A meme with a quote from columnist Doug Larson is floating around Facebook that reads, “More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.” And while this is a clever flip on the wedding ceremony, I don’t think it’s something a lot of married couples think about, newly or otherwise.
My wife and I are about to celebrate our 12th anniversary. And I don’t want to say we’ve had a rocky marriage because I don’t believe we have. I think we’ve actually had a very good marriage. But I’m saying that now, after learning how to live together for 12 years (and I suppose that’s the really scary part about marriage), we are still learning how to live with each other.
And it gets more complicated when you consider that we are different people than when we started. We have different goals and aspirations. We have children now. We have learned a thing or two. When I started, I assumed the woman I married would be the same 20 years in, but I can say honestly she isn’t. And I’m not the same man, either. And learning how to live with an ever-changing person is just a fact of marriage. It creates challenges.
We still fight sometimes, but not nearly as often as we did during the first few years. When we started out, we fought about everything from money, to work, to laundry, to how the toilet paper roll is hung. And as comical as that might sound, it really wasn’t.
During those first few years, I often felt like a hostage negotiator talking to my wife through the bathroom door. I can remember going to bed flaming pissed over something that must have been pretty stupid because I can’t even recall what it was. We turned our backs to each other, a large gap in the middle of the bed, both of us hugging the margins of the mattress, neither of us angry enough to sleep in the living room, but still bitter enough to not speak.
When we had our first child nine years ago, we took his sleeplessness out on each other. I can remember arguing at 2 a.m., a crying baby in my arms, over whose turn it was to stay up. At the time, Mel was working full-time, and I was working and attending college classes. We both had every reason to ask the other to stay up with the baby. We were both doing exactly what we should’ve been doing. We were both working hard and caring for our child. Surely the other person saw that, right?
I think that was the hardest thing for us to learn. Sometimes with marriage and children, you can both be doing exactly what you should be doing, and it’s still hard and it still sucks, and even though both Mom and Dad are due a good long break, there just isn’t room for it in the schedule.
But here’s the kicker with the grim picture of marriage I just crafted. The better always came after the worse. At least it has with Mel and I. With each challenge, with each argument, with each disagreement, with each long night, we have stuck it out. We have discussed the issues, mostly rationally, sometimes not so much, until we figured out a way to live together better. It hasn’t always been an ideal compromise where both of us felt 100% satisfied. But it was enough for us to press forward. And I think that’s the reality of thick and thin when it comes to marriage. That’s the reality of compromise.
Sometimes the compromises are a little thicker, and sometimes they are a little thinner, but ultimately 90% of marriage is figuring out how to work together. It’s how to argue in the night and get up in the morning with a clear head and discuss ways to make it better. It looks like sitting at the dinner table and really listening to each other. It’s really hearing what the other is struggling with, and loving them enough to make a change, to tweak what you are doing for the good of the family.
The real reality of marriage is work. It’s working through the hard times to figure out how to get to the good ones. I will be the first to admit marriage is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but that doesn’t make it bad. In fact, it’s also been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, too. And when you work through a hard situation with someone you love, take a moment to really admire them. The fact is, they are right there in the trenches with you, and that is a wonderful thing.
I’ve seen my wife with boogers and spit-up on her shirt, breasts engorged with milk, and fresh bandages across her abdomen from a Cesarean cradle a young baby, her eyes bloodshot from being up feeding, and realized just how strong she is.
I watched her juggle being a mother and working full-time at a shit job at a hardware store so I could finish school and get a better paying job. I watched her finish her own degree by studying in the evenings and early mornings, during the few hours when I was home from working two jobs.
I’ve seen her apologize when she was wrong, and I’ve seen her look me in the eyes with a white-hot glare and demand I apologize for some bone-headed action I stumbled into.
And on the flip side, Mel has admired me for working hard to support our family. She’s commented on my ability to get our daughter to do her homework when no one else could. She’s thanked me for taking her half of the night with our child (we have always split the night equally) for several nights in a row so she could get over the flu.
All of it has come with its ups and downs. Our bodies have changed, sagging a little more here and there. We’ve learned what to say and what not to. We’ve learned how to approach each other when we are irritated, and we’ve learned how to pick our arguments. And now, 12 years in, I feel like we are in a sweet spot, where the better is more often than the worse. This isn’t to say we won’t still have worse, here and there, but I feel confident Mel and I have learned how to handle the worse. I don’t worry about it as much anymore. And I think that is the case with most marriages.
So if you are in the worse, please realize the better often comes later. It takes hard work, compromise, change, and admiration, but it happens. The better comes after the worst. Trust me.