Marriage is beautiful, but sometimes it isn’t.
Sometimes marriage is getting irrationally irritated at the thing he has done a thousand times, so you should be used to it, but today you just can’t handle it. Sometimes marriage is wondering how many people have gotten divorced because their spouse never put the cap back on the toothpaste. (Is that the ‘irreconcilable difference’ celebrity couples talk about when they get divorced? Toothpaste caps?)
Some days the little things that annoy you are all you can see. Like his chewing noises. Or when he sneezes six times in a row again and you snap at him to “stop that!” because it’s seriously driving you up the wall. Or how loud he turns up the volume on the TV. Or how he doesn’t replace the empty toilet paper roll. Or how there are piles of his clothes on the floor and draped over every chair, bed, and any other available surface that’s not the hamper or closet.
They are all small things, ridiculous to even get worked up about. But on some days they take on monstrous proportions and overshadow everything else so much that you can’t see the big picture anymore. All you can see are clothes in places where they shouldn’t be.
Marriage is sitting at the dinner table in silence sometimes. You never thought that would ever happen to you during those heady, earth-shattering first few months when everything about him was fascinating and exciting; you thought you would never run out of things to say. But 16 years later, you have occasionally. So you sit in silence. It’s not an uncomfortable silence—it’s quite pleasant, actually—but you remember how smug you were in your youthful conviction that this would never happen to you, and you’re a little bit sad, just for a moment. You really believed that. You thought you would be different.
Marriage is learning that 69% of issues in a relationship are not solvable, and having to accept the fact that you really can’t change another person. The chances of your messy husband turning into a neat freak are about as great as the chances of you never complaining about it again. Zach Brittle writes:
“[S]olving and/or re-solving often feels like an exercise in banging your head against the wall. It’s simply not possible. These kinds of problems are generally hard wired into the relationship by virtue of your respective personalities. One party may be an introvert while the other is an extrovert. Maybe one is a neat freak and the other is comfortable with messiness. Maybe one’s an atheist and the other is a person of faith. These things are not likely to change over the lifetime of the relationship. It doesn’t make any sense to try and ‘resolve’ them.”
He says that we have to learn to distinguish between solvable and unsolvable problems. Unsolvable problems can be repaired, not resolved. Ongoing dialogue is essential to understand the partner’s point of view and to find a compromise that both partners can live with.
Marriage is a neverending series of compromises. Marriage is realizing that “the bad times” aren’t only illnesses, money troubles or the loss of a loved one. Oftentimes the bad times are much more uneventful but no less risky for a marriage: being a little dissatisfied. Being bored. Looking for more meaning. Wondering if this is all there is to life.
This is where love comes in. Love reminds you that he is the person you call when something bad happened. And even more so when something good happened. Love reminds you that despite your terrible habit of nagging and pointing out his faults, he never does that to you. He truly accepts you the way you are, faults and all. Love reminds you that you make each other laugh until your bellies hurt. Love reminds you that he may be terrible at giving gifts at the socially expected occasions (birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s day), but that he brings you flowers just because. And that he planted a whole garden of sunflowers because he knows you love them. And that he buried 200 tulip bulbs around your little cabin because he knows you love tulips, too.
Love reminds you that he is always there when you need him. He will drop everything and come to you in a heartbeat. You can always rely on him. Love reminds you how he can make an ordinary day feel extraordinary simply by loving life in such a joyous, big way. Love reminds you how supportive he is. How loved he makes you feel. How he fills your life with friends, fun, cats and dogs. Love reminds you of all the good times: all the fun you’ve had, the memories you made, and the obstacles you’ve overcome.
Love reminds you that the best days of your lives are still ahead of you, and that there is no other person in this world you’d rather spend them with.
Marriage is not a destination, it’s a work in progress. There are bumps in the road that you thought you had left behind long ago, just to stumble over them again.
I don’t believe that marriage should be hard work. I believe that it should be easy most days. But I also know that it’s not all hearts and happiness all the time. Marriage, just like life, will experience challenges, tough times, and heartbreak. Living with ourselves isn’t always easy, so how can living with another person be? We are all flawed human beings trying to do our best but failing regularly.
The secret to marriage—and life—is simple: love and forgiveness. Patience and grace. And most importantly, to find the humour in it. Laugh, love and forgive, and you will be fine.