“Oh come on!”
“No, really — no advice. Actually, we asked each other what we were most surprised by, after all these years.”
“And … ?”
“She said she’s surprised how hard it still is.”
Amen, Sister. We raise our glasses “To Marriage” and I make a silent self-righteous vow: we’ll have it figured out by the time we’ve been married that long.
I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you I fall short as a mother. I forget to sign permission slips. I lose my temper. I’ve washed the same load of laundry four times, and I’m pretty sure it’s still sitting in the washer, getting smelly once again while you read this. (And although laundry is not a task inherent to motherhood — be real with me for a sec — I’d have 1/3 the amount of laundry if I wasn’t a mother of four kids.) I yell. I get frustrated. And at certain points, I cry.
To say, in general terms, that marriage is hard — bothers no one. You and I could laugh for days over the fact that our husbands can’t find the book on the corner of the table right there, that they chew too loud, clear their throats too often, and are such babies when they get sick.
But I hesitate to say my marriage is hard. I don’t want to invite the inevitable divining forks to come out, ready to dip and tilt and point. Saying you have a hard marriage begs the curious questions: hard why? Hard how?
I could explain our differences: I am late, and he is on time. He is left-handed, and I am right. I tan. He burns. He is disciplined. I am indulgent. I’m loud. He’s quiet. I exaggerate (to make a point), but he lets the facts speak for themselves. I’m emotionally hot. He’s emotionally cold. I process life through means outside of my body, while he barely talks and processes the world internally. We share no letters on our Myers Briggs test results.
I could tell you that my mom died when I was falling in love with this young man, and he could tell you about his unexpected brain surgery after we were married. I could explain how we didn’t have a great support system for many years, and he would agree that we’ve felt those effects ever since. I could tell you how our upbringings and life circumstances made a well worn path that led us in the right direction, even though we both know there must be a better way, for this one has too many ruts, and we’ve had too many flat tires.
Those of us with hard marriages hesitate to say anything at all, for fear of being misunderstood.
I’d rather tell you how we always go to sleep with at least some part of our bodies touching, that his dry humor puts me on the floor with laughter, that I often look at him and think what did I do to deserve such a good man? I want to explain when it comes to our faith, money, politics, and sex, our bookmarks are at the same page. I love my husband with my whole heart. I always have.
But the truth, even after all these years, is this: our marriage is still hard.
I share this because when we did get to our 12th anniversary, despite the work we put into it, and our creases and sharp edges hadn’t smoothed out, when our relationship remained peppered with miscommunications (because we literally do not understand things the same way), when we chose refuge in isolation instead of into each other’s arms, or spoke harsh words instead of giving grace during times of chronic tiredness and stress — I didn’t despair.
And I don’t want you to either.
Whether you’ve been married for 12 months or 12 years, and you don’t have it all figured out yet, you’re not alone. Hard does not mean bad. Hard just might be the truth. Many of us are on this challenging, good, and holy road.
My husband and I will celebrate our 19th anniversary this year. Most likely, we’ll order in sushi and drink champagne.
But numbers don’t matter. We all have the same charge: put one foot in front of the other, make the time to really talk, to forgive and ask for forgiveness. Maybe it’s on Valentine’s Day. Maybe on your anniversary. Maybe it’ll be some random Saturday night when you find a babysitter or six months from now on a Tuesday after the kids finally start sleeping at the same time. Whenever it is, I hope you can find a moment to use the special glasses, look in each other’s eyes, and toast.