5 Reasons Why Our Marriage Works

Ivan here.

The title of this post is like hanging up a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier. It’s tempting fate, by inviting complacency, leading eventually to a divorce.

The fact is, no marriage is perfect and every relationship is a work-in-progress. Ours is no different. But having spent the past nine years together, and six of those years surviving a long distance relationship, we thought we would give our perspective on the reasons why we think our marriage works.


5 Reasons Why Our Marriage Works

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1. Having shared values is more important than having similar personalities or interests

A few mornings ago, Jennie and I noticed something about our interactions with the Cambodian husband and wife who run our favorite donut shop:

“Do you ever notice that they’re more relaxed and chatty around me than they are with you?” asked Jennie.
“Now that you mention it,” I said, taking a sip of coffee. “Yeah, that’s kind of upsetting. I come here more often than you too. Sometimes they see me twice a day.”

Life isn’t fair. We can’t all be short and peppy Asian girls, brimming with optimism and empathy. One of Jennie’s superpowers is that she can meet someone for the first time and make them comfortable enough to spill their deepest, darkest secrets - like they’ve known her their whole life. I’ve seen her do this many times. Frankly, it’s manipulative, but as a writer, I’m also jealous. I want to learn people’s secrets…

[Editor’s note: It’s not manipulative. It's called genuine interest and empathy.]

On the other hand, I’ve found that people are not as comfortable around me. I don’t give off many verbal or non-verbal cues of interest (even though I’m usually very engaged!). Sometimes, when I’m in a conversation, I have to remind myself to smile.

But despite our personality differences, Jennie and I operate on the exact same wavelength. This is because we have almost identical values. While we’ve definitely worked at this over the course of our 9 year relationship, the similarities were there from the beginning:

  • We both have problems with being told what to do.
  • We don’t like being tied down.
  • We like to challenge everything, and
  • We’re willing to do (just about) anything to get what we want.

You don’t need to have similar personalities or interests to make a relationship work. Those are just details. Having similar values means that we both want to move in the same direction.

2. Different backgrounds and perspectives can often be complementary

I have no idea what it’s like to grow up poor or to experience racism. But collectively, we do. Jennie has no idea what it’s like to live and work in a foreign country, or to plan your financial future out in decades. But collectively, we do. Whenever we have different opinions about a person we just met, I usually defer to her opinion. Whenever she’s trying to figure out the best way to communicate an idea, she usually defers to mine.

Having worked part-time service jobs since she was 14, I trust that Jennie has had more exposure to different types of people than I have, and understands what makes them tick better than I do. Having had a lot of time on my hands to sit around in air-conditioning (Taipei summers: would not recommend) and read and write all day, I know how to communicate an idea with clarity. It’s the only useful skill I possess.

We learn from each other, ask each other for advice, and openly disagree. Through this process, Jennie makes me a more well-rounded and empathetic human being, whereas I challenge her to think and act in a way that’s true to herself.

Because of these differences, we’re able to draw on a larger sample size of experience to make more informed decisions.

3. Being able to say anything to each other and trusting that it comes from a good place

We argue - a lot. Sometimes, a brainstorming session for our business or this blog feels like open-hand combat while scaling Mount Everest. We both have to bring the big guns and artillery to an argument, because otherwise, one person is going to roll over the other.

The motto for our relationship should be:

If you give me an inch, I’m going to try to take the entire mile.

Arguing a lot means we end up saying some unsavory and uncomfortable things to each other. Not going to lie - stubbornness ensues and feelings get hurt - but eventually, we come around to the idea that what the other person says (usually) comes from a good place.

It can be small things. I remember in the beginning of our relationship, Jennie had this habit where she’d agree with someone just to seem agreeable. It’s the sociable side of her that wants everyone to have a good time and feel comfortable. Usually, this is fine, but I draw the line when she starts agreeing with something she obviously doesn’t believe.

“ Is that what you actually think? Because I know you said the exact opposite to me. So either, a) you lied to me or b) you just agreed for the sake of being agreeable. I can’t trust you if it’s the former. The latter makes you look weak and spineless. Stop doing that. ”

Or how about this comment Jennie made before I headed off to Taiwan?

“ Recently, I’ve noticed that you’ve been taking your lack of productivity out on me. I didn’t do anything wrong. You’ve just been lazy and not producing like the professional you’re supposed to be. And I don’t appreciate being treated like this. ”

And those were the family-friendly versions of what we said. But at the end of the day, no matter what was said, we both realize that we’re on the same team. This means that we can be brutally honest with each other to make the team better.

4. We’re able to function together and independently

If there’s any upside to spending six years doing long distance, it’s that we were both forced to develop and grow separately. Both of us have 4-6 years of working experience under our belt in our areas of specialty. We had social lives apart from each other. We could get ourselves set up in most cities around the world with food, shelter, and a job.

We don’t have to be together - we chose to be together.  

I think psychologically, this is an important distinction. Because how else would I know Jennie isn’t just with me because I’m familiar or for lack of a better option? Or that she’s scared of what life might look like without something she’s “used to” or “depends on”? The idea of being someone’s convenient or default choice is upsetting.

5. We’re not influenced by people’s expectations of what a marriage is

The institution of marriage is not sacred to us. Had it not been for the fact that one of us needed to immigrate in order to live together, we probably wouldn’t have married so early in our twenties. I guess the best way to put it is:

We would’ve stay unmarried for as long as the tax advantages of marriage were less than the expense and hassle of holding a wedding.

Even after we married, we had no expectations of what married life “should be like.” What should the husband or man be responsible for in a marriage? The wife or woman?

Our approach was pretty simple: I’m me. You’re you. And we’re going to figure out exactly what kind of marriage we want that works for us, and we’re going to make conscious, rational decisions to build towards that.

Everything else is just noise.