My husband and I are coming up on our ten-year wedding anniversary. The occasion inspired some thinking about what I’ve learned about marriage in these ten years.
1. It’s Hard
Surprise! I learned this the very first week when we got in a fight about who-knows-what and ten years later we still fight about who-knows-what. We also disagree about Really Important Things like how to discipline our kids, negotiate family gatherings, spend money, and where articles of clothing can be found. I once overheard my parents arguing and proudly told them I’d never argue with my spouse. They haven’t stopped laughing about that and I have eaten their words on so many occasions I’ve felt nauseous. Next to parenting—and finding lost underwear—it’s the hardest gig out there.
2. Sex Isn’t Important
It’s vital. It is to the marriage what water and oxygen and prayer and freedom and any other metaphor that symbolizes crucial things to humanity. So many women—and even a few men—get into the rut of withholding it, ignoring it, or sloughing it off, week after week, month after month, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for stupid ones. This creates slow resentment, a vague discord, and a nagging tension that will fester like an infected wound that invades the stability, joy, and bond of the union until intimacy occurs with regularity, enthusiasm, and mutuality. Just do it.
3. I’m Not That Awesome
And maybe neither is my husband, but let’s let him deal with him, shall we? The joke in my family is that my parents didn’t have to teach my brother and me self-confidence. We embrace it. We ooze it. We’ve faked it and we’ve made it. So when I got married—between you and me and a few thousand other readers—I thought I was the shiz or whatever the cool kids are saying these days. Turns out: I’m selfish. I’m not as skinny as I used to be. After hearing my husband tell the same joke for ten years, I don’t laugh as readily as I should with him. After meeting the needs of our kids all day—and super-demanding editors (you know who you are)—when my husband comes home sometimes I’m all like: Hi, husband, I’m going for a run now, see you in my dreams. Pretty great, huh? If life is a process of becoming less selfish, as my dad has been telling me for years, than marriage is a process of pulling back the curtain on those places where you’ve neglected to become less selfish. The less I think about me, the happier we both are.
4. It’s Okay to Go to Bed Mad
Marriage counselors and pastors and the Bible basically say you shouldn’t “let the sun go down on your anger.” Well, that just never worked for us. On the temperament scale, my husband and I are opposites; our families of origin also resolved conflict differently, too. So between that and the fact that most of our arguments occur late at night, attempting to resolve most of our conflicts that same night only worsened things. And by worse I mean, “A volcano has erupted, evacuate quickly, people.” We take that phrase, not as a hard and fast rule, but a general principle to try to work towards resolution. We wait a day or two, sometimes a week, for clarity and do what we can to resolve things. (Also, there are some issues we agree to disagree on, so there.)
5. Kids Wreak Havoc
They disturb your sleep. They cost a lot of money. They barge into all your conversations. They interrupt that aforementioned intimacy. They make you fight because you’re so tired you’re unnecessarily irritable. They create messes so you spend all your “free” time cleaning. They take up so much time and energy it seems like your spouse is this foreign object who lives on the moon and occasionally visits Earth.
6. Kids Are Also Awesome
Few things are more bonding than caring for another human being alongside your spouse. That man of mine has held crying babies, visited the emergency room at midnight, cared for their little broken bones, taken four kids for the day so I can feign sanity, read 1,000 books to them, wiped millions of tears, sang songs, prayed prayers, and cried and laughed with our kids. Is there anything sweeter, more endearing—dare I say hotter—than a dedicated daddy? Sometimes when we’re not a great husband and wife we do make a great parenting team. And sometimes that’s the substance that holds us together while we get all the other things that are out of whack back into place.
7. Anniversary Notwithstanding, Our Love Isn’t Enough
When I got married there was this pervasive thinking in the media and among my peers that if the two of us were on the same side we could face anything that came our way. (If Twitter had existed then, our mantra would have been #winning.) We’ve faced births, deaths, miscarriages, betrayals, financial highs and lows, and multiple moves cross-country. Much of the time we’re a decent couple, but the only reason we’ve actually made it ten years is our faith in God. Period. We’ve foraged through enough stuff to come out on the other side and say: If it were just up to me, I’d probably bail. But God has sustained us.
8. My Husband Isn’t My Soulmate
As a Midwestern girl with an English degree, I grabbed hold of Emily Bronte’s adage, “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same” as zealously as Mr. Darcy loved Elizabeth (thank you, Jane Austen). But that maxim has only allowed me, when things have gotten difficult, to teeter on the edge of thinking: “This guy isn’t right for me. Is there someone else better?” The grass isn’t greener, folks. It’s all a dingy shade of yellow because we’re all flawed, selfish people. Just focus on watering when and where you can and take a big drink from the hose yourself—you need the most work, anyway.
9. It Can Make You Happy
Some of the best times in my life have been with my husband. We’ve hiked mountains; snorkeled oceans, slept under the stars, and eaten in some of the best restaurants in this country (gift cards to Gramercy Tavern are acceptable). We’ve watched four kids enter this world, said goodbye to people we love too soon, and built a house surrounded by neighbors we actually like. We’ve experienced adventure, fostered trust, nurtured love, and just enjoyed each other’s company—whether watching a movie at home or attending a once-in-a-lifetime show on Broadway. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, but it isn’t always sleeping alone on the couch, either.
10. But Happiness Is Not the Goal
For many years—in fact, if I were honest, probably up until five seconds ago—I really wanted to Just Be Happy in my marriage. If he would do all the right stuff and just appreciate all my right stuff we’d be riding unicorns into the sunset. But if happiness is the goal, we’ll always be dissatisfied because, no human being can truly satiate another completely, especially within the imperfect institution of marriage. Focus on God and others, then improving your flaws, and you might land on something that resembles joy.