May 4, 2014

When marriage is hard, what does it take?

I don't often use this space to reflect on my marriage, but let me be honest: I wouldn't be emboldened with the courage, confidence, and resources required to fuel all my pursuits at home, at work, or anywhere else without my husband and his deep investment in our relationship and his relationship with the boys.

We were married in Lodi, California under a grove of awesome deodar trees that fanned out over the garden of a small winery. It was gorgeous, intimate, every detail thoughtfully planned and organized together. At 22 we shared a naive confidence and optimism for our future, yet only a shred of understanding for the weight of the lifetime commitment we'd just made to the other.

The unworn path of marriage is without a guide, unless you are fortunate to count on the marriage of your own parents to lead by example—but even then there are no guarantees. Much of the work of marriage happens behind closed doors, as so many transformational aspects of life often do, hidden for privacy or shame or just because that's the way it's always been. Few are privvy to what real marriage looks like until they are square in the middle of the one they claim as their own, and faced with the inevitable hardships that come with long-term love.

My shared history with Andy now covers more than half our lives, a friendship found first in the hallways of highschool where we met at age 15. Our story continued in Richmond where we went to college and then came full circle as we made our way back to DC to embark on our early careers.

One morning I woke up with double vision, which was just the beginning of a 2-year journey into the turbulent world of Grave's disease, an auto-immune disorder that had gone misdiagnosed for far too long. By then, muscle wasting had made me so weak that even the most inconsequential aspects of my day had become serious physical burdens: getting dressed, standing on the metro, walking ten minutes to my office. Other symptoms—an inability to sleep, a racing heart, and tremors in my hands—made me feel on the verge of losing my mind. I had been told for months that I had anxiety and needed to "stop thinking so hard about everything." Finally, I went to Georgetown University Hospital for a second opinion.

Once formally diagnosed, we put our plans to have a baby on hold and devoted our energy to my care. At 23 I had to brave the health care system and make some really big decisions about treatment options in light of myriad side effects and longterm outcomes. The burden was oppressive at the time. The physical and emotional stress was so intense and I felt alone in the worst ways possible. Depression had begun to creep in, and I truly wanted to be free from all of it. I wanted to be well again, I wanted a baby. The pain of being sick and unable, and without ability to plan for our future, I wanted to forfeit my responsibilities. The bad and the good, I wanted out.

When it mattered most, when our marriage was in the darkest and rockiest place we've ever gone together, it was a sliver of hope and the bold decision to separate (under the supervision of a therapist) that gave each of us the space and opportunity we both needed to care for ourselves (to debrief on what had come before) and then to knowingly, as adults, choose our marriage again.

I'm so grateful for that. For light in the face of darkness and for the freedom to be separate and together.

To make that choice, over and over again, throughout our long lives, I imagine this to be the true work of marriage. Because to walk away would have been far easier.

Our 16 year relationship has been genuine in its existence. It has been dark, and muddy. It has been bright. With such a young start, we effectively grew up together practicing and learning how to treat (and not treat) the one we loved most. I'm not proud of all of it, but that is the truth and it is life. As very real and complex as our faults and fears and vices and temptations have been, what proved to be stronger was a vision we shared for what could be, a hopeful intention to persevere, a willingness to forgive, but ultimately an effort on both our parts to stay engaged.

Taking that first step—to re-engage—it didn't come easily or simply, I had been out of practice for so long. Grave's disease had served as a catalyst, bringing to the forefront an accumulation of many little things in our relationship that had gone un-addressed over the first 9 years. I let the circumstance convince me that I could give up because it was hard.

Now, with 9 years of marriage in our back pocket and as we emerge from the first intense years of parenting (Roscoe turns 5 this month!), we're both feeling an electric appreciation for how we have shaped our history, and how our history has shaped our marriage. If there is one thing that I learned through our experience, it is that every couple gets to write their own contract in marriage. We get to choose the scaffolding that bounds our relationships. We don't have to conform to what we think marriage ought to be. We get to create the marriage that resonates within us.

We've won out so far. A deepened love the prize. A solid marriage the outcome.

We win! We win! We win!

We've earned a life partner equally matched in intensity, and dreaming ways, and a willingness to take risks, and an eagerness to continue to create and live a good life together, and best of all the privilege to co-parent these two maniacal boys that we've borne.

Second chances. They can be hard to come by but they are worth it. Happy 9th Anniversary to the love of my life. With all my heart.

1 comment:

Related Posts with Thumbnails