I think about marriage and divorce a lot. In part, because I am married and have been with my husband now for 20 years. Ours is the longest running, happiest and most stable relationship I know besides that of some of our friends’ parents. I have plenty of friends who are in good, stable and happy relationships, but they are still in the process of raising their young families. Bill and I now really get the time to spend with each other, being who we are and we’re finding that we still like each other after all this time. Right now, we really are the happiest couple I know, but that’s only because we have a slight time advantage on the others what with our kids nearly being grown and the stress of whether our kids are going to turn out like normal adults is off the table. Our relationship has also outlasted more than a few that we have encountered over the years. Several of our friends have gotten divorced, one just recently.
At the same time while I’m seeing all of this, I’m watching my brother and his girlfriend struggle with their relationship. They’re trying to figure out who they are as a couple while having all the challenges of being new parents and this is probably the most difficult time in any relationship. Many, many relationships begin and end in this phase. So, every time I see one of them say something on Facebook that lets me know that they are arguing, I think about my friends who have been getting divorced and the utter hell their children have been put through during the process and I think about my little niece, who is only 2 months old, living her life without either one of her wonderful parents as a daily participant in every moment and it breaks my heart. She deserves to have both of her parents, every kid does.
I doubt that my brother and his girlfriend are heading for a breakup, but being a writer, my mind tends to wander to the most dramatic outcome possible. So I do tend to see the worst, even if I don’t expect it to occur. I just wish I could express to them that I really get it. I am 13 years older than my brother, we have a generation gap between us, so I’m almost like another parent in some respects as far as he’s concerned. Often, what I say goes in one ear and out the other, but I remember how hard it was for my husband and I. We had kids first and got married when our daughter was six months old. We spent the first five years of our marriage figuring out how to be parents and we absolutely hated each other. We fought constantly and righteously for our causes and we were both right to stand our ground on the things we stood our ground on, but we were also both horribly wrong for being so stubborn about it.
That really was the biggest downfall of our early years in marriage. Bill and I are both bullheaded and as stubborn as they come. I’m just a little bit more stubborn than Bill, which meant that I usually won the arguments and Bill felt downtrodden a lot. It took so long for me to open my eyes to what I was doing to Bill, that I almost lost him and then when I opened my eyes and really saw who we were and how miserable we both were and was ready to make the step to not being that person anymore and choosing to be happy with what we had, Bill had such a hard time believing it that he almost lost me.
It took ten years of us saying to ourselves every morning, “I chose to spend the rest of my life with this one person. I hate who we are right now, but this WILL get better.” For us to believe it and for that dream to become a reality. And now, here we are, 18 years later and we are still very much in love, just as much as we were when we first met and we are very happy with each other and who we are and who we have become and the lives we have built on that foundation of constantly fighting with and for each other.
The difference between us and so many other couples out there that have chosen not to stay together, is just that. We made a choice.
Having a child is a choice.
Having a family is a choice.
Getting married is a choice.
Loving someone and making that love last through the ages is a choice, it’s not something that happens to you by some strange twist of fate. It’s something that you carefully select, place into the earth and spend hours every single day cultivating it until all of your hard work blooms into something so precious and so beautiful that people who walk past the two of you, when you’re holding hands in public, blush because they feel as though they just intruded on a private moment.
It also helps, if you decide from the very beginning that leaving is not an option. You have to make that promise to each other from day one that you are in this relationship for the long haul. You have to say to yourself that come hell or high water, you will stay, even if some days, you only stay because you know the person you married is a good parent and your kids would be miserable without them.
I won’t lie to you about this, the early years of any marriage are hell, especially when you’re new to parenting and most marriages don’t survive the stress that comes with evolving from care-free adult, to responsible parent, but if you really want it to, it can. You just have to choose it.
So my Christmas gift to all of the couples I know is the above gem. Marriage is not about true love or flower petals on satin sheets. It is about farting under the covers and staying with the person you are with, no matter how crazy they make you, because in order to find the truly good things in a person’s soul, you have to first see all of the bad and when we are changing and becoming something different, we are at our very worst. On the other side of that change though, we are at our very best and that is always worth waiting for. There are some days now, when I wake up beside Bill and think, “Good God, I love this man. How in the hell could I have ever hated him as much as I did back then? What was I thinking?”
And I know the answer, I was younger and far less wise and I was so stressed out by being a parent to two young children that I did not see what I had right in front of me and neither did Bill. So tell the person you’re with that you love them and try to remember how you got to where you are in the first place and don’t forget that it was love that brought you together and if you really love someone, it is most definitely enough.