What was happening? Today of all days?!
It was my wedding day and I had quietly crept upstairs to take a shower before the rest of the family was awake. Instead of a stream of hot water, I heard only bubbles of air from the water pipes.
I rushed out to the kitchen where my mother was sitting quietly. There was no coffee bubbling on the stove and no fragrance of freshly baked bread. Because of a violent thunderstorm during the night, there was no electricity, no water, and no telephone service. My husband-to-be was in a nearby city, and could not be reached.
How would we communicate about possible changes in our carefully planned day?
So much for a perfect wedding day!
David Whyte, author of the book, The Three Marriages, writes about the ironic frequency of unexpected events that threaten to mess up a wedding day. It seems to be a common theme, but that was of no comfort to me. In that moment of crisis, I was frantic and feeling helpless. What if this was a sign of trouble for us in our new marriage?
My ever-practical mother calmly served a cold breakfast and reassured me that all would be well. I settled down and waited. Fortunately, it was only a couple of hours before the power was restored, my husband and his best men arrived, and we all got ready for the wedding on time. We had a wonderful day and this experience has become a favourite story whenever we share memories of our wedding day.
Looking back, I realize that our wedding day is a metaphor for our life together. A power outage symbolizes events that were out of our control. Over the years, there have been challenges with money, health, and with our relationship. We would dream and plan, and then struggle with disappointment when we had to switch direction or shift our focus. However, just as our wedding day turned out to be filled with love and laughter, our marriage has brought us joyful experiences as well. We backpacked throughout Europe before our children were born. We loved hiking and camping, and continued this with our young children. To this day, they all love the outdoors and spending time in nature. By now we are grandparents, and we love the energy and enthusiasm for life that our grandchildren share with us.
What do I include in the bouquet of memories I am gathering to honour our long-term marriage?
This year my husband and I are celebrating 49 years of marriage. I am choosing to bring together the mix of blossoms, wild flowers, and thorny plants that illustrate our marriage. Together, they showcase the magic and messiness of our relationship.
As I reflect on our marriage, I am filled with gratitude. I also have questions. What has brought us this far? What motivated us to stay together? Who are we now that we have been married for so many years? What bits of our story might inspire others on their life journey?
Here are some of the principles and values that have guided us. They have been refined and reconfigured over the years as we “grew up” together in our marriage.
First, love myself. When I have self-respect, self-awareness, self-compassion, and am contented with my own company, I am able to share love with my husband freely and from an abundant place that is overflowing with joy and peace. I have learned that it is not realistic to expect my husband to “make me happy.” I am fully responsible for my experience, as is he. When we both reach out to each other from this place, our love is enriched and grows deeper.
Marriage is a new conversation based on the people we are becoming as we commit to each other. It means giving up certain selfish ideas of who I used to be, and being willing to be changed along the way. My husband and I view our marriage as the “third party” in our relationship. We focus on our personal desires, what the other person needs, and then together we look at what our choices will mean for our marriage. This perspective has prompted us to look at the “long view” when we may have been tempted to make hasty decisions or choose a path that may exclude the other or be hurtful.
Collaboration and cooperation have characterized our relationship from the beginning. We made choices based on what was best for us and our family. This meant that in the early 1980s my husband became a stay-at-home dad, while I worked full-time as a nurse to support our family. Both of us were trailblazers as we chose a lifestyle that was unusual for our rural town. This experience has benefitted our whole family, and has raised the awareness for all of us that gender roles can be flexible.
Communication is crucial to our relationship. We are still practicing being authentic with emotions and stating clearly what we want. I now know that I cannot expect my husband to read my mind! This has been a game changer for us. Firstly, I need to know what I want, and then, it is up to me to tell him. And, of course, to hold it lightly if I don’t get what I want!
Learning to listen to each other has created trust and safety between us. In our early years, my husband was eager to give me advice and fix my problems. He soon learned that was not what I wanted, and with time, he has become a calm presence for me. His deep listening is a key to the joy I experience when I share with him.
We invested in our marriage by booking time just for us. When our children were young, we soon realized how little time we had for each other. Weeks would go by and our focus was on childcare, grocery lists, and paying the bills. What about us? One phrase that we heard during that time made a difference in how we planned to nurture our relationship. A speaker at a conference for parents said, “The best gift you can give your children is a loving and connected marriage.” We were fortunate to have my husband’s parents living close by, and they would take care of our children on a regular basis. Those “honeymoon” weekends in the city contributed to a spark in our love life, and became part of the foundation of our commitment to each other.
Rituals and celebrations are an integral part of our life as a couple. Simple activities that we could count on added security and anticipation to our routine. Sunday morning brunch with crepes and fresh fruit, swimming in maple syrup and whipped cream, became a treat for the whole family. Birthdays were always special, and the homemade chocolate cake with ice cream became a favourite birthday request. Tickets to a musical at Christmas, that special trail mix for hikes, and breakfast at a local café after swimming lessons were all traditions that brought fun and play to our family.
My bouquet of memories includes the thorny branches of disappointment and sorrow. We had dreams of living in community and then our money ran out. Navigating an unexpected move and needing to ask for help from family was stressful and humbling. As years went by, my health declined. There were more opportunities to show up with and for each other and show love in the midst of discouragement. Supporting aging parents, the death of my mother, and adjusting to retirement also led to some courageous conversations and creative ways to relate in this new phase of life.
And so here we are, still in love. The story of a marriage has many untold chapters. By its very nature, marriage is a mystery.
I have told you about my experience of my marriage. It is not like anyone else’s. Thank you for your presence, and for honouring my husband and me as we share our love by celebrating our wedding anniversary. I know that our relationship will keep on bringing us adventures and that we will grow in our partnership along the way.