This weekend my wife and I celebrated our 12th Anniversary. It’s simply shocking to think that I’ve been married for twelve years, and even more amazing, that my wife has been able to put up with me! We had a wonderful time away from our kids, both the furry one and the one in diapers, and had the chance to really celebrate.
We laughed a lot. In fact, it felt like two people excited to be dating. And all of this got me thinking about the changes of our last few months and the strangeness of marriage.
This summer marks a new chapter in our life together. Chapter one was Los Angeles, and it’s all we’ve known. Chapter two begins in Park City and we are starting over in nearly every way possible.
A strange side effect of this change is we’ve both felt a release of secret tensions which built up over our last year in Los Angeles. No matter how well we tried to cope with my lack of income and our dwindling options, the situation created tension. And fear. And unhappiness. But we were head-down and hanging on so I don’t think either one of us realized the pressure building.
Then we moved, and I started making an income again, and life took on a bit more security. This brought down the walls we’d built for survival. And brutal honesty flared up. Pent up frustration bloomed. Displeasure was no longer weighed down by more important concerns and we found ourselves in a martial free-for-all.
Two weekends ago we had a huge fight, complete with yelling at each other in public – which we simply don’t do. Tears. Screaming. Both of us feeling hurt, unheard, and unloved.
It could be said we cleared the air. Said things that needed to be said. But the result created an uneasy truce, like animals in a circling standoff.
Darkness invades. You pull away, only to suffer horrific tearing as you realize the years of letting this person in has allowed their roots deep into every part of your being. Wonton destruction ensues.
You can’t trace how you got to this place from that happy day at the altar. You look at young infatuated couples with equal parts jealousy and cynical distain.
Then the really toxic idea enters your mind. The thought that this is your new normal. This person you are bound to for life will always hurt you this much, and you will always hurt them. And being married will never feel good again.
In those moments, I try to remember something one of my best friends said:
“NewsFlash: Marriage is Hard!”
In the last year, three of my friends got divorced. A lawyer would describe each of them as completely “amicable” separations, but the human toll has been complete and total carnage. Severe pain and lingering questions like smoke clearing from a battlefield.
I can do nothing but love these friends. I can’t judge them, or second guess them, or even think I know what hard decisions ended each of these marriages. I’ve seen that path in our marriage – like standing at a crossroads in a dark wood and believing that the more frightening path actually leads to a brighter dawn. For some, it does.
But this past weekend reminded me that marriage is one of the most extreme and elastic of relationships. The great lows are matched by great highs, and marriage can not be judged from the outside. Our time together may have looked like a couple in the early stage of infatuation, but the laughter and shared experience was backed by more than a decade of digging into each other. Only time and openness can create this kind of connection. The trust to leave nerves exposed results in a person knowing you in ways you didn’t think possible.
I’ve come to think of marriage like a hike through spectacular jagged mountains. You’re taken by the beauty and experience of the journey and you reach a high ridge to see the spectacular world before you. But this leads to complacency as you descend the peak into the next valley below. And the valley air stagnates and bakes out your will to continue. You think you can’t possibly go on. If the valley is long enough and low enough you begin to wonder why you came on this journey at all.
Should you choose to fight onward, then a climb awaits you. Up out of the valley with exhaustion, sweat, and pain. And always the peak seems distant.
Yet when you get there, you look again at the break-taking world around you. The worst moments seem far behind. The deeper the valley, the more amazing the peak. I wish we could camp out at the peak. Build a marriage on the shoulder of the mountain. But I know it can’t last and life is not lived in a world of sameness.
The hardest thing for me is to remember the truths I’ve seen in these dozen years.
– No conversation or fight is ever as bad as I imagined it would be. So I need to speak up before I talk myself into believing in WWIII.
– Valley’s are hot and terrible, but like a forest fire of destruction – new and stronger life can form in its fertile wake.
– A quick, true laugh with my wife can wipe out our longest fight.
– I have no idea what a good marriage looks like. Because every marriage has days on the mountain in celebration, and days in the valley in bloody warfare.
After twelve years I can’t define our marriage. I couldn’t say what others see in it or believe to be true. I just know I’m always surprised when we reach a mountain top. The views get better. The memories of our struggles fade faster. And I do everything I can to take it in and cherish every second.
We passed the milestone of a dozen years with the joyful infatuation of teenagers with a driver’s license and a savings account. Lost in laughter, fun, and celebration. My favorite anniversary since the day itself. As little as two weeks ago I would have never dreamt it possible.
I know that somewhere on the journey there will be another valley. And the quickest way back to the peak is straight though the middle.
And right about now I’m thinking how blessed I am to have such an amazing hiking partner.