As of today, I’ve been married for nine years.
That’s not something that happens every day.
I know there’s folks who have been married for even longer, and I know that nine isn’t a pretty, round number like 10. Nonetheless I woke up today and thought, I’ve been married for nine years, wow!
I let the thought sink in, and reflected on what a journey it’s been. Good times and bad times. Highs and lows.
Marriage isn’t something that happens on the day you say, “I do.” Marriage happens over the many days that follow, when you wake up in the morning and choose to keep loving your partner, despite all their flaws and imperfections. (This goes both ways.)
Marriage takes love.
People define love in so many different ways.
I had a teacher in high school (I’ve mentioned him before) who used to give us thoughtful little insights into life.
One of the things I remember him saying, more than once, is: “Love is not a feeling; it’s an act of the will.”
Words fallen upon the deaf ears of a room full of 13 and 14-year-olds.
To us kids, love was a Disney movie. It was a princess and a prince living happily ever after.
Love was Molly Ringwald kissing Jake Ryan across her birthday cake.
Love was butterflies in the tummy, long-stem roses, and pounding hearts.
We tried to argue with him, telling him that love is a feeling. Love is an intense feeling of adoration for another person. True, we hadn’t experienced it yet, but we knew.
Love was that feeling of joy, bursting in your heart for another person, and when you felt it, you’d know.
This teacher of ours was just a jaded, old man who couldn’t possibly know what he was talking about. Right?
“An act of the will.” What does that even mean?
About 20 years later, I get it.
Sure, when you meet someone, you may be highly attracted to him or her. As you get to know them more, you fall deeper into the abyss of feelings and emotions. You get attached. You crave the company of that special someone.
All of that is huge stuff. It’s important.
We feel, we connect, we desire.
We get that tingle in our heart that says to us, “This is the one!”
We say “I love you” and we mean it.
Really mean it.
You find that person that compliments you so fantastically, that perhaps you take the grand leap and decide to spend the rest of your life with this person.
That’s a choice.
No matter what the circumstances or motivation behind the act of marriage, we choose to accept another person, for better or for worse, and stick to that until we die.
That’s the idea at least… We all know things don’t always work out that way.
The thing is, for those marriages that do last until “death do us part,” it’s not because their initial “feelings” of love were any stronger.
True love isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice. It’s a decision you make every day, to stick with that person you married.
It’s not always an easy choice.
The more time you spend with someone, the more you learn about all the little things they do, that drive you mad!
There’s little stuff and there’s bigger stuff, and it all affects the marriage.
And people grow and change.
We are each on an individual journey through life, and we are always learning, always growing and ever-changing.
People in marriages sometimes grow apart.
We annoy each other. We irritate. We make mistakes. We disappoint. We fail. We have the capacity to be ugly (I don’t mean appearance) and cruel.
When you can see someone’s ugliness, weaknesses and short-comings, and still choose to love them, that’s real.
Love isn’t a feeling. Love is an act of the will. Love is a choice.
When two people stand together in front of witnesses and exchange vows, they don’t truly know each other yet.
They know a version of themselves. It doesn’t matter if they’ve dated for years, or even lived together beforehand.
Once you commit, and choose to love and honor each other for the rest of your days, you change. You become a unit.
I don’t mean that you lose your individuality or sense of self, but you are no longer facing life alone – you have a partner. Someone, besides yourself, to take into consideration.
As the days, months and years go by, you see this person in ways you’ve never seen before.
You get to know them on such an intrinsically deep level, because you are in fact, sharing a life together.
You see shame, failures, regret. You see laziness and stubbornness and hot tempers. You see impatience, fear and indifference. You see selfishness.
You see all these things, and accept them with an open heart.
You give patience, understanding and acceptance.
This goes both ways, for both parties, at various stages throughout your journey together.
When one partner pulls away, the other gives space. When one partner is needy, the other offers support. When one makes a mistake, the other forgives. When one feels sadness, the other offers compassion.
It’s not an easy journey. It is not an easy choice to make – to keep loving someone who has hurt you, disappointed you, or made you angry.
And these things will happen.
Because life happens.
Holding jobs, paying mortgages, rearing children, planning for the future – with all these things comes stress, trials and tribulations.
You see your partner’s faults and short-comings, and you realize they are a mirror of your own imperfections.
All you can do, is continue to treat each other with kindness and acceptance. Keep striving to give that person as much love and compassion as you can, because a time will come when you will require that kindness and acceptance from your partner.
Because we are all imperfect human beings. Trying to do the best we can, but often failing miserably.
Yet, there’s another person there that takes our bullshit every day. Because they love us. Because they choose to not give up on us.
Because with the bad, comes the good, and it’s an on-going dance and no one ever fully masters all the steps.
Yet, we keep dancing.
Life is hard; Merging two lives together, into one is even harder.
At times, always having someone there, sharing life with you is comforting. At other times, having this other person to consider can be infuriating.
But every day, we have a choice. To choose to love that person, or not.
When we keep choosing to love, despite…
That’s when it becomes real! That’s what makes marriages last. That’s how the partnership grows and flourishes.
And along with that choice comes all the other stuff – the yummy stuff!
Soft caresses in the morning. Sweet kisses to come home to in the evening. Sexy moments under the moonlight.
The friendship. The joy. The laughter.
Because the hard choices often yield the best rewards…
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photos: Courtesy of the author