Being married is work. Hard work. Rewarding work (usually….). But work just the same.
I was in love with old Hollywood movies when I was a little girl. I grew up thinking that people just had to gaze into someone else’s eyes and BAM! – they were in love. The bells rang, the music crescendoed, fade to black, all was happy forever after. Often the moment of love occurred in the middle of some big conflict – “Oh you brute! You’re an awful man!” Then the hero would grab the heroine by the shoulders and plant a big kiss on her. She resisted (just for a moment), then melted into his arms. Ah…love. It Happened One Night. Gone With the Wind. The Philadelphia Story. The African Queen, When Harry Met Sally, The Proposal. It’s apparently a very reliable plot line.
This rosy-hued image of love and marriage was reinforced by the gothic romances I was reading. As a teenager, it was Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, where the plucky governess always ended up with the lord of the manor (who was usually a rogue she had to tame). As I matured, so did the romance novels, and the scenes became a bit more…um…explicit. No fade-to-black here. There was a lot of throbbing and pulsating going on. I made the mistake of offering a fairly tame novel to my mother back then, and she promptly pronounced it to be “smut”. But that didn’t stop me. Janet Daily, Katherine Woodiwiss (“A Rose in Winter”…oh, my…), and Jude Deveareaux, whose “A Knight in Shining Armor” is probably the best romance novel ever (or so I thought at the time).
But I digress…. The point is, all those romances were about the magical qualities of falling in love, and spent very little time looking at the “ever after” part.
Falling in love is wonderful. Staying in love is hard work. As the glow of the early courtship fades and familiarity begins to settle in, a couple needs to decide how they’re going to make it work long-term. If you don’t figure that out early and commit to it, a marriage can spiral into complacency – the true opposite of love when it comes to relationships.
Complacency is always lurking at the edges of a marriage. Let’s face it – once you reach the point where you’re flossing and toe nail clipping in front of each other, it’s easy for passion to take a back seat. And all those cute little quirks that were so amusing and endearing when you were dating? Well, eventually they can become downright annoying. Infuriating, even. That’s when you need commitment. When you have to look at your spouse and see what you love about them, beyond the burps and farts and forgetfulness. There are times when I am shaking in anger at my husband, and he has those same moments with me. But we work past them. We talk them out (sometimes loudly, I’ll admit). But we keep communicating until it’s settled.
Like many marriages, on paper, logically speaking, there’s absolutely no reason our marriage should work. He’s full of Irish passion and temper. I’m a quiet WASP. He charges through life full speed ahead, with a take-no-prisoners attitude about everything. I’m the worrywart who frets constantly (“what if they don’t like me” “what if someone gets hurt” “what if we get caught?”). I can’t bear to break any rules, right down to insisting on following “use this door” signs as if the police are waiting to arrest me if I don’t. He lives to break the rules in every way -devil-may-care, live life for the moment. He’s the ultimate “morning person”, leaping out of bed before dawn, ready to tackle the day. I am the opposite of “morning person”, crawling out of bed only under duress, and I’ve been known to put the milk away in the pantry and the cereal in the refrigerator. He won’t hesitate to get in someone’s face for some injustice rendered. I am mortified at the thought of causing a scene. He’s loud. I’m not. He loves crowds and parties. I’m happy with a good book and a glass of wine. I cry at commercials. He laughs at me while I’m crying. And yet it works – magically well.
After a certain number of years, good couples (the ones who WORK at it), become not only partners, but each other’s true soul mate. And more importantly, they become keepers of the secret shared stories.
Sixteen years ago, shortly after we’d met, my husband and I faced the ultimate test of a new relationship: assembling an entertainment center from what seemed like 200 pieces of wood and assorted parts that came out a very large box. We were still “courting” back then, so we were trying to be pleasant. He was grabbing pieces and putting them together in whatever order he found them in, insisting he didn’t need the directions. I was fretting over making a mistake, and finally, exasperated, I said through gritted teeth, “Honey, I really think we should follow the instructions they gave us.” His response? “Don’t ever call me ‘honey’ in that tone of voice again.” We stared at each other for a minute, then burst into laughter. That comment is still one of our touchstones to this day. If we use the word “Honey” in that exaggerated tone, it’s a flag that things might be getting tense, and will (usually) lighten the mood – “Honey, I really think you should have taken that last exit….”
That’s just one example, but all good couples have them – those secret stories that can be referred to as a way of setting a current event into perspective. A word. A touch. A look. The secret language of experience for the couples who have figured out how to navigate the paths of relationship-building. No one but my husband and I knows why saying the word “woof” can end a heated debate with a smile. That’s our secret. And those secrets are precious.
Every anniversary, we celebrate another year of shared stories, fiery debates, daily laughter, family joys and sorrows, changing waistlines, career challenges, money made and money lost, evening walks hand-in-hand, and cuddles in bed. We know each other’s faults and gifts in detail. We have made a commitment to be partners in spite of or because of them. Hardly a week goes by that one of us doesn’t look at the other and say “we are so fortunate”. At the end of the day, it’s his smile, laughter and love that are my life support.
Fourteen years ago today we exchanged our vows on a warm Sunday afternoon. Whew. What a ride it’s been so far! All that work paid off. I can’t wait to see what the next fourteen years (and more) bring our way. Happy anniversary, my love.