For months, I’ve been trying to write a single blog post. This is that post.
Marriage is an important topic to me and was one of my original aims to address with this blog, as shown here, here, and here.
A month and a half ago, I began writing what I’m calling my “hindsight” posts, that will go through some of the tough times we’ve recently had living the L.A. life with a family in tow. The next one I’d meant to write was going to be about marriage in honor of our 9 year wedding anniversary on 10/1, but I’d had a friend visiting and didn’t get to it. And then, on 10/2, just when I thought our lives had finally settled down some, some poop hit a fan.
Just a small amount of poop and just a small fan in the grand scheme of things, and we’re now back on our feet and perhaps even better than before.
But this marriage hindsight post still needs to be written.
Marriage is hard. We all know that right? Everyone says this. I say it often enough, you probably say it too, and most people agree with this statement. But what does that mean? How hard is ‘hard’?
Is marriage ‘hard’ when one spouse annoyingly rolls the toothpaste tube and the other squishes it? Is marriage ‘hard’ when one spouse thinks the other a slob for leaving their clothes on the bedroom floor? Is marriage ‘hard’ when two spouses disagree with how their money should be divided, shared, and spent?
Does marriage get even harder? How hard does it get? Is there ever a “too” hard? What happens when the person you marry changes?
Sooo…let’s go back in time real quick. Fall 2012. The phone call that started it all. As KP and I entered into a time period that brought a good deal of financial difficulty, we also unknowingly entered into a time period that brought a good deal of marital difficulty.
In hindsight, it’s easy to look back on that time period and see that we were just trying to make things work the best we each knew how to, both of us handling a difficult situation in our own way. But at that time, all we could see were our relationship struggles and incompatibilities. After all, as life passes, and as people experience and adapt to whatever new circumstances are thrown their way, it is normal and expected for them to change and grow. And THIS is why marriage is hard. Because people are individuals. Our marriage got hard because KP and I are two different people, who’d each changed and grown independently, and who responded to our shared difficulties with vastly differing perspectives.
You often hear people, at difficult points in their marriages, say “He/She’s just not the same person I married anymore” as though that’s a valid excuse to give up. Maybe people don’t get this. Maybe KP and I didn’t get it either. Maybe no one really understands at the time they get married. But the person you get married to will not be the person you stay married to.
We all change over time. I’ve changed. KP’s changed. It is impossible to know absolutely everything about someone before marriage. During our darker days, I wondered how I’d gotten myself into this mess – had there been huge red flags I’d somehow missed before we’d gotten married? Something I should’ve seen that would’ve indicated this incompatibility? Did I even know who KP was before I agreed to marry him? Was I doomed to this unhappiness in marriage forever? Would life be easier if I were doing it on my own?
In early 2013, I had a heartfelt conversation with an old friend, who was also having some struggles in her marriage. It was wonderful to have someone to vent things to, someone who could relate that life isn’t always perfect, someone who could understand. However, at the end of the conversation, she asked a question that has stayed with me for a long time as kind of a defining moment in my commitment to making my marriage work.
She asked me if I’d ever consider divorce.
I solidly said told her no, that I’d rather be unhappily married, and hope that things would get better one day, than to give up and be divorced. She seemed a bit surprised at this, that I would rather choose unhappiness and stick to the principle of marriage, than to seek my own happiness and ‘freedom’ in my own life, even if that meant divorcing. Her surprise at my response was actually a bit surprising to me, as we’d both come from similar conservative upbringings, and we’d often had very deep and truthful conversations about life. To be honest, I felt a tiny bit betrayed; if even her resolve for the worth of sticking through marriage during the tough times was waning, then where else was I to go for the marriage encouragement I so desperately needed and wanted?
It was at that point that I made a decision that I believe made all the difference, at least for my end of the marriage. I decided that I would never let the seed of divorce plant itself in my head. I would never even consider it as an option. Because I knew that if I did, that I’d be watering that seed each and every time I entertained thoughts of what non-marriage could be like. And the more the seed would be watered, the more and more it would take root and grow.
So I refused to even plant it.
Things have not always been easy, but KP and I have trudged on. Sometimes it felt like we took one step forward only to take two steps back. We’d manage to have some great times together – and then something would set us off on a spiral of a fight that we wouldn’t resolve but just smolder out on its’ own a day or two later. Slowly, very very slowly, things have gotten better, and are still getting better. Financial standings have improved, our life outlooks have changed, we’ve both come to terms with things, and a lot of the outside stress that was plaguing our marriage had dissipated and we’re able to talk more. I’m now at a point where I can even write about this, and that in and out of itself is a big deal. I am even more grateful for and thankful for and have more love for KP now than ever.
Mine and KP’s recent marriage journey has led me on a quest though. A quest to find if there’s a secret to a good marriage. If there something that – if we could all go back in time or just as advice to give to younger folk considering marriage – that we should specifically look for in a future spouse that would give us the best odds at long-term marriage success. And the more and more I think about it, I kept coming back to something mentioned in this article I stumbled upon:
I may not have a psychology degree and don’t claim to know everything (yet ;)), but as someone with 9 years of marriage under my belt? My best suggestion for your best chances at a successful marriage is to find someone who is 100% against divorce AND who esteems achieving a happy and successful marriage as a highest priority. If you find someone like this (and you yourself are like this too), then no matter what you face in life, you will both always be willing to make changes in yourself to be the best spouse you can be to each other.
Call me crazy, but I think that about sums it up. (you know, just in case someone out there is reading this who isn’t yet married and actually cares about what a random internet woman has to say about marriage advice and all :))
Earlier this week, I stumbled upon another article and found it very insightful. I even posted it to my facebook and twitter feeds. I strongly suggest the read:
The part that seemed to be the most relateable to me was the idea of the below. The study quoted refers to couples as either “masters” or “destroyers”.
Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.
But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal — of being in fight-or-flight mode — in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger.
Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other. For example, each member of a couple could be talking about how their days had gone, and a highly aroused husband might say to his wife, “Why don’t you start talking about your day. It won’t take you very long.”
The masters, by contrast, showed low physiological arousal. They felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. It’s not that the masters had, by default, a better physiological make-up than the disasters; it’s that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.
So yes. Marriage is sometimes hard and marriage is sometimes easy. It’s a journey with hills and valleys. Two and half years ago, I would’ve never been able to foresee the struggles we were about to enter into, and when we were at the darkest times, I was hardly able to foresee a future where it’d be better. But in hindsight, now that we are past (what I hope to be) the worst, I wonder if it was perhaps the experience we needed in order to bring us to where we are, and to the people and spouses we are, today.
I have so much more I could say on this topic, and I hate to end abruptly, buuuut KP is home and we are wanting to watch this weeks episode of Parenthood together, which actually, works out to be a kind of fitting way to end this post. Maybe I’ll do a followup afterward. Ahh, Parenthood. I’ve loved you from the beginning, but have felt a bit strung along recently with the Joel and Julia’s crumbling marriage story. I still watch though, because obviously, I’m Team Joel. All the way. From the very beginning. They’d better work it out. And yes, I’m probably overly-involved in this storyline on a fictional tv show. But seriously, we NEED examples in the media of marriages succeeding! Come on Joel and Julia – marriage is worth fighting for!