

Author: Rachelle

Rachelle Dodson is a 40something mom & lawyer. She lives in Lexington, Ky with her daughter Delanie and dog Bentley.

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