Yesterday was our wedding anniversary, a dozen years of marriage: three kids, a dog, two deceased cats, two cross-country moves, two houses and countless dirty dishes/laundry/phone calls/arguments and hysterical fits of laughter.
It has taken me more than 25 years together to realize that this marriage is a keeper. I don’t mean that in a “I have one foot out the door kid of way” but more in a “it’s hard for me to believe that this whole marriage thing really works kind of way".” That is my legacy of being a child of divorced parents.
Sometimes when I am alone, it suddenly hits me: I am happily married and we will never get divorced! After asking some of my friends if they feel the same incredulity at marriage being a functional arrangement I realize that I am in the minority of of people who is in both a happy marriage and yet still feels shocked that it hasn’t ended in divorce. (I want to be clear that by marriage I mean a commitment of a life together. I don't care if you walked down the aisle and got the piece of paper or not.)
Marriage has been getting a lot of press lately; highlighting the fact that marriage, like all other institutions in the modern age, must be studied, intellectualized and judged. Lisa Belkin (writer of the NYTimes momblog Motherlode) wrote in the Times Magazine recently about the changing role of women in marriage. She ruminates on how in past generations women’s role in a marriage was clear but now, thanks partially to increased participation by men, it is a bit more cloudy. Ayelet Waldman wrote a heavily-criticized piece about how she loves her husband more than her four children (it is a story worthy of a post of it’s own). And in a widely-circulated, article Elizabeth Weil goes on a search to improve her marriage which is not broken, just blah.
Marriage isn’t easy; it can be blah like Weil’s and toe-curling like Waldman’s all in one day. It definitely has its ups and downs, a lot of which is dependent on our level of sleep deprivation and evil external forces like job security and the economy. But when you are in a down part of the cycle, it is hard to imagine that the relationship will ever improve again. But then something shifts and it is better again. Because I am a glass half-empty person I a have a harder time being happy – when life is good I anxiously expect the downturn.
Sometimes when I feel the darkness looming I think about the idea that you have to choose to be married each and every day. This means that each partner has some agency in the relationship – and choosing to be married means nothing is static. You have to choose to stay and see the good side of your partner and your life together each and every day.
We don’t always communicate well, we bicker and nag and I don’t pick up my dirty clothes and he doesn’t buy me presents too often. But what we have is connection – a deep and abiding connection to each other that goes beyond the four walls we live in or the fact that we irritate the hell out of each other sometimes.
In short, as Chris Rock says, “If you haven't contemplated murder, you ain't been in love.” It’s good to remember that everyone hates their spouse once in a while, no matter how much they love each other.