People often ask me what our secret is. Chris and I have been married for 17 years, have been together for 24. We are happy, content, have settled into our lives with grace, love, and acceptance.
That doesn’t mean it’s all been sunshine and unicorns.
When we were first married, I was a bit of a volatile bomb waiting to explode. I’m sure Chris often felt like he was tiptoeing around hidden land mines, waiting for the shrapnel of my craziness to embed itself under his skin. I was young, inexperienced, incredibly anal-retentive. I was high-strung, quick to anger, slow to forgive. We fought a lot in those days. I yelled, cried, drove around I-465 with the radio blaring sappy love songs more times than any human being should.
We lived. We learned. We grew.
Committing yourself to another human being for a lifetime is a huge prospect. It’s Big and Scary and Exciting and Full of Wonder. Till death do us part. We took those vows very seriously. Not being together has never been an option. Divorce, separation… those words have never been part of our vernacular. We’re in it for the long haul. Every glorious, tongue-biting, shoulder-crying, laugh-till-we-wet-our-pants moment.
The minister who married us gave us this advice: “Always remember that you two came first. No matter how many kids, friends, or years join you in this journey, your union is first, middle, and last.” We took those words straight to heart.
Our marriage has always come first. Before the kids, before everything. That doesn’t in any way lesson or negate our love for our children. But our job is to give them roots and wings… together. Our job is to set the example for what a good, healthy marriage looks like, what commitment, trust, and respect means.
Have we stumbled? You bet. Many, many times. Will we do it again? Probably tomorrow. Maybe even today. But as time marches on, we grow more and more at ease with each other, we disappoint each other less, we love a little more deeply.
People often say that marriage is hard work. I tend to disagree. We have our moments, we get on each other’s nerves. But our life together is not difficult. (And I’ve had “difficult” friendships, those that took a great deal of work. Trust me — I know the difference.) There is no “work” to what we do. We simply abide in love, in trust, in laughter. We never take ourselves too seriously. We cuss and drink and talk dirty. We’re irreverent and loud and ready to embrace any challenge.
When we disagree or see things differently, we step back and listen to each other. We don’t attack, don’t accuse, don’t try to make the other change his or her viewpoint. We don’t take the “I’m right, you’re wrong” stance. No one wins when that’s the goal. Often we agree to disagree. And we settle in there. That’s okay. In fact, it’s probably more than okay. How boring life would be if we all saw things the same way. How little we would all grow.
We’ve been through financial ruin, we stood side by side as we nearly lost our second-born. We’ve changed jobs, added kids and dogs and countless rodents to our household. We’ve sold houses, built houses, lost our asses on houses. We’ve changed jobs, gone back to school, gained and lost weight. We’ve had lots of money. We’ve had no money. We packed our bags and moved 550 miles away from the only home we’d ever known. But we had each other. Will always have each other.
Here are things we never forget to do…
1. Say “I love you.” And mean it.
2. Laugh with reckless abandon. At ourselves, at each other, at our kids, at life.
3. Dance. We’re still fighting the “who’s supposed to lead” battle, but it doesn’t stop us from cutting a rug as frequently as possible.
4. Sing. Loudly — with the radio or without. In 2-part harmony or not. Mostly to OAR and Springsteen.
5. Hold hands, fingers interlaced.
6. Speak kindly to each other. Mean, belittling words serve no purpose in our lives.
7. Support each other unconditionally. Want to quit your job and write a book? Go for it. Want to move the family to Mississippi and pursue a dream of higher education? Of course. It will work out. It always does. Life is too short to miss the adventures.
Simple? Perhaps. Effective? Undoubtedly.
I love the life we have created together. Still choose him first when I need advice or a swift kick in the ass. We have fun together. Lots of fun. We are not bound by “what if?” or “what will they think?” or “who’s watching?” My hand fits his perfectly. My head rests comfortably on his shoulder. Where he is, is home.
Snoring and all.
For better or for worse.