Sunday, February 14, 2016

Marriage: Just One Person's Experience Thus Far



It seems like marriage is often talked about at extremes: praised as perfect bliss that every single person should engage in given the opportunity, or complained and joked about like it's the yoke of slavery. I've wanted to write something about it for a while now, and I figured Valentine's Day, with all its warped commercializing of romance and love, is at least as good a time as any.

The former extreme seems especially prevalent in really conservative religious circles, and it's resulted in a fear that if we say anything about our marriage problems, the response will be like, what, your marriage isn't perfect? You must have married the wrong person! Or you must not be a good enough Christian! Or oh no, don't say anything bad about marriage or you'll scare the heathens off from it!

The latter can be found anywhere, like, oh my goodness at the things one has to put up with from their SO! Why couldn't they just! It's like raising a kid! Don't get married, enjoy your freedom!

My personal experience is neither of these, so my only goal here, having been married a scant 3.75 years, is to speak honestly of it. It's not to convince anyone of anything, and it's not a list of positives and negatives. I believe there are few, if any, formulas that can be applied to every relationship, and the best we can do is to share what we learn from our own. You could preface every line of this with, "I think." Who knows what my view will be in another 3.75 years? So without further ado,

1. Marriage is, simply, life. 

Bibbidi, bobbidi, take the trash out.

If someone asked me how married life is, that would be my answer: it's life. Like being single is life, or dating, or whatever. It has its ups and downs, its challenges and rewards, its really hard days and its really fun ones. Getting married doesn't suddenly make everything sparkly and magical and painless. You still have to do the dishes, and pay the bills, and dust your bookshelves, and deal with family drama and personal anxiety and all the life problems you had before. They don't automatically become enjoyable experiences. Maybe you married someone who does make everything more fun, and if so, great! But if not, that's okay. You didn't marry your freaking fairy godmother. There's nothing wrong with that.

2. Your spouse is going to change. 


Probably not into David Tennant, so don't hold your breath.

Couples in dramatic movies are always throwing around, "You aren't the person I married!" like it's inherently a betrayal. Welcome to the real world, dearies! Your SO is going to change, and that's actually a good thing! People aren't meant to be static. The two of you might disagree on whether or not a change is a good change, but that's okay. The traditional vows go, "For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, till death do us part." Not, "Until you change in some way that I don't particularly like." Security doesn't come from knowing they're always going to be exactly who they are when you say 'I do.' It comes from being someone, and being with someone, who is committed to constantly finding new ways to relate to and connect with their partner, no matter how you change (assuming you don't become a serial killer or whatever--I mean, really, we're grownup enough that I don't have to add the disclaimers).

3. Marriage is an opportunity to become something greater than you are apart.


Mghty Morphin Married Couple

One of the things I appreciate most about my relationship with Alex is learning how our strengths and weaknesses complement/balance each other. Running a business together gives us a unique opportunity for that. For example, he encourages me to work hard and aim high so I actually get things done instead of just daydreaming about them, and I keep him from working 16/7 so he doesn't drive himself into the ground all the time. There are countless ways in which you and your partner can do this! And where you share weaknesses, you can work on them together, benefiting from having another perspective going through the same thing you are. (Side note: it is important to find a good balance in being accepting of who each other is without enabling, and encouraging each other's improvement/growth without nagging or hurting. If I really figure that one out, I'll let you know.)

4. At the same time, marriage doesn't--or at least shouldn't--absorb your individuality.


You only wish your partner could read your mind.

Marriage is not your whole identity. Your partner is not your whole identity. You will shape and change and share each other's lives, but you're still you, they're still them, and remembering that is key in living successfully with someone who will probably be very different from you in at least a few ways. Being at peace with your partner's differences, especially the ones you don't like, comes from a healthy amount of identity separation. You'll be much happier with your relationship if you aren't worrying about how your partner's differences reflect on you, or what people will think of you because of them; because you remember that you are your own person, and you give your spouse the freedom to be their own person. Don't try to make who they are all about you, and it will save you a lot of grief. And of course give each other space to maintain your own friendships, pursue your own interests, your own hobbies, take a trip by yourself, whatever.

5. Marriage can be one of the fastest ways to discover your own flaws--and move past them!



Marry someone and believe me, it might not be long before you're discovering exactly how selfish and everything else you can be. It can be pretty difficult when your high opinion of your own emotional maturity gets those first, deep dents. Your partner may be experiencing the same thing, and this may make you feel like you've both made a huge mistake. But if you do have emotional maturity and take an honest look, it's a great opportunity to improve yourself, and things will get easier! Try to give each other extra grace as you learn to live together, and focus more on improving yourself than them. You can develop in ways that might have taken you years longer if left to your own devices. There will always be new things to work through, but the same is true of every part of life!

6. Marriage is a daily choice.


When it comes down to it, for me, marriage is a commitment to choose your spouse again every day, no matter how you feel, no matter what you're going through, no matter how you're changing. It is a choice. The difficulty may vary with the day, but it's always a choice you have in your power to make. It's not dependent on their behavior or your emotional state (which is of course not to say you should remain with an abusive partner--again with the disclaimers). Hopefully you're with someone who will always choose you back.

7. It's the feel-good things, too.


It's always having a friend (even if you sometimes need to take a break from talking to that friend), someone to support and be supported by, to share silly jokes and Netflix and rainy evenings. Someone to get excited about used-book shopping with, to buy you a milkshake when you're crumbling under work stress. It's sharing dreams, long conversations about weird ideas, secret looks when your relative tells that story for the 800th time.

Marriage is hard sometimes, because it's life. But it's good, and it's so worth it.

Like I said, this is just my current perspective on my personal experience (and please, don't say, "I can get this benefit from this other thing too!" I'm talking about what marriage is to me, not what everything else can be to everyone else). My only hope is that it will encourage honest conversation and maybe help someone somewhere as they walk their own path. Thanks to my dear husband who's walking with me! :-)


~ Kate