Today is our fourteenth wedding anniversary. Last year I shared some married musings in my rainy wedding post and I have a couple of related thoughts to share this year too. As I noted last year, I personally don’t experience my marriage as being hard work or difficult. Though I do understand that this is not everyone’s experience, I have a lot of difficulty understanding or appreciating comments that I see repeated in various Facebook-type locations that come from the, “love is a choice that you make every day” angle. Really?!?! I have trouble getting on board with that, because it sounds like if you don’t make the “love” choice, the alternative is just naturally disliking or not enjoying your spouse? My love for my husband feels similar to the love I feel for my children—it is a constant, it is not choice based. It is deep, abiding, and embedded. It doesn’t feel optional, which is what the word “choice” makes it sound like to me. If you choose to love your family, you can also choose not to love them on a daily basis. This doesn’t reflect my own experience in my relationship or my mothering.
At the beginning of this month, a Facebook friend shared a long quote about marriage from a Christian relationship book that seemed to come from this love is a choice philosophy. I did like this part of what she shared: “There are no lessons to be learned when a husband dominates his wife. There are no inspiring examples to emulate when a wife manipulates a husband. But love unlocks the spiritual secrets of the universe. Love blows open eternity and showers its raindrops on us.” (Perhaps I identify because of that rainy wedding of ours!) When I read this book excerpt and the subsequent comments about marriage being the “hardest work of your life” or a “constant challenge” or about how spouses and ourselves can be so “hard to love,” I shared this with her: today [July 1] is my husband’s 35th birthday, the 18th I’ve spent with him. I’ve never found him hard to love and I’ve never found our marriage to be hard work or our relationship a challenge. Quite the contrary in fact—he’s my safe haven and my soft place to land. Now, parenting I find to be a challenge! And, parenting compatibly together is also sometimes hard. But marriage. Marriage is sweet, comfortable, and home.
I then added: not to say that I don’t understand or appreciate that marriage is a struggle/hard/challenge for some couples. I know that it is and I admire the effort and commitment they put into a strong relationship. I just wanted to offer a different experience 🙂 I wish the same for you one day!
And, then when my parents’ celebrated their 38th anniversary two weeks ago, I thought it was high time I asked my mom about this whole “hard work” angle. This is what she said: “Not at all! It’s a union of like-minded, harmonious people. It has always felt absolutely right to me. I’m where I’m supposed to be, with a man I love completely! He’s my best friend. It’s not effortless, but it comes naturally to us!”
I do feel like I had an excellent relationship model. My parents are super cute and they like each other a lot and always have. They argue about things sometimes and have the occasional bump, but I’ve never seen them working hard at being married, only delighting in it. Maybe I’m just getting hung up on semantics, but I just have a personal pet peeve about that descriptor and I don’t know that it is the best message to give to people approaching their own marriages. I think about birth, of course: yes, sometimes we give the, “it is hard work, but you can do it and it is SO worth it” message about giving birth and maybe it is the same with the marriage message, but I like to share a, “birth is an awesome, empowering miracle and I hope you love it” opinion and I like to offer other couples the same sentiment about marriage.
And, because I can’t think of anywhere else to put it and yet I want to share, here is a picture of the totally awesome, totally homemade German chocolate cake I made for Mark for his birthday this month. In 14 years of marriage and 18 birthdays with him, I’ve never made him a real one before. I’ve done mixes and canned frosting, but I don’t like coconut. This year I decided to make a homemade one (with add-your-own-coconut-to-the-icing-if-that’s-your-thing) and it was unbelievable. It had 7 eggs in it, weirdly–4 in the icing and 3 in the cake. Who knew?!
I often feel confused about the battling wills and arguing couples portrayal of marriage too. Your post really spoke to me. I feel the same way about my husband! In this world of confusing relationships he is the one that I don’t have to work on. It’s just comfortable and safe. I often have told my friends who are struggling or who are still trying to find what we have that I looked for my best friend, and married him. It’s us against the world! I know that’s sort of a pessimistic way to look at the world, but I know that he is my safe place in the chaos of what goes on outside my doors. We do sometimes argue. We do sometimes disagree. But at the end of the day we go to sleep as a family of one-ness. And that is very hard to find these days. Congratulations on 14 years with a man who sounds as amazing as you are! Happy anniversary!
Exactly, Veronica! He’s the one I DON’T have to work on. I can just rest there! And, yes, we do disagree and argue sometimes and get annoyed with each other, but I always love him and it isn’t something I “decided” to do/feel each day. He’s my man!
My husband is most definitely my safe haven as well. HOWEVER, I have experienced the hard work aspect in the past. The work really had nothing to do with my husband or my marriage- it had to do with myself. I didn’t have a great model for healthy communication of needs and I was so insecure in myself that it naturally poured into my other relationships, including wife and mother. When I did the hard work on myself; learning how to communicate my needs, to trust, to let go of control as a means of security, everything else just naturally got better and easier. Perhaps this is the hard work people are referring to because at the time it certainly felt like marriage and motherhood were hard work but in retrospect I realize that this wasn’t the reality.
I also think it can be more difficult to find common ground with someone who doesn’t share all of your visions about the world. I married young and didn’t know myself very well. I’ve changed a lot and am pretty amazed and grateful that Robbie has accepted me through all of that- I’m not sure everyone would be able to do that (especially relating to spirituality). It isn’t necessarily work but it does require a lot of open, non-judgemental communication for both of us to feel heard, acknowledged and accepted. If we hadn’t already learned to do that (and we had to learn together because neither of us learned it from our parents) it would have been a lot harder. In the end I think the choice aspect has to do with choosing to accept differences that some might find insurmountable (a believer and an atheist for example). I don’t choose to love my husband, I have always loved him. I choose to accept him and that is something that I have had to work at. But again, the work was the result of my own insecurities about our differences and my knee-jerk reject-them-before-they-reject-me response, not because of him.
And… another long winded comment- I think it’s a testament to your ability to write things that speak to me! 🙂
And this is why not only birthy folks should read my blog! ;-D Thanks for commenting, Hope. Mark and I talked this over a LOT last night actually and I came up with two additional thoughts that didn’t make the blog–one, that the love choice may be found in how you *respond* to the other person in daily communication/interaction (i.e. with empathy, love, kindness, or with harshness and belittling–“but, he knows I love him!”) and maybe I’m focused too much on the overall *feeling* in my critiques of the sentiment. And, two, that maybe, just maybe, the roots of this phrase/approach are in the concept of original sin, etc.–I was thinking about how the companion statement to the quote I shared above was about how hard we ALL are to love. WTF?! I think Mark and I are both loveable people and worthy of being loved and then suddenly it hit me–that is NOT everyone’s worldview. I view people as inherently good, inherently worthy, and inherently loveable. I do not think we are “noxious bags of pus and excrement” OR, full of evil and sin. If my worldview included the notion of “sin” and our inherent “selfishness” and how desperately broken we all all, maybe I’d jump on board the “hard to love” train a lot more easily. I’m not sure if that makes sense typed out!
Another thing we discussed was in how I read these remarks a lot of times from women who married young and after brief “courtships,” many of which share characteristics with arranged marriages. I’m guessing it WOULD be “hard to love” someone who barely know and who are expected to “submit” to.
I also want to be clear that I also don’t mean that I don’t believe people that describe their marriages as hard work or think they’re *wrong* for describing them that way–just that it isn’t my own experience and also that it makes me sad and confused that this is the message we are sending to our children and to other people about the way marriage is “supposed to be.”
I love that your hard work was on yourself. That is cool!
I really really identify with Veronica’s phrase “this world of confusing relationships.” Dealing with, forging relationships with, understanding the feelings of other people can be hard; it can involve so much guessing and walking-on-eggshells and all that. Our culture doesn’t exactly encourage open communication. My partnership with Eric, and all our history, and how well we know each other’s pasts and tones and body language, make being with him anxiety-free and generally selfconsciousness-free.
When I started dating Eric, I told a family member that it was “just so easy” to be with him. She took that as a bad thing–she laughed and knowingly said something about that being nice as a break sometimes. To her, “easy” meant “settling.” What I actually meant was ‘this feels good; this is drama-free; I think I’m going to stick with this.’ Maybe our culture’s rejection of drama-free relationships as boring and unromantic, its opposites-attract obsession, its messed up romantic comedies all contribute to the discourse you’re talking about?
If my marriage were hard, I’d leave it. The whole point of it is to make Eric’s and my lives better, to make all the unavoidably hard crap easier. Hard days, okay, but a hard marriage, no thank you. We agreed explicitly about that before we got engaged. And in THAT sense, I get the whole “choice” thing: ‘I don’t have to stay with you, I am not obligated to love you, it’s not out of habit or convenience: I actively WANT to be with you.’ Does that make sense?
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