With my third anniversary coming up (it's tomorrow) I've been thinking quite a bit about marriage lately; how it's nothing like I expected (better) and a lot less difficult than I had been led to believe.
Growing up, I thought a lot about marriage, who I would marry, how to be a good wife, what my wedding would be like... I planned a lot, and felt I ought to prepare myself too. I learned to cook at a young age so I'd be a good wife (I also found that I really enjoyed it, and mostly cook for that reason now), I read books and articles on the subjects of love and relationships written by various types of people: men and women, Christians, psychologists, counselors, pastors and their wives, widows, etc. I also listened to and observed other married couples around me, my parents especially, but also my oldest sister who got married when I was 10, and has had a lot to say on the subject ever since.
All around me I heard all kinds of things about marriage -good things and bad things....mainly that marriage was "hard, but rewarding." Sometimes, sadly, it seemed that the "hardness" of marriage outweighed the rewards.
I wasn't put off by any of this. "All right," I thought, "the married life can be tough, but I'm sure I can be a good wife. And if times get tough we'll tough it out." After all, millions of people through the ages had gotten married and a lot of them seemed decently happy. Besides, being married was a prerequisite to having children for me, and I definitely wanted to be a mom too in my life, besides being a wife.
And eventually, I did get engaged to an amazing and wonderful man. Now, this isn't the story of how we met (all though its an amazing story, and perhaps I'll write a post on it later) but in short, I lived in Florida and John lived in New Hampshire, and we long distance dated for quite some time before John decided he needed to move down to me to date properly and ask me to marry him. So he did. And he did.
Naturally, I heard a lot of advice when I actually got engaged. This advice was generally more positive, but still had all kinds of warnings. "Marriage is the hardest work you'll do, but it's really worth it!" One lady told me. "You get out of it what you put into it" was another bit of advice that seemed to make sense. But during the engaged part, I started getting new ideas.
Since I was living in Tampa, away from most of my family in Key West and John was away from all his family and friends in NH, we hung out together all the time. We were, in essence, all we had in our new big city. So even more than normal dating or engaged couples hang out, we definitely hung out. On my way to work every morning, I would stop by John's apartment and say hi before starting my day. And on my way home, I would stop by and we would hang out the rest of the day. I would make dinner for us and we'd watch movies, talk, take walks together and generally hang out until around 11pm and I would drive home to my sister's house where I was living at the time. On weekends, I would do his laundry at my sisters house (Which I brought home Friday night) and then drive to his house for a hangout all saturday. When we did spend time with newly found friends or my sister, it was together, as a couple.
After John romantically asked me to marry him, it vaguely occurred to me that after our wedding my life might not change much. We already shopped and saved money together (We have very similar money values,) I did his laundry with mine anyway, and cooked for him, we cleaned his apartment together as though it were ours rather than just his...Only one thing would be different: at night I wouldn't have to drive home and I would get to sleep with him! And have sex with him! (We were both virgins when we married eachother.) What a wonderful thought! When I had come to this logical conclusion, I realized maybe it wouldn't be has hard as everyone was saying it would be. Or would it change when the vows were said? Would John or I go through some psychological metamorphosis and become a different person. Would we see each other differently, when we had tied ourselves together for better or for worse? Would we suddenly start fighting and bickering over which way the toilet paper ran or if the toothpaste was squeezed from the bottom or top despite the fact that we had dated for five years and never once had an argument?
Um no. We didn't. In fact, I was right in my assumption that it would be the same. Except better. Because now it's like a permanent sleep over with my best friend. I don't have drive half-asleep to my sister's house after drowsily watching a movie together. Instead, we can curl up together on the couch and just sleep there if we want. And let me tell you. It. Is. Awesome. And it's fun! And it's not hard. Really, it's not.
Maybe we're the exception to the rule. Maybe everyone else in the world has to struggle to have a good marriage. Maybe everyone else has to fight urges to be selfish and only take from a relationship rather than freely giving and doing things for the person they love. Maybe no one else is best friends with their spouse. Maybe John and I are the only people who both feel like they got the better deal when we married each other. And maybe we are the only couple ever to have an oh-so-rewarding marriage without considering it "hard." Or maybe we're just still in "the honeymoon phase" and once disillusionment sets in, or reality hits us we'll realize that marriage is not the cake-walk we've thought it to be...
But I rather think I'm wrong there. Because I've continued to observe old married couples and it seems to me that an awful lot of them seem very happy together. I'm not saying they don't fight (all though now I'd bet that a lot of them don't) and I'm not saying they don't have to work to make their marriage work, but it seems like they're happy. Happy with one another, happy with themselves. Maybe it's my married eyes seeing new things, but happy couples seem a lot more predominant now than they did when I was still under the notion of marriage being a tough thing.
My main thought is that marriage isn't any harder than life in general. And in fact, if you aren't married to an amazing supportive and encouraging husband (or wife) then your hard life will probably be a lot more miserable than if you are. So, maybe you do have to work at marriage, but just as much as you have to work at anything; friendships, jobs, self-improvement.
And that's why it bugs me when you meet a disillusioned married couple, or a person who may not have the greatest relationship with their spouse and they go on to tell you that when you've been married as long as they have, you'll know how hard marriage is. When they say "You're still in your honey-moon phase." I want to reply "Well, we'll stay in that phase, thanks for the advice." And sometimes it feels like they're just waiting for you to hit some rough patch in life before you begin feeling the need to fight...
Well, John and I have hit some pretty rough patches (like losing our baby. I plan to write a post on this later.) and it only brought us closer as far as I can tell. I'm only more and more convinced that I've married the most wonderful, patient and caring man that probably ever existed. And really, that just might be the reason we have such a good marriage; John is exceptional. He probably is the secret strength here. I'm pretty sub-par and married to any other guy I might have actually had to work to make the relationship work, but John is a rock. And a handsome one at that.
So either it's just because we both consider the other the most amazing person in the world, or John is just really amazing and I'm really lucky, but whichever one it is, we have a great marriage, fun and rewarding and better than I ever imagined it could be.
I'll get off my soapbox, now.
edit: Actually, a few more thoughts, but this may be more than a post script can handle, so it may end up needing to be a whole new soapbox sunday post, but...Please choose the person you marry with care. Don't let my "marriage is a breeze" attitude lead you into thinking you can make it work with anyone (Well, you can, but it may actually be hard sometimes.) So if you aren't married keep some things in mind when choosing your mate: Definitely let it be someone you love, but don't let love be the only factor. Compatibility (are you friends as well as lovers? Do you like eachother? If you weren't dating would you hang out?) and similar views on important issues: Money, primarily. Make sure your financial habits are agreeable. But also, equality in religious beliefs (if its important to you, it should be just as much to them) and future type plans. If you have any doubts about or reasons not to marry someone, you're probably better off not marrying them. I'm not a relationship counselor and I don't have any expertise in this subject beyond my own experience and observations, but I think this is pretty standard advice.
If, however, you are already married and struggling, maybe accepting the person for who they are, as they are will help. And wanting to make it work is the first key to making it work.
Um...that's all. Sorry to rant even further on you on a subject somewhat off subject...