The Secret to My Happy Marriage

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My husband and I have been married for 16 years, and I don’t think I would ever use the words “happily married” to describe us. Something about that phrase feels weird to me because it seems to imply that we have worked through all of our conflicts. The truth is, we don’t solve all of our disputes. We don’t even address all our disputes. We are each happy with our marriage, but, for us, the key to that happiness is us being comfortable with leaving some issues untouched.

The lingo people sling around when talking about successful marriages is “healthy communication,” and I think many couples misunderstand that to mean that they have to solve — or at least be working on — every single issue in their relationship. But healthy communication isn’t just about paving a wrinkle-free path. It’s also about creating a set of boundaries that each person respects. One of the best pieces of marriage advice I ever heard went something like “you have to be a little blind and a little deaf to get along for that long,” and it’s true.

My husband and I resonated with this lesson pretty early on in our marriage. We each have a lifetime of our own unique emotional experiences we drag around with us, and sometimes that means that we can’t fully understand each others’ perspectives. Sure, we have compassion and empathy for one another, but that can’t always land us on the same page. So some things just don’t get a resolution — and I don’t see that as problematic.

For us, infidelity, abuse, and falling out of love are all deal-breakers, so we drew our lines around those things. But there are other, murkier issues, and when it comes to some of those, the elephant in the room doesn’t stress us, it just exists. My husband and I have carefully and deliberately developed a waltz of sorts where we can step around the things we can’t fix and still enjoy the beat of what makes our relationship feel like home. It’s messy. It’s imperfect. But shouldn’t all relationships be that way?

One of the most significant issues in our marriage is the lack of sex. Parenthood, wonky sleep and work schedules, low sex drive, and a very small house have doused our intimacy with enough cold water that I sometimes wonder if my husband and I are just roommates who happen to sleep in the same bed. We both know that this issue won’t get solved overnight, but we also know that many of these obstacles won’t last forever, so we’ve dropped the topic for the time being. The only thing we gain from arguing over sex is hurt feelings and anger, so we put it aside. And you know what? Ignoring this issue while we focus on what makes us happy is an approach that works for us.

I’m convinced that there is wisdom in learning to build gentle, buffering spaces where our issues can exist without us having to pelt each other with endless discussions and endless “working through.” In my opinion, a successful marriage isn’t one where all issues are on the table; it is one that contains two people who are comfortable living alongside those issues in peace.

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Sarah Cottrell is a Maine-based freelance journalist and lifestyle writer. Her work has been featured on VICE Tonic, New York Magazine, Washington Post, and has been included in seven anthologies including the New York Times bestselling series, I Still Just Want to Pee Alone.