For those that have been around a while, you've probably already heard this story. But some, or many, of you have not. And there have been some recent occurrences that have made me reflect on things of the past.
I got married when I was a 23. My husband was 26. We were young, and I was in my last semester of school. In August of that year, my husband bought our first home prior to our marriage in October. Well, he and his brother bought the house. We were excited and happy and everything was, well, wonderful. I have to say in all honesty, though, had we not married, our relationship would've no doubt dissipated over the next year. Things got rough quickly and I sometimes still find myself wondering how we managed to find our way out of the thickness of a thousand thorn bushes to a bright green meadow filled with love, understanding, and a little more wisdom.
In America, 45% to 50% of first marriages end in divorce. A good portion of those divorces take place between 20 and 24 years of age. Or so says www.divorcestatistics.org. Naturally, divorce is more typical in couples that do not have children; however, the rate for those with children is still high at 40%. None of us should be surprised. We've all heard the 50% statistic, and it shouldn't even surprise us too much that most divorces take place in younger couples. Why? Because you change so much when you're in your 20s. What you thought you wanted one year is completely different from what you want the next. And the stress of marriage only adds to the stress of changing into who you are. Throw a couple kids in and my goodness, it's almost asking for things to fall apart!
So how is it that we managed to avoid becoming a statistic? Well, it appears I'm rather good at going in the opposite direction of what the stats say should happen to me. But before we get to how it was avoided, maybe we should talk about why things got so rough.
We were married on a gorgeous fall day in October. In December, my husband's grandfather passed away. In January, my husband's father passed away. In September, my grandmother passed away. For two young kids, all this death without the knowledge of how to cope with it added a level of stress to our house that was palpable. My husband was a mess. He was angry, and I was there for him to lash out at. He'd walk in the door, and find something....anything....to yell about. I couldn't do anything right. I dreaded him coming home. Things were tense, and I didn't know how to help him through his pain other than to stay the hell away from him.
And then my grandmother died.
My world shattered. My foundation was rocked to the core. I was lost. It was a very dark time for me, and I ached without realizing the depth of my pain. I didn't want to be around him and he didn't want to be around me. I went out. I drank. A lot. And I didn't care. I just wanted to get the hell away from everything and everyone. A blackness descended upon our relationship. A cloud so thick that we could barely breath. And so when I was offered an internship in Wichita, I jumped at it. I would be gone all summer and I wanted so badly to get away from my life.
But things unraveled before I went to Wichita. Things were said that should have never been said, and those things will remain between my husband and I. We began counseling. We only went a few times...hardly enough, but what it did was make us talk to each other, something we were not doing. We'd sit out on the back porch and have a few drinks and talk. We'd talk about things we probably never planned to talk about. We opened ourselves up to each other and began a long journey of finding what we had before all the pain overcame our lives.
I still went to Wichita, and my husband traveled nearly every weekend to be with me. It was a new environment. It was a way for us to reconnect. I won't lie and say that all was well upon my return, but it was beginning to get there. It was an uphill battle that took determination and commitment to persevere. By all accounts, we should not have made it, and I have no doubt that had we not been married, we would not have made it. But that's the thing about marriage. I believe in it's commitment, and I married a man that believes just as strongly in that commitment. And that made all the difference in the world.
Don't get me wrong. I know with full certainty, that some obstacles cannot be overcome. I know that sometimes it's better to dissolve the marriage than to continue. I know that sometimes people grow apart and cannot find their way back to each other. I don't believe every marriage can make it, but I also don't believe, unless there are really extenuating circumstances, that people should be so quick to give up on marriage.
I don't proclaim to be a professional at the whole marriage thing. My husband and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary this year, and we still have our problems. But I do know this. That if you ask couples that have been together for years what makes it work, they don't say their spouse has made them happy every single day for every second of the day.
Marriage is not a ticket to happiness, as so many of us seem to believe. I learned that lesson in year one. We have to make our own happiness as well. That individual, however great they are, cannot be our sole ticket to happiness. When you're living in trenches every day, it's not a picnic every day. But when you climb out and look down into that trench, if you can say, "Wow, what an amazing experience. Wow! I feel great and happy and whole," well, then, you get it. It's a lot like kids. I'm not happy being a mother 24/7. At 3 a.m., when my son won't sleep and I have to get up in 3 hours, I'm not thinking, "God, this is GREAT! I love this!" I'm thinking, "Why the hell won't he go to sleep. For the LOVE OF GOD!"
The whole idea of romantic love is silly, and I say that as a romantic at heart. That rush we feel when we first start seeing someone? That's all biological. It's impossible to keep it forever. It doesn't work that way. What we're left with, however, is a stronger, deeper love. And I'm thankful for that because I don't think I could handle the stay-up-till-five-in-morning-just-talking phase forever. That doesn't mean romance and surprise and butterflies have to die. It just means you might have to work to get them. Believe me. I have a few tricks up my sleeve for our tenth!
And finally, because this post is SO long, marriage is about change and accepting change as well. There are couples that drift apart because they change in different ways. Change is inevitable. And I can tell you that when I met my husband...when I married him...he was not a hunter. He was not a little on the "redneck" side. He WAS NOT. But he is now. Back then, he wanted to backpack and hike and all sort of camping-related outdoor things. Now, not so much. He wants to fish or hunt. Or it's not worth it. And it drives me a little crazy, but that is who he has become, and I accept that. And I know I've changed as well, especially since I became a mother. And he's accepted that. There are things about each other that I have no doubt we'd both like to change, but we work at trying to stay in tune with each other and paying attention to each others' likes and dislikes. That's not to say I'm picking up hunting, but I'm learning to accept it and find ways in which I see the positive in it. I know where my food comes from. Huge plus for me!
When things do get tense and I have that inevitable thought about "what if," I look back and think about all the things that made me fall in love with him. I think about the first time I saw him (and he did not see me). I think about our friendship. Trips we've taken. Movies we watched together. I think about nights we went out. Conversations we had. Little moments that are engrained in my memory because they are so special to me. I don't focus on the negative ones during those moments because negativity would just breed more negativity. I focus on the good things. The fun things. The things that remind me how much he loves me and how much I love him.
I don't have a perfect marriage. There is no such thing. But what I do have...well, it's pretty damn special, and I think I'll keep it.