In the last newsletter, we talked about how whether a marriage survives depends on the willingness and desire of both people to continue to work on it. And with all this talk about working on marriage, inevitably some folks will ask, why bother? Marriage is a lot of work, and some would say this is a reason to give up on the whole sorry enterprise. Why even do marriage anymore when it’s so uncertain and difficult?
The last time I waxed philosophically about the joys of marriage, I talked about its tender and practical gifts. But this time, I want to discuss something a bit more complex. I want to talk about how marriage is kind of like being a Power Ranger. Okay, I know it sounds…weird…but stick with me here.
I’ll start off by saying that, to be honest, I’m not sure if I really knew what it meant to love another person until I got married. I certainly didn’t know what it meant to love someone more than (or even equal to) myself. Not to say that I didn’t feel things for others, or care for them, or make efforts to aide in their happiness, but it was nothing like this.
What I’ve come to realize is that married love is about making choice after choice that draws you closer to another person. 10 years in, I look back and see the trail of uneven and unsteady stones that led me here. But, sticking with the Indiana Jones reference from my last post, that path was completely invisible to me at the time. I took one step, and then another, each time blindly, each time not knowing if I would fall or be saved. Only knowing that to run back was certain death for my relationship.
Those steps came in all forms. I made time to talk on the phone each night we were apart. I listened to work stories when I really wanted to take a nap. I held my tongue when I wanted to be mean. I snuggled just a few minutes longer. I shared my own pain when I wanted to shut down and withdraw. I forgave things I didn’t understand or have a good explanation for. I had sex when I wasn’t in the mood. I insisted on no second tv for us, ensuring that we spend most of our time in the same room. I fought my long-standing anxiety (and won!), which is the only thing that ever almost tore us apart. Each time, I could feel the weight of my choice, how it pulled me closer to my husband; or, times that I chose poorly, how those pushed me further away. Unlike Indiana Jones, I’ve done a two-step at times, swayed back when I should have kept moving forward.
But here’s the crazy thing about that path—it can’t help but take you away from where you started. There’s a certain alchemy that happens when you open yourself to another person, when you make yourself vulnerable to them, and they to you. Becoming porous, we can’t help but take parts of them into ourselves. And this is not some hare-brained idea born solely of my personal experience, there’s actual research to support this.
Each step that I took has changed me. I have been altered both by my choices to turn into my relationship, and also because of my husband himself. Choosing to love someone deeply over time has given me the ability to be more patient, more understanding, and more forgiving. And choosing to love him in particular has made me kinder, less worried and anxious, and more fun.
When we feel the comfort and security that comes from being fully accepted by someone who loves us, we are able to look at ourselves and consider what we would like to be different. Because we are not on the defensive, or having to constantly prove our own worth, because that person see us and accepts us for who we are, we are able to open ourselves to new possibilities, new ways of being in the world.
The tricky part is that neither partner can demand the other one make changes. It is only by fully accepting you for who you are in the present that change even becomes possible. This is true of our ability to change as individuals, and this process is amplified in our relationship with our partners.
Part of the reason I’m writing this is because I have a bit of the sense that if I can do marriage, just about anyone can. Other than seeing marriage as a valuable enterprise in and of itself, and (mostly) being able to recognize my own crap, I had few skills when I started out marriage-making. By my nature, I’m not good at relationships. I am unbearably impatient, a chronic know-it-all, and anger is my go-to emotion. The only thing that makes me good at marriage is that I’ve decided to keep moving forward, stone over stone, because I honestly feel that my husband is a person worth doing all of this for.
So from this path, I’ve gotten all the things that we get married for—affection, connection, stability, someone to go to the movies with on a Friday night—but even more than that, I’ve been changed for the better. I like the person I am now more than the person I was when I got married. And that’s not for some lack of self-esteem on my part—I liked that girl too—but this person feels like a more fully realized version of myself.
There are some who would say you could get these gifts outside of marriage, that you could get them from a friend or family relationship, or even that that some of this is a factor of aging. I won’t dispute that. But I do think there’s something special about being close to another person, day in and day out, over so many years. There’s an intimacy, way beyond sex, that seems difficult to achieve outside of the construct of marriage. So for those who would say marriage is too much work, or is an antiquated notion not fit for modern society, I’d say, get married. Be a Power Ranger. Become better than what you were when you began.