I had a conversation about marriage with a young lady the other day. She’s engaged to a great guy. I’ve never met him, but he must be something special if talking about him makes her eyes light up the way they do.
She confided in me that although she’s so in love with this man, she’s also afraid. We live in a divorce culture, she said, and I don’t want that to happen to us. She asked about my marriage. I told her we’ve been married fifteen years. With big eyes, she asked me, “How do you keep it all together?”
As far as divorce culture goes, I couldn’t offer much, but in the way my own marriage works and why it works, I have a lot to say. I told her that different things work for different people, but I explained some of what works for us.
I told her that you can’t go into a marriage with society’s expectations. People love the idea of a traditional marriage where the husband works, the wife has and tends to babies, and there’s a white picket fence. The first thing I told her was that sometimes life won’t allow that to happen. Circumstances change, stuff happens, and things hardly ever go as planned. I had her attention at this point
Secondly, listen to your vows and mean them. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, richer or poorer, til death do you part. That means when things get hard, you work through it together. In my case, if your husband gets hurt and can’t work, you step up. You have to be willing to live in a shack if you must and take care of each other. It means that whenever life throws something huge at you, you deal with it as a unit. It means that when you are angry and fighting that it’s you and your husband against the problem and not against each other. It means you still love that person even when you don’t like them. It means that you love them more than you love yourself. She listened and nodded and told me that all that sounded pretty miserable.
I laughed and told her that just because there is bad, doesn’t mean there won’t be good. That’s different for everyone too, but for us, it’s making up wacky song lyrics. It’s dancing in the kitchen while we cook together. It’s being cuddled up on the couch watching a movie. It’s one of us doing something so silly that we both can’t stop laughing. It’s listening to the one you love sing along with the radio in the car and feeling like there’s no way you could ever love them more. It’s waking up after a nightmare and feeling safe and taking comfort in their warmth beside you. It’s being glad they’re with you while you watch a sunset or fireflies or the ocean kissing the rocks. It’s being in the hospital and finding strength in them. It’s holding their hand while your baby is being born. It’s finding out that you’ll probably never have children and finding comfort in one another. It’s little notes to each other. It’s being so thankful when they wash the dishes/do the laundry/scrub the toilet. It’s wanting to do similar things for them that you know you’re going to hate but doing it anyway because you love them and want to see them smile. It’s talking for hours about life and the universe and experiences and things you enjoy. It’s arguing and debating politics/religion/whatever you disagree about and still loving each other afterward. It’s dreaming together about what you both want out of life as individuals as well as together.
I told her it’s realizing that whatever you’re going through is only temporary. The bad is only temporary. It’s understanding that you are married to an imperfect human. A human that is going to make mistakes, make you angry, and make you sad. Because you love them, you forgive them and still cherish them.
I’ve been married to Tony for fifteen years. It’s hard to believe and easy to believe at the same time. We know the ins and the outs of each other. He’s seen me at my worst and my best. He’s seen me fall apart. He’s never threatened to leave or walk away when most would. Because when he said “I do” he meant it.
The most important thing is to mean it.
I told her that there was no way to predict what time would tell. Life changes and evolves. So do people. There’s no guarantee that comes with a marriage license that it’s a sure fire happily ever after. I didn’t want to sugar coat anything for her. I am the type of person that if I know something is doable, that’s all the assurance I need. She seemed like the same. A long happy marriage is doable if both give 100%. I know from the experiences of my friends that isn’t always the case. I hope I gave her a little hope. That’s all anyone can ask for.