Chris and April

Me and my husband.

Relationship advice is rampant. Daytime talk shows, magazines, and pop-psychology books are all filled with it. One of the deepest longings of the human heart is to be truly seen and deeply loved for who we are. As I was reminiscing about my own marriage (on having recently celebrated my ninth wedding anniversary) I came up with a few things that have been a help in my own marriage.
1. My husband sees me as a person. I think at the heart of Feminism is the desire to be seen as a person. If we suffer or if we experience joy, we want others to identify with us, to see themselves in our own experiences. I’m so happy that my husband doesn’t put me in my gender box, and think, “You’re a woman, therefore you’re supposed to like ______”, or “You’re supposed to do _______.” He sees me as a complex person, and when I experience emotional or physical pain, including the pain of childbirth, he feels compassion for me. Even though as a man, he will never experience some of the things that I experience as a woman, he nonetheless can identify with me as a person, and so shows great concern for me through whatever trial I may be experiencing.
2. He DOES, however, respect my gender. While he recognizes our common humanity, he doesn’t pretend that there are no differences between us. He honors my femininity. For example, in planning our family size, we choose to use Natural Family Planning (NFP). My own reasons for using NFP include health and religious reasons, but my husband is agnostic. For him, he doesn’t want me putting harmful devices or chemicals in my body; so he is happy to sacrifice sex-on-demand for my health. He also doesn’t make jokes about how my body works or disparage me in any way. On the contrary, when I menstruate he knows that I don’t have as much energy as at other times of my cycle, and so he takes on some of my household chores to allow me more time for the rest and reflection that my body and spirit needs.
3. He respects his own gender too. When we were learning Natural Family Planning, the couple who taught us said that during the days when a woman is fertile, she is more amorous. (However, since she is emitting pheromones that make her even more desirable, he especially wants her too). The man looked at my husband and told him that it was going to be his job to say no during that time if we’ve decided that we are postponing pregnancy. To my dismay, my husband has always taken this “duty” of his during my fertile phase very seriously. Nevertheless, his self-control and willingness to sacrifice himself for my health and for our mutual goals are an inspiration to me, and often make me want to work to emulate his level of loving sacrifice. I’m glad that just as he doesn’t accept as truth the harmful and false messages going around about my gender, he doesn’t accept them in regards to his own gender either. Beliefs such as “All men are animals”, “Men can’t control themselves”, or believing that he has to degrade or put down women in order to raise himself up have no place in his own definitions about who he is as a man.
4. We nurture our friendship. There’s a lot of harmful messages about women’s place, perpetuated especially in many mainstream women’s magazines. Most of these messages center around the idea that women’s worth depends on our sexiness, and if we want to be loved, then we have to tantalize men’s senses in the bedroom. I think such “advice” is really advice on how to encourage men to objectify you and see you as a sex-toy rather than as the complex and amazing person you are. Let’s face it, there is nothing that I can do in the bedroom that any other healthy woman can’t also do. If my husband is going to stick around, it’s going to be because HE is a faithful person, and secondly, because he loves the person I am – my personality, my story, and all the little quirks that are unique to me. My advice to couples, married and dating alike, is this: Don’t be afraid to be friends. If you enjoy one another’s company; if you can have fun together outside the bedroom; if you have respect for the person that one another is — that will give you a truly satisfying relationship. Every marriage goes through rough patches. For myself, during those times when I feel like my husband and I are out of sync and disconnected, I don’t try to “spice things up” in the bedroom. I try to become better friends with him.
Some of the things on this list, my husband and I learned along the way; some things we were lucky enough to have from the get-go. Really though, all four of the items could be summed up this way: Respect yourself. Respect your partner. That’s it.