I’ve been musing about marriage lately, and it just so happens today is my Twelfth wedding anniversary! That seems crazy to me that we’ve been married a dozen years. It has gone by very quickly, but there are alternately those times where it feels like it has been forev-ah.
Which leads me to wonder how many marriages, particularly those of my generation, will end only with the death of a spouse instead of divorce. How many couples will choose “til death do us part” instead of dissolution and lawyers and custody battles and alimony. Because it’s hard. It’s hard to stay in a marriage when you are having problems. It’s hard to “work on it” when your spouse seems indifferent, when you feel neglected or unappreciated or just too dang overwhelmed and frazzled with LIFE to really be willing to focus energy on a marriage you secretly wonder may have been a “mistake”. Especially when all of your friends and others you respect seem to have their love lives all together…
Back in the day, when Hubby and I were doing marriage prep classes, I felt like I was mooning around in a hazy rose-colored fog of smugness. He and I were so “compatible” (the little test they gave at one of the sessions said, apparently, that Hubby and I were an emotionally mature couple who had no unrealistic expectations of marriage. Which, at the time was entirely true. ) We were both ready to be married and loved and respected each other. Stupidly, at that time, I also thought (for that reason) we were much better matched and ready for a lifetime of conjugal bliss than the majority of the population. That we would Never. Have. Problems. (Well, at least not more concerning than someone leaving clothes on the floor or the toilet seat up.) That simply being “made for each other” as the trite little saying goes, would make us utterly and completely immune to the forces of the world that would try to tear us apart. That we would be one of those marriages that people looked at, years from now, when we were little old people puttering around in Assisted Living, as “such a Perfect Marriage.”
Oh, I realized that marriage was bound to be work. But I didn’t realize to what magnitude that work would be. No one really goes into the nitty gritty of how hard life as a spouse gets when you have to face things together you hoped you’d never have to deal with. Job loss, serious illness, sick children, fights over how to best care for elderly parents. I didn’t think seriously about what it was going to be like with four young children in the house screaming all day and then the violent, irrational Resentment I would feel when he got home from work and wanted to “relax”. How it creeps up on you; you start looking at your spouse as that man who “did this to you”, instead of as this wonderful human being who God placed in your path to fulfill your vocation as wife and mother. How you begin to blame each other for life’s annoyances. How you begin to question, “would I be happier, really, if I could just leave?” And, “Do I deserve better?”
Thank God that marriage is a sacrament. Thank God for the vows that I exchanged with my Hubby, who really is a good, Godly, honorable man who loves me deeply. But I honestly don’t believe love alone would have saved our marriage during its dark times. I meant, very seriously, those words I said twelve years ago.
I promise to love you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
The vows I made have gotten me through the tough times. And the knowledge that Hubby and I am not in this marriage alone. (God’s definitely got His work cut out for Him.)
Do you like all these wedding/couple pictures? As I was putting this post together I was thinking how each one of these married couples, my antecedents, made a commitment for the long haul. They did make it to “til death do us part.” Did they have perfect marriages? Did they have blissfully romantic unions chock full of whimsical serendipity and only marred by small inconveniences? Hell no. They knew hardship. They knew loss. They may have spent more time thinking about how unhappy they were in their marriages than anything else, I don’t know. They may not have even liked each other very much. Who knows, some of them (those I have known personally excluded of course) might have been miserable human beings who really weren’t balls of fun to be around. But they stayed together. Of course divorce wasn’t as viable an option back then, but maybe they too had some sense that marriage was a fundamental building block of society, that remaining married proved economically smarter, and children retained untold benefits from their parents being and remaining married.
One day, in the midst of one of our nastier arguments, I made some snide comment to Hubby about something I felt he had done wrong. I will never forget the look on his face when he said, very quietly, “I never said I was a perfect person.” That statement gave me pause and I recognized that I had been expecting him to be. Why is that?
Years ago, I read the novel Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty. It was a great book that captured the way I think many of my generation think about marriage: as a fairy tale romance for those lucky souls who meet and marry their “soul mate”. It comes down to the idea that if you find the “right one” marriage should be a breeze. Oh, and you should always feel blissfully “in love” most of the time. If that isn’t the case, you should probably get divorced so you can find someone else who might, this time, satisfy your every emotional need and desire.
In Prunty’s novel, the reader follows the protagonist, Tressa, who is newly married and carries an idealistic view of how marriage works, due, mainly, to her perception of her grandparents’ “perfect” marriage. When her own marriage isn’t as great as she thinks it ought to be, Tressa wants out. Little does she know, her grandparents’ marriage was not the magical union she thinks it was. Tressa learns, as she reads her grandmother’s diary, that her grandfather was a “consolation prize” for her heartbroken grandmother, who refused to show affection for the husband she felt almost forced to marry. In fact, it wasn’t until years later that love finally began to take root, nurtured by shared experiences and affection. But even on his deathbed, Tressa’s grandmother struggled to tell her husband she loved him. Even though she did. Very much. Not your typical “romantic” marriage, but it worked. It was imperfect, but happy.
Why do we want to have that “perfect” union? Our heads are filled with visions of Hollywood romance, usually focusing on the wedding, but also filled with spouses who listen always, criticize never, and always, always know what we want (love means being a mind-reader). We think we should perpetually feel a deep, sensual and exciting love for our spouse. We constantly want to feel as though we are “in love”, like we did when we first met. We don’t want to ever fight. People who love each other shouldn’t disagree, right? We also want someone who respects our individuality while remaining completely selfless when it comes to our desires. Someone to have and to hold who never has a bad day and takes it out on us. Someone who will uncomplainingly do all the household chores (most particularly the ones we don’t enjoy), go to work, and still have time and energy for long, intimate talks and walks on the beach.
Ha. This person doesn’t exist. (Well, maybe on someone’s match.com profile) Because this kind of perfection is not attainable by human beings. So, what do we do? Give up on marriage as an institution because we can’t make it what we want, because we can’t expect it (and our spouses) to be our end-all, be-all?
No. We need to realize that God adds that element to our marriages. Our marriage can be “perfection” but only through God. I will never be able to be the perfect wife. Hubby will never be able to be the perfect husband. But Christ is the Perfect Spouse.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This includes a loving marriage.
With His help, our marriages can be Holy. Our marriages can be purposeful. Our marriages can be Perfect.