April 2, 2021

“The First 50 Years of Marriage are Always the Hardest.”

I’m not a marriage counsellor, nor am I a therapist.

I’m a wife of 33 years and that title continues to teach me about the institution of marriage.

I’ve realized in time that being the better half is my job, not his.

Our marriage is based on the premise that we each agree to bring 100 percent, rather than 50/50.

When we’re young and bright-eyed, we marry once we believe we’ve found the one. I’ve seen enough divorces to know that second chances can lead to happily ever after. I am not sure there is only one, but I wholeheartedly embrace the thinking that you’ve got to love the one you’re with, until you don’t.

We think we have found him because he totally gets us. He loves everything about us, warts and all. We promise to love unconditionally ’til death do us part. I often compare this to a woman finding out she’s pregnant. If someone provided her with a list of all that entailed—morning sickness, swelling, sleeplessness, weight gain—she might run and hide under her bed.

There is something exciting about the unknown when we are “in” love, the unconditional kind.

Let’s take off the rose-colored glasses for just a moment. Life places conditions on our lives. What that vow could say is, “I won’t bail.” In my experience, loving without conditions is the stuff of fairy tales. Marriage is a verbal contract two people enter into together. I believe we choose each other to become better humans. I’m about as in love with my husband as a wife can be. Having said that, there have been times in my marriage when I wanted to jump out of my skin, times when I felt misunderstood or taken for granted. I feel confident he would say the same.

The marriages that last have two people willing to reconcile those feelings and move forward. Transitions in life can require sizeable adjustments. That is the universe’s version of providing fertile ground for personal growth. Any relationship that is long-term is going to face the need to navigate some rough waters.

We met on a blind date when he was in his second year of medical school. I told my mom after our first lunch date I was going to marry him. We married at the beginning of his residency two years later. It was not unusual for him to work 40 hours at a time. I remember one shift that lasted 56 hours straight, no sleep.

As newlyweds, I would come home from a long day and every other night that he was actually home, he would fall asleep eating dinner at the table. He’d wake up the next day and head back into the hospital at 5 a.m. to do it all over again. There was stress, there was disconnect at times, and it was work. There was joy and bliss. There was adrenaline and we did the work. We thought we were invincible; we were young and in love.

And then life humbles us. We’ve always pushed each other and challenged each other to step out of the warm and fuzzy existence of the comfort zone. That is what I most admire about us and it has caused some of life’s greatest challenges.

I have been disappointed at times when he didn’t show up the way I needed him to, and then I realized it was just an invitation from the universe for me to show up for myself. I have learned to be independent in ways I was not. It was necessary for us to exist. I could resist or step up. I am sure I have fallen short in his estimation as well, and he had to figure it out. How a couple deals with this is telling.

He isn’t actually my other half. He’s the man I picked to share my heart with, to father my children, and raise them to be who they are. I chose him because I believed he was good enough for me. He felt like someone I could work with, live with, and believe in; our values aligned on the big stuff. We were better together than apart. You could feel our energy when we walked in a room; you still can.

My mom always says that when you’re picking a mate, you’re choosing a business partner, a roommate, and a best friend. Check, check, check.

If I come to him with a sticky situation I’m in with a friend and ask for his feedback, he won’t hesitate to tell me, “It’s not her, it’s you.” He holds me accountable. He reminds me who I am. There’s no lip service in our house. We tell it like it is. On the flip side, I often remind him to soften his edge—the one he doesn’t think he has. I gently ask him to listen when he’s inclined to talk over someone. It is done without words, just a quiet glance from a loving place.

It’s clear to me that I found him so I could learn how to stand on my own. He chose me to be his lifelong teacher of all things heart and soul. He is my roots, and I am his wings. Our roles have always been well defined and it has kept things running mostly smoothly.

I’m a believer and the world’s biggest romantic.

Love and marriage require different skills. There is no rule book. Every relationship should write its own. I stopped needing to have the last word after a few years. I realized I didn’t need it. It was just a game I liked to play. Being right is overrated. It doesn’t bring extra points if you’re keeping score and it certainly doesn’t buy happiness. He stopped walking out the door to cool off after a disagreement around the same time. These were the behaviors that made each of us feel unsafe. They triggered the parts of us that still needed to heal; this is where real love lives and breathes.

We choose our partners in life based on where we are in our own evolution. I married at 25. My husband was gorgeous, larger-than-life, attending medical school, and the funniest guy I’d ever met. What else would I need?

Ignorance is bliss and youth is naïve. We moved in together on our second date. No kidding. We certainly didn’t make things easy for ourselves, but we never gave up. I was pretty, outgoing, funny, and I was having great career success at a job making big money. We each thought we won the lottery, and in most ways, we had.

We quickly discovered we were both stubborn, wanted to be right, and were extremely different in expressing frustration during conflict. Let’s just say I’m being extremely generous. In some ways you could say we were twins separated at birth, and in other ways we might not belong on the same planet.

Growing up in his house, family said whatever they wanted in the heat of the moment. Everyone knew they were just blowing off steam. Growing up in my house, you never said anything you didn’t mean, because once it was said, it could never be unsaid. We would come to realize that we were two people who needed to learn a common love language—and we did.

I need to feel safe in love and he needs to feel accepted. It didn’t take all 33 years for us to figure this out. Somewhere along the way, it became clear that we would have to give up wanting to be right and we had to resist being so reactive. We also had to close our mouths long enough to hear what the other’s heart was saying.

Ideally, marriage is a relationship that generates character. The most challenging thing about long-term marriages is finding a way to continue to grow together, when life is taking you in two completely different directions.

Think for a moment about the dinner conversation that might be taking place between a brand new mama who’s up to her ears in diapers and the proud papa who has just gotten home from a long day at the office. They could easily feel like they are living in two different worlds, and in most ways, they are. Sometimes you have to grasp at common ground; other times you have to dig until you find some. I believe this has something to do with the term “ground rules.”

I believe the magic of being married is to make what’s important to the other person, important to you. It’s that simple and yet it’s not simple at all.

Every morning, you have to wake up and look for ways to feel connected. Then you have to be willing to do what it takes to stay that way. Some days, it’s so easy you don’t even have to think about it, and then you’ll hit a stretch when fatigue hits, much like we are experiencing with the pandemic. You know what we call that? Normal. You may feel like you’re walking through mud, and the desire to take off your boots and walk away sounds pretty inviting.

I propose we rewrite marital vows to reflect a more accurate sentiment. I’d keep for better or worse, as long as it always ends up better. How about “in boredom and joy” or “in peaks and valleys.” I’d delete “forsaking all others.” Marriages do not thrive in a vacuum. We need “all others,” ergo the expression, “It takes a village.”

Friendships compliment a healthy relationship. They add distraction, which lends perspective. Time apart allows us to miss someone. In my experience, distance really does make the heart grow fonder. I am comfortable with “til death do us part,” unless of course, we both agree to part sooner.

I still belly laugh and he still thinks I’m the bees knees. We have one of the happiest, healthiest marriages I know of. Having said that, we’ve had our moments; our moments have had their moments; but that’s real life.

Getting to the other side is a skill that requires patience and takes some cultivating. It can be so much easier to leave than to press on.

I’m in it for the long haul, and so is he.

As long as we both commit to doing whatever needs to happen to stay on course, I feel confident that happily ever after is in our future.


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