This past Friday marked the anniversary of the nuptials of the father of my children and yours truly. I’ve learned a lot after sixteen years of wedded “bliss”, a lot about what makes marriage work. And here it is: I have no idea.
I’m no authority on marriage. I’ve got only sixteen years to my name, and we haven’t been through the wringer (not yet anyway). So I feel a bit silly writing about it. It’s not something I ponder a lot, which I take as a good sign. I do try to step back and evaluate from time to time. Every so often, we go to counseling together for what a friend once referred to as a “tune-up”. But my marriage is not a thorn in my side and it hasn’t caused me significant heartache. I wish I could point to a certain element of it and say “This, THIS is the secret!” But I got nothin’.
Let me detail some of our “bliss” for you. My guy does a lot of hacking, snorting and sniffling. A lot. A LOT. It drives me bonkers. He claims I do a lot of extremely loud and prolonged sighing (It’s a pressure valve, hon. If I don’t release every so often, I’ll explode. And you know what THAT looks like.). I wish he would call when he’s running late. He wishes I was cheerier in the mornings. (The other day our 9yo asked his dad if he was afraid of anything, to which his dad replied: “Your armpits and mommy-in-the-morning.” Ahem.) I don’t think the hubs will ever fully get how crazy-making it can be to stay at home with young children all day long. He says I don’t fully understand the tone of voice I use to explain this point to him. There’s more…but that’s what therapy is for, right? All that to say, our marriage is nowhere near perfect. We have issues. Like everyone. If you were to ask me how we’ve made it work thus far, I’d probably say something to the effect of “I ended up with an especially good-humored guy who can put up with my many imperfections and occasional hissy fits.” The thing is, that doesn’t sound like work to me. More like luck.
I feel so fortunate to be on this journey with the guy to whom I’m hitched. But as I spend more time on this earth and witness the crumbling or flat-out breakdown of so many relationships, all I keep thinking is “I’ve been really lucky.” Some will try to explain away the so-far success of my (or their) marriage with things like “it’s because we share the same faith” or “it’s because of our determination to work through conflict” or “it’s because we can laugh together”. Maybe. Those things certainly buoy any relationship. But I’m not quite buying it. I see plenty of faithful, determined, easily-amused people who are dragged down by their marriages.
So many people marry young. I did. How can you know what you’re doing? Maybe you do, most likely you don’t, but you sign the papers anyway and then you’re in. For the long haul. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed but marriage can be, um, hard.
I’ve witnessed marriages blow up due to pressure from chronic/debilitating bouts of mental/physical illness, job transition, financial loss/gain, affairs, the death of a child, and extreme shifts in spiritual beliefs. Think about how hard it is to walk through those changes with a friend. Then think about living with that friend in close quarters under such stress. It’s a wonder anyone stays married.
On the other hand, I know marriages that have survived – even thrived – under these same circumstances. Why? How?? I wanna hear from those folks. The ones who’ve made it through the wringer with their marriages intact…and better for it. (I’m taking notes for future reference. We all know things can change in a heartbeat. Even in the most stable, seemingly-unshakeable relationships, they can.) And on the flip, I wanna hear from people who are healthier after extricating themselves from their marriage. At what point do you decide it’s time to go separate ways? King Solomon writes in the book of Ecclesiates, “There is a time for everything…a time to embrace and a time to turn away…”. I don’t say that lightly, but yes, I believe it’s true…if you’re in a marriage that’s crushing your soul, there is a time to turn away. I know people who have walked this road and, though painful, are healthier for it.
I’m also coming to realize that the spectrum on which we define “healthy marriage” – the way we interact with our respective spouses – are as varied as the individual personalities of humanity. And that’s a lot of variety. What works for us won’t necessarily work for you. Some friends of mine who’ve been married over 40 years once told me about trying to follow the traditional “head-of-household husband” and “submissive wife” roles prescribed by their religious denomination, and how it subsequently didn’t work. For some, those traditional roles might feel natural and comfortable. And if it works in your relationship, more power to you. My friends settled into and agreed upon a relationship where the wife is more apt to take the reins, and the husband happily follows her lead. And it works. They are two of the most hospitable, humble, generous-of-heart people I know. And they’re good together. Their mutual love for each other is obvious.
It’s so easy to place judgment on others. We hear small bits of a certain couple’s marriage and we think we know what they need to do to improve. But can any of us bury ourselves into the heart of another and know what’s truly going on within them, within their intimate relationship with their spouse? Quite impossible, in my opinion. And while I certainly always want to encourage others in their marriages, ultimately, I’m only responsible for the relationship in which I’m a partner.
I recently came across this paragraph which I jotted down around our 8th anniversary. We’ve now doubled the years and tripled the kids, and it all still holds true. For you, Brandon: “Because I love you, I will…attempt to cook healthy and delicious meals for you, extract a splinter from the sole of your stinky foot, bring you water when you’re having dry heaves, wash your dirty skivvies, tell you when you could use a mint, allow you to pass gas in my sacred space of a bed, laugh at the lame jokes you keep telling and tell you when they’re not worth a laugh, deal with your petty annoyances because I know I have them too (more than you do, I’m positive), kiss you even when you’re sweaty.” What can I say? I’m a romantic at heart.
The idea that there’s a myriad of definitions for the phrase “healthy marriage? I like it. It’s freeing. If whatever you’re doing in your marriage is working for the two of you, keep doing it. For me, if the hubs and I on the same page – or at least in the same chapter – of this anonymously-authored book of love, then we’re good. Enough.
Now. Off to wash some skivvies.