Ben Affleck’s speech accepting Best Picture at the Oscars has got twitter tongues wagging. Thanking his wife, Jennifer Garner, he spoke about his marriage. Here’s the part that got people going:
“It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with.”
The camera panned to his wife’s face; she smiled as her eyes filled with tears.
Then the criticism rolled in.
Many felt his thanks was a faux pas, a revelation that this marriage is on the rocks. Some felt that he had insulted his wife by suggesting that marriage was hard. “Am I the only one who thinks Ben Affleck’s in trouble at home for telling the world his marriage is a lot of work?” went one popular tweet. You were even able to vote: did Ben sleep on the couch or in the bedroom?
We want to believe in the fairytale marriage, the perfect, flawless movie star romance. If you have the fame and fortune, obviously you have the ‘happily ever after’ too. Admitting to working on a marriage is just not a romantic way of expressing one’s love. It shatters our idea of fabulous Hollywood living.
Work equals sweat and we shouldn’t have to sweat in a good marriage. It should be automatic.
Anyone who believes that to be true does not really understand what marriage is all about.
There are no perfect marriages that just happen. There are no storybook endings with husbands and wives who just live each day in absolute bliss. Husbands and wives struggle together. They face challenges, some larger than life and some that may seem so simple and small but somehow grow big – like when it becomes too arduous to give a warm smile. We are simply not in the mood but we must dig deep and be kind.
The myth is that only couples with awful marriages need to work on their marriage. But Affleck touched on something genuine here. No matter who you are, no matter how rich, how beautiful, how successful, how powerful, couples need to work together for their marriage to endure. This becomes a lifelong labor of love, not a lifetime sentence of painful labor.
Even the best marriages take hard work. When a couple tells me that they are newly engaged and so ‘in love’, I know that they have not yet really experienced true love. True love grows from those moments through the years where we learn to put aside our differences and seek peace. We strain as we attempt to forgive. Dark nights can seem endless. We climb mountains together. We stumble. We face difficult vistas we never dreamed of. There are incredible moments of joy and there are painful moments of sorrow. We journey through it all together and find that our love has grown stronger than we could have ever imagined. It requires constant effort, but at the end of the day we discover that we care for this person like no other. Ben Affleck’s speech was the sign of a good marriage.
And the work never stops. There is no age where we can say we can now just coast along. The Torah teaches us that when God revealed to Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son in their old age, He endeavored to protect their shalom bayit, their marital peace, and did not repeat to him that Sarah had said ‘my husband is old’. The message is that peace in our homes is our most valuable asset and can never be taken for granted. Not even in the home of Abraham and Sarah; not even at the age of 90 and 100.
How can we work on our marriage and help it grow stronger through the years?
1. KEEP UPDATED
We believe that we know our spouse and that we are the same person we were when we walked down the aisle. We are not. Life happens. We need to keep updated on our spouse’s emotions. Don’t get stuck believing that there is nothing new to learn about your spouse. Share your thoughts, your disappointments, and your goals. Ask about feelings, likes and dislikes. Envision life together. Dare to dream. Don’t assume that you know it all. You don’t want to wake up one day and realize that you have no idea who your spouse is.
2. MAKE YOUR MARRIAGE YOUR PRIORITY
We get caught up in our jobs, our children, our friends, even our days at the gym. We do not realize that the one person we are neglecting most is our spouse. It’s important to set time aside together and not just in times of crises. Establish your own traditions like a daily chat over a cup of coffee, nighttime snack or a weekly ‘walk and talk’. This time together must be your own, without distractions from iPhones or the kids. If you feel that there is someone who is undermining your relationship, you need to seek good solutions together and not allow this interference to dissolve your bond.
3. SHOW RESPECT
Respect builds strong marriages. Every husband and wife requires the respect of their spouse to feel appreciated and loved. Respect means that I do not badmouth my spouse to my children, friends or relatives. I don’t react with sarcasm, rolling eyes or ridicule when my spouse expresses thoughts or emotions. I avoid personal attacks and put downs when we disagree. I create an environment that feels safe. There is trust between us. Intimacy flourishes as both husband and wife feel free to share ideas and know that we are here for each other no matter what.
4. DO SMALL ACTS OF DAILY KINDNESS
‘Ahava’, the Hebrew word for ‘love,’ comes from the word ‘hav’ which means to give. Love grows when I invest in my relationship by giving. We forget that one little gesture shows our spouse that we do not take them for granted. It is our way of saying daily ‘I love you and appreciate you. You are important to me’. A recent study found that small acts of kindness boost marital satisfaction and that people who put their spouse’s needs first felt happier themselves. Do not let a day go by without doing something nice for your spouse. It does not have to be big or expensive. A text expressing appreciation, preparing a favorite snack, warming up the car, taking over childcare when it is not expected-ask yourself how you can create a loving atmosphere in your home. You will find that your bond grows stronger with time.
5. BE POSITIVE
It can be a strain to always hear the downside. Everything does not have to be about financial obligations, problems with the kids, and the awful state of the job market today. Recognize your blessings and express them. When times are tense, don’t allow yourself to fall into a pattern of blaming and complaining. Lose the critical eye and focus on the positive. If you find that this goes against your nature, know that you have work to do so that you do not grow bitter and moody. Stop yourself from voicing constant criticism. Look for the good in people and situations. Don’t forget to laugh together. A relationship that is positive focuses on faith, hope, and the belief that we will share our tomorrows together with joy. We will get through things and endure together. Our love is strong.
When we work on our marriages and give of ourselves without expectations, we discover love and understanding. We tap into a joy that sustains us and remains with us forever.
This is the real ‘happily ever after.’