My husband and I recently celebrated our anniversary. Seventeen years. (Seventeen years!?!) It doesn’t seem possible. I graduated high school, like, ten minutes ago. It’s so cliche, but I really don’t know where the time has gone.
I think it’s fair to say I have always loved Chris.
Do you remember in the movie Braveheart when William Wallace looks at his beloved and says, “I love you. I always have”? That’s how I feel. (And I think he does, too.) From the beginning, our love was simple, sincere, and honest.
Please don’t get the wrong idea. Yes, I have “always loved Chris.” Yes, I am “happily married.” But being happily married does not mean we are always happy. I think it just means, at the end of the day/week/month/year/decade, we are still happy we married each other.
The weekend of our anniversary, I started a little list, as I’m prone to do, reflecting on how “perfect” we are for each other. (All in good fun, of course.)
You get the idea. We are opposites. I’ll be swinging my arms, loudly exaggerating a story and he’ll be sitting in a chair watching me silently. We share no letters on our Myers Briggs personality types.
After I made my list, with the anniversary approaching (and since we were on a road trip and I had him trapped) I asked my husband of almost seventeen years, “What’s our biggest difference?”
Zero hesitation. Straight face. He says, “Our personalities.”
It took a second to register, since I didn’t expect him to answer so quickly or definitively. Once it did, we both died laughing.
At our best: Our opposing natures compliment each other in a harmonious yin-yang balance. We wield iron swords — sharpening, challenging, encouraging each other to be better. We are tag-teaming concert conductors leading a cacophony of noisy kids through long but heartwarming days, even when we have to wrestle them into bed. Later, we lay side by side and hold hands in the dark, laughing at jokes to which we alone get the punch lines. Our full hearts beat as one.
At our worst: I don’t really want to tell you our very worst. But let me say this: Our friction can scrape each of us to our cores. Raw, we retreat to isolation or start swinging those previously sharpened swords. We are skilled emotional masons, quickly building walls to protect our own hearts.
We married young. I was twenty. Chris was just shy of twenty three. Although we married before this study’s focus time, it didn’t surprise me when I recently saw these statistics. (1) There is a higher risk of divorce if you marry in your early twenties.
A few years into my first job, I sat across from a coworker at the nurses station. I had already been married a handful of years, but as we charted and chatted, she made sure I knew “getting married at twenty was too young.” Then definitively said, “You’ll be divorced by thirty. People change. Too much will change for you to stay married. Trust me.”
I shrugged her off with a “we’ll see.”
At home, I was infuriated with her certainty. How could she be so heartless to tell us our marriage wouldn’t last? (Anger is often the cloak I wear to cover my fear.)
You see, we were having a hard time. We were changing. I was out of school, now working full time. Chris was still in school with even more to go. We had different schedules and different friends.
“We will NOT be divorced by thirty,” I fumed.
And I didn’t just want to “not be divorced,” I wanted to have a good marriage. A solid healthy happy supportive relationship. I think we both did… But we didn’t know how to get there.
There were times when life was so simple and sweet. Rent was $500 and our monthly grocery bill topped out less than what I now spend in a week. Our evenings were filled with NPR, textbooks, and softball games followed by two-for-one whiskey sours and a greasy hamburger.
There were also times when life was so hard, heavy, and sad, the weight could only be felt after we escaped from underneath it. Days, weeks, months gone by without really talking – both of us overwhelmed with school/jobs/life, and in such a rut of bad choices and bad communication, we weren’t even sure we liked each other anymore.
We married with the understanding and agreement, we were in a lifelong commitment. A covenant. In good times and in bad. Yet… marriage can be tough. Really tough.
Is it okay that I say that? Can I just be honest? We each have our different thresholds, but in general, every relationship has some really tough times.
In looking back, what my co-worker said was true. Painfully true. We did change a lot, and almost too much, through those years… had we not made choices to change together.
Some choices were easy. Some were hard. A lot were good. Plenty were bad.
Sometimes, we chose to go to bed angry. To pick fights. To give the silent treatment for endless days.
Sometimes we chose laughter, date nights, intentional conversations, and grace.
At certain points, we chose counseling — knowing it was the only choice to make if we wanted to get out of the seemingly endless cycle of selfish, hurtful, frustrated, and confused choices we couldn’t stop making.
From the beginning, we chose each other. And we have to keep choosing each other. From our first/fifth/seventeenth/thirty-seventh anniversary — and every day in between. It isn’t always easy to love someone different than you.
Working for our marriage – in spite of, in light of, and because of our differences – is a choice we keep choosing to make.
“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela
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