The Nuptial Journey
Lessons in Love from 30 years of Marriage
Live Life Well
“This morning, with her, having coffee.”
Johnny Cash, when asked for his definition of paradise
"A happy marriage is to see through its own enchantments and yet not be disenchanted."
Thirty years ago, when I was the ripe old age of 18, my husband Peter asked for forever, and I said yes.
Those who know me well have heard me joke about my July 3rd wedding date: “First we got married and then came the fireworks.” And it’s true; we’ve had our share of sparks, blasts and ashes along the way.
It’s been said that we choose our spouses because they are perfect for what we have to learn. I had a long road to travel when I married my husband; I’m grateful for the journey.
Someone with whom we have a lifetime of lessons to absorb is someone whose presence in our lives is a catalyst for growth, a test of our ability to love unconditionally.
Marriage is a spiritual practice that provides maximum opportunity for mutual growth. (What a nice way to say that every button we have will be pushed until we resolve the wounds behind them.)
Since Peter and I married young, our relationship was a laboratory of ongoing skirmishes to figure out the rules of engagement for our marriage.
It took us a long time to go from romantic idealists to part-time adversaries to full-time allies. But we had enough conviction in the strength of our bond to risk enough fights (some fair, some not so fair) over the years to work out the bumps (pot holes, sink holes) on the road to a nurturing partnership & a rich life together that reflects our joint vision.
There are so many things young brides and grooms don’t know when they repeat their vows. "For better or for worse" is a little on the vague side, don’t you think?
Imagine what you would add to the traditional wedding vows if you were to marry today. I might say:
To Love, Honor… and Negotiate.
Marriage is a series of negotiations on the rules of engagement, the separation of powers, and the division of labor.
To Love, Honor… and not hold you responsible for how I feel.
Imagine if brides and grooms avowed: My happiness depends on me, so you're off the hook. You don’t have to be a certain way for me to be happy. I am whole, & happy, and responsible for the relationship between me & me and me & God. I promise to not use you to medicate my fear.
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The Nuptial Journey
(Reflections on 30 years of marriage)
Laugh Lines are Sexy
How to Stop Saying Yes When You Mean No
The Dalai Palma
When Nature Pulls a Fast One
A Mulligan (Life's Second Chances)
The Kindness of a Stranger
Making Uncertainty an Ally
Lovin' the Town You're With
Being Part of Someone's First
Happiness does not require two people; it only requires one. And it has to be me.
Of course this doesn’t mean we can’t rely on our spouses for support. It means we don’t hold unrealistic expectations and depend on them to do what we can ultimately only do for ourselves.
I believe in love’s many splendored powers to transform and fine-tune. There were times gritty love helped me survive my husband. And times when gritty love helped him survive me.
For instance, Peter has always been curiously incapable of feeling embarrassment in most situations, but that was okay because I always felt enough for the both of us.
There were years when I thought that my husband’s oddities and quirks required “helpful” kicks delivered to either his shin or the base of the table before I finally stumbled upon the great catalyst for change in marriage: Acceptance.
As paradoxical as it may seem, I found that it’s complete acceptance (not tolerance) of your partner as he or she is, without needing to change them in any way that ultimately produces real and lasting change. (Note: I am not suggesting this is the case in abusive relationships, which is beyond the scope of this post.)
Funny thing happened after my perspective shift: I was the one who changed. As is often the case, when we love purely enough to let go of who and what we think our partners/parents/children are “supposed to be” and embrace who they are, we are the ones transformed. And wildly liberated.
Surrendering allows the truth to set us free.
In a stunning twist, when I investigated those “inner disturbances” of mine as a spiritual assignment of sorts, I discovered that Peter wasn’t really the source of my unease after all.
The root cause was my need for acceptance and approval. I liked to be thought well of. I liked to be liked. When I realized this, the dynamics changed in an instant—even though it took a lifetime.
And then my husband changed. Go figure.
By surrendering, we often get what we thought we’d get if we were in control—our hearts’ desires.
Oh, but there’s more. Before I embraced the beauty of imperfection, Peter logged in the years of fending off the management style of a hyper-focused and rigidly-efficient (read: controlling) wife.
And before he became the king of sound bites and pithy storytelling, Peter was a rambler who often caused glazed-eye syndrome in his listeners.
What we resist persists. —Carl Jung
Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. —Katherine Mansfield
Then there’s that little matter of him enduring the cycles of my wildly-fluctuating hormones, currently including those of peri-menopause (read: perpetual state of PMS), with uncommon kindness.
But nothing tested the strength of our bond more than our decade-long, on and off struggle revolving around Peter wanting out of an organization he considered to be unhealthy but what I considered to be my life’s purpose.
Turned out he was right. And I was wrong.
And when it was finally over, he never gloated. Never said I told you so.
And when I was desolate with grief and bereft of purpose, he helped me over the massive personal disappointment by assuring me that something does not have to end well for it to have been a valuable experience. And helped me realize that though I’d lost profoundly (and made a lion’s share of mistakes!), I’d also loved deeply, and ultimately, I really can’t regret anything I did for love.
And then to set the next evolution of my life in motion, he supported my insane idea to write a book. Me! Someone who never considered herself a writer let alone an author. Peter made my writing life possible, helping me to see a larger story than the one I felt was stolen from me.
You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.
The years I poured out my blood, sweat and treasure was an expensive lesson. But what I learned about myself and life is worth infinitely more today.
When two people marry and work on themselves with an aim to grow together, they build a connection on a deeper level.
“We vintage wives of a certain age know that while steamy moments of intimacy do stoke the fires of marriage, but it’s stamina at the level of soul that makes for a lasting relationship.”
That’s why when people ask me the secret to our 30 years of marriage I quote French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry “love does not consist in gazing at each other, but looking outward in the same direction.”
It’s inspiring to be in a marriage that supports and encourages the other to become the person he or she wants to be. My husband believed in me (a chubbier version of myself — to his everlasting credit) long before I believed in myself, and because of him, the person I am today is very different from the one he married.
I feel fortunate for finding someone who makes me better, who makes me grow. And there’s no denying that sometimes "for worse" is what makes us better.
On the other side of most of these challenges with all the gifts that have come to me in their wake, I feel as though I've hit pay dirt.
Thirty years later, I’m grateful to be a married co-worker still building a partnership of practicality and pure dream in this wondrous, sometimes painful but ultimately redeeming journey of life.
To quote Ann Patchett in State of Wonder, “Such was his bravery, such was my good fortune.”
And today, writing this post just before our 30th, I love him even more than usual.
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