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I Choose Us

May 15, 2018

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Despite the fact that we are clearly not old enough for this to be true, my husband and I are about to celebrate twenty years of marriage.  Twenty years of ups and downs, of good days and bad days.  Twenty years of making memories, of raising a family.  Twenty years of choosing each other over and over again, even when we weren’t sure we wanted to.

Last night he gave me my anniversary present…three weeks early.  To be fair, we will be out of the country on the actual date and it wouldn’t be especially wise to bring an expensive gift with him where we’re going.  But he probably would have caved early anyways, truth be told.  He can never make it until Christmas, or my birthday, or Valentine’s Day…when we got engaged he’d already shown the ring to nearly all of our friends and family because he just couldn’t keep it to himself.

So in the waning hours of Mother’s Day, his first without his own mother, my guy handed me the most beautiful bracelet made up of interlocking infinity symbols.  Because that’s what this marriage thing is about for us: forever.  We both got choked up thinking of all we’ve been through together and imagining/wishing/hoping for all that’s to come.  It became one of those defining moments, one when you both recommit to the choice you made however many years ago.

Twenty years.  A lot changes in that amount of time.  I was only a few weeks out of college when we said our vows.  We were one of the first couples we knew to tie the knot, having been together already for several years and figuring we had a good enough thing to make it official.

We moved into a tiny duplex, the first home we would share together.  If those walls could talk, they’d tell the sometimes bumpy story of our early married years.  In fact, one of them may even still have a dent in it from the time I threw something (the specifics escape me, I like to forget I was ever such a hothead) during a particularly heated fight.  Those walls held the raised voices of arguments, the sighs of lovemaking, the smells of burnt dinners…they held two amateurs trying to act like they knew what the hell they were doing.

So after twenty years we should be pros, right?  Wrong.  Marriage, like parenthood, is constantly evolving.  The people involved are constantly evolving.  The situations they face are constantly evolving.  There are no pros, just aging amateurs.

But I have learned a few things over the years that I thought might be worth sharing:

  1. At the end of the day, your spouse is the person you’re most likely to take out all your stress and frustration on.  Try really, really hard not to.  Be nicer to him than you would be to your barista, or your child’s teacher, or the coworker who secretly drives you bonkers but who you have to get along with.  Absolutely share your stresses and frustrations with him, just don’t treat him like he’s the source of them all.
  2. Your spouse is going to have habits that bug the hell out of you.  Guess what?  You have habits that probably bug the hell out of him.  Let it go.  And pick up your socks while you’re at it.
  3. You aren’t going to parent exactly the same way, or celebrate holidays the same way, or perhaps even vote the same way.  You each carry your own upbringings, your own experiences, your own baggage into this union.  Recognize that.  Withhold judgment.  Share.  Compromise.  Create something together from your differences.
  4. Be realistic.  We’ve all watched too many rom-coms and Disney movies over the years.  Marriage isn’t a fairy tale.  Your partner isn’t going to sweep you off your feet on the daily.  That initial rush of romantic excitement isn’t sustainable long term, at least not consistently.  I guarantee even the characters from Fifty Shades will end up spending more nights watching reality TV in their sweats than they will in the Red Room.  It doesn’t mean the thrill is gone; it’s just really, really comfy on the couch right now.
  5. Gratitude matters.  Showing appreciation for your spouse when he does something that makes you feel loved or cared for and taking time to do the things you know will make him feel the same creates a self-sustaining pattern of kindness in your marriage.  There will be times when you just don’t feel very grateful, or when you’re so overwhelmed by the business of life, or parenting, or simply surviving that you let this slip.  It will show.  Stop.  Think about what your spouse does that you might be thankful for.  Tell him.
  6. Make an effort to stay connected.  Whether that means regular date nights or simply cuddling and catching up on each other’s days before bed, prioritize time and communication with your partner.  When life gets hectic it’s very easy to become roommates and (family) business partners rather than lovers and friends.  Be aware of it and work together to find ways to connect as a couple.
  7. Have each other’s backs.  It’s natural to share things about your relationship with your friends and family, it can be tempting to get a laugh by making a joke at your spouse’s expense, it can be hard not to let on to your children when you disagree with the way your partner handles a parenting situation.  But ultimately you two should be each other’s greatest supporters and staunchest defenders.  Don’t make a habit of talking behind his back or undermining his parenting decisions.  If you can’t count on each other and feel safe with one another, you’re setting yourselves up for heartache.
  8. Have fun together!  Between work and kids and the all-go-no-quit nature of our society, it can be challenging to carve out time to just enjoy each other’s company.  Make each other laugh, do things together that you both enjoy, be silly with each other.  When you share a lifetime together, you’re bound to face your share of hardships and serious situations.  Balance it out with levity whenever you can.

I’m sure I could add to this list every day for the rest of our marriage.  And I’m sure there are others out there with much better advice.  I imagine couples coming up on fifty years could share a whole lot more.  Hopefully that will be us one day.  We never know how long we have on this earth, how many years we will get with the people we love.  There’s a song by Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit that says it best:

“Maybe time running out is a gift
I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn’t me who’s left behind

It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we’ll get forty years together
But one day I’ll be gone or one day you’ll be gone.”

Until that day comes, I’ll just keep choosing us.  For better, for worse.  In sickness and in health.  For richer, for poorer.  For as long as we both shall live.  I choose us. 

Happy Anniversary, B.

Peas and Carrots forever.

 

 

 

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