My wife took me to see Nancy Meyers’ new movie, It’s Complicated, which stars Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin. She had seen it a day or two before and wanted to see it with me saying, “It would be good for us.” Honestly, I do tend to like what is typically labeled “chick flicks,” but don’t like director Nancy Meyers’ perfect world, perfect rich characters, perfect looking people, dressed and coifed just perfectly. But, for the sake of marital harmony, I agreed.
I didn’t expect what followed. Throughout the movie, my wife was jabbing me in the ribs whenever she wanted me to notice a point being made that she felt related to me or us. So, I left with bruised ribs, which ached even more toward the end of the movie during the one truly hilarious scene. I really enjoyed laughing that hard, in spite of the pained ribs, which I’ve totally exaggerated for sympathy anyway.
Without a doubt, the best thing about the movie is that comic scene near the end. It’s Complicated is also that rare movie title that really works and has so many other relevant meanings related to life, marriage, raising kids, and even a Facebook status.
There’s a definite reason that second marriages fail more than first ones, and third marriages fail even at a higher rate. Our lives are that much more complicated the further we progress in them. Add into the mix children, aging parents, job changes and losses, menopause, weight gain, other health issues, and you tend to wonder how we can get along at all as we get older and these things crop up.
There were countless marital clichés in Ms. Meyer’s movie, like how couples “drift apart,” “don’t work hard enough at it” or wind up “living separate lives,” none of which were necessarily exact quotes from the movie though all were spiritually in tune with the script. My wife wanted me to see how this couple allowed their relationship to aimlessly drift apart, even though they had terrific chemistry and three wonderful kids.
This was a familiar scenario but it made us wonder in discussion afterward, how often couples do give up on each other, don’t put in the effort to keep things vibrant, or as in the case of the movie look elsewhere for affection and love, thus fatally damaging the marriage. Should an affair end a marriage? Well, we’ll address that another time as I have some strong opinions on that subject. In our marriage, we’ve just remained stubborn, set in our ways, and unwilling to change.
That admission notwithstanding, we are equally willing to recognize and own our faults, occasionally admit them out loud, and try and change them. The “try” part is the operative word and mutual challenge. I am very stuck in my habits and patterns. Further, as a couple we’ve become a bit stuck in a cyclical pattern where one of us has hurt feelings and retreats from the relationship with various excuses such as being tired, having work to do, or other equally lame and childish efforts to avoid what is really on our minds. I’ll speak for myself in saying it’s cowardly and I hate when I’m doing it, I’m actually ashamed of myself, but I’m too stubborn to back off. It’s a classic lose-lose, but I’m right in my mind, even when I’m sleeping on the couch.
I know I’m not alone in these sorts of interactions as I hear examples of them every Monday night in my men’s group. I thank God for these men as they remind me how often it is my reaction that aggravates the situation when my wife says something I find upsetting. To take a phrase from our group, how I “show up” makes all the difference in whether a small incident escalates to a fight or I can “let it go,” maybe give my wife a hug even when I’m irritated with her, and move on vs. hang on.
In a recent therapy session, our therapist had some wise words. He said that in the vast majority of marital arguments, both sides are to some degree or another, right. But, what difference does it make? What good is being right if your partner, whom you supposedly love, is upset? Frankly, it’s childish. I stand by my rightness far too much and I lose as a result, let alone that I’ve hurt the woman I love and chose to share my life with.
Yes, relationships are complicated. But, it takes two to make them work or fail and I’m grateful that I have a partner who is willing to admit her mistakes as readily as I will admit mine. Where there’s that kind of communication, there’s hope and every chance to have a beautiful, nurturing, relationship. Stay tuned.