Secrets Of A Lasting Marriage

I hated my husband when I first met him.  As a college girl in constant search for love, my reaction to our introduction was, ‘I could never marry someone like him.’  Twenty-five years later we’re still together. Life has a sense of humor that way.

As we celebrate our silver anniversary, and people teasingly ask us our secret to a lasting marriage, we answer sarcastically, “We still have no idea.  We’re making it up as we go.”

Marriage doesn’t come with a GPS.  And the tour guides that one could consult are limited by the simple fact that they aren’t living your relationship.  The reality of partnership is that it requires Work and no one can do it for you.  As Friend likes to say: “Marriage, not as advertised.”

If I were to renew my marriage vows from the perspective of a seasoned wife, they would sound very different from the original version.  In truth, I had no idea what I was promising when I said ‘I do’ in my relative infancy. 

How could I know what it meant to love through bad times when life hadn’t taken me down yet? 

How could I understand the level of courage, stamina, and flexibility that marriage requires when love was fresh and new?

Instead of promising to ‘honor and cherish all the days of my life’ (which is a cruel set-up for failure if you ask me) I’d say something more realistic like this:

I promise to learn about love with you and do my best to rise to its challenges.

Love is an everyday choice, a deliberate effort – like making a meal. Some days I eat junk food and my body suffers. Some days I offer more attention to my social media page than I do my beloved and our love suffers. Choices.

I’d wager that at some point in every marriage, a couple wakes up to the reality that, for better or for worse, love changes. What was once simple becomes more complicated. This isn’t bad news. Weathered love has character. Its scars tell stories of both tough times and triumphs that render it more durable and perhaps less pretty from the process.  But then, marriage isn’t a beauty pageant.

Dave Willis said, ‘Couples who last aren’t the ones who never had a reason to divorce.” 

I’m no expert on sustainable relationships but this sounds accurate to me.  It isn’t the absence of struggle that leads to happy ever after.  It’s the idea that there’s something beyond the struggle that’s worth finding.

In my experience, love has to be just a bit stronger than fear.  Compassion, a little bigger than judgment.  Patience, a little deeper than frustration. And forgiveness, a little freer than resentment.  Marriage doesn’t require perfection to thrive.  It just needs a slight edge above the alternatives.

Husband and I aren’t a model couple.  Our relationship can be fierce by comparison.  We are loud with each other, raw, and often careless with words.  But after all this time, we know that this too is love.

You Can’t Judge Love By It’s Cover

June 17th happens to be Father’s Day which happens to be my oldest daughter’s birthday which happens to be my wedding anniversary.  Guess which one never gets recognized?

Husband and I had exactly two years as a married couple before baby number one arrived.  That amounted to one anniversary trip/dinner/celebration.  Had I known it would be the last, I would have set my sights higher than a Bed and Breakfast in Maine.

For years we’ve consoled ourselves with the mutual agreement that there would be no hard feelings about a triviality like a date on the calendar.  Instead of coveting time alone we would, forever more, share our celebration with multiple reasons to be grateful.  Nary a greeting card has passed between us on this date for 15 years.  But this year, my Year of Thank Yous, is different.  This is the year I may breathe my last.  And if it is, there’s a thing or two I want to say about the man who took me on for better or for worse.

There are times when I actually hate the man who so easily pushes my buttons – and I let him know.  To the credit of his pit-bull demeanor, husband can take it. Though I try not to abuse this fact, I appreciate that he is rock solid and nearly immune to the depths of my moods.  Which is probably why, although I didn’t know it at the time, I married him.  He is fearless in the face of….me.

This was perfectly illustrated from our inauspicious beginning.  Imagine if you will, a very tired me after a long day of skiing at unusually high altitudes.  My beloved invited me to walk on the romantic shores of Lake Tahoe while we waited for our ferry.  But I wanted to sit.  Seeing that I wouldn’t go easily, he started down the pier toward the beach without me.  As he reached the end, he began yelling  – demanding actually – in front of a crowd, that I come for a walk.

Here’s the thing.  I hate being told what to do.  HATE it.  Especially when it resembles antiquated ‘woman is subservient to man’s wishes’ logic.  So I reacted poorly.

I stormed down the pier after would-be husband, calculating how many of Deb’s Code Of Conduct rules he was violating.   Immediately upon reaching him I launched into a string of infractions, “How dare you! If you think for one minute that you can command me and I’ll obey…….”

After ranting for a while I noticed that he was smiling.  Strange.  He should be mad at me.  But instead he looks like the cat who ate the canary.  Why?

“Are you done yet?” would-be husband asked with amusement.

My response is difficult to admit.  I did worse than curse.  I did something I never had before.  But recall the level of my anger – at least a ten on the Richter scale.  Here it is…..I spit!  Right at his feet.  It was all I could think of to match the imagined disrespect he had shown me with his commanding tone.  I had no idea what would come next.

Beloved fell to one knee, right there on the beach, after witnessing my immense tantrum, and reached for my hand.  “Will you marry me?”

Gulp.  S*%t.  Oh, what have I done?!

It was years before I could share in the enjoyment husband had telling that story.  Needless to say, it was a humbling experience.  One that should have curbed my temper for good.  One that should have made husband run for the hills.   But, reader, neither has happened.

Now would be a good time, lest you get the impression from my stories that husband is some sort of saint, to let you glimpse the other side of the coin.  Husband has his warts too – one that a close relative of his wanted to be sure I knew before I married him.  Before our wedding date, said relative pulled me aside to say that everyone would understand if I backed out.  I paused for the briefest second then laughed mightily.  Perhaps this traitorous relative, like many, failed to see the magic in the union of a clap of thunder and a lightning bolt.  While we were having a grand ole time lighting up the skies, we were also scaring people it seems.

But we can’t worry about that.  The thunderstorms suit us.  As do the moments between the storms when the air is sweet and the symbiotic sounds of nature return.  It’s all good.  And not to be judged.  Because love is love no matter the packaging.

If the classic love poem read at many a wedding were a test, husband and I would certainly fail.

Love is patient.  Love is kind.

It is not easily angered….

….If you have not love,

You are but a noisy gong or clanging bell.

Really?  Because at our house, there’s a heck of a lot of pots banging and voices yelling that could equate to the noisy gong in the recipe of love.  And yet, we still feel ok.

Don’t get me wrong, we try sweet and gentle.  Even pull it off on occasion.  But the transformation feels all wrong.  Like a prickly bush disguised in a rose-bush costume.  As time passes and rose-bush couples split up, husband and I gain confidence in our not-so-subtle happily ever after.

When I say to husband, “I love you because of the reasons I hate you, not in spite of them.” He understands.  He may look briefly as if he’s been slapped, but his hint of a grin assures me that he got my meaning.  He has the capacity to understand me, and I, him.  Isn’t that all we can hope for?  To be understood, appreciated, and loved just as we are?

After all these years I can say with confidence that husband is still my favorite person.  And it’s not just because he took the initiative to locate a gluten-free Happy Anniversary cake (though that does raise his stock.)  I just love him.  Plain and simple.  And I wanted you to know, in case it wasn’t clear.

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