There is nothing quite like marriage to put a mirror to your face to show you exactly how bad you suck.
We choose a mate and then pledge our lives to that person, through the good and the bad, in sickness and in health, until death do you part. I am sure so many marriages fail (my own included) because we cannot really know what that means, what that looks like, until we say, “I do”. The weight of the commitment, if one is taking it seriously, is heavy – and with all big endeavors and noble goals, there are beautiful attributes here and there are things marriage brings that make life, occasionally, very difficult. For the sake and purpose of this article, I will be discussing the hard times, and what one must do in order to make this marriage thing work.
We enter into this arrangement with hope and faith. We, if we chose wisely, decide that we’ve found someone worthy of the work. We find laughter, companionship, and trust. We find someone with whom life is easier, and we are convinced this is the person that we are supposed to be with… forever. That is what marriage entails, after all, it’s in the vows. But what about when the ease of the honeymoon fades and things get real? When you become the you you were but didn’t want them to see? When you forget to brush your teeth and the dishes are rotting in the sink and the kids argue but you’re too tired to even raise an eyebrow…
Worse, when they see that the worst traits about you are not only visible, but at times they’re all they can see. When you show your lazy side, your messy side, your impatience and petty annoyances and bad mood.
Marriage stops you and says, “Gee, what do we have here?” Because he hasn’t been touching her shoulder as he walked past, like he used to do, and she starts ragging on him because his MMA binge-fest has taken up the television for seven too many hours – but she said she liked MMA when they started dating. It throws a wrench in the gears of all we said we could handle, and the things that were once just traits we thought we could live with become the things that begin to drive a wedge between us.
It happens to the best couples – these moments, and I think a lot of our arguments, and struggles, and problems are similar if we examine what is at the root of our strife (not counting physical or emotional abuse, of course)…
It is, when we enter into marriage, we are making another person our other half. There when we wake up. There when we go to sleep. There for the stinky bathrooms after someone takes a bean-induced shit and didn’t turn on the fan. There for the morning breathe… There for the bitterness at the same fight you had last week rearing its ugly head again. There for the money problems because one person used the credit card and one wants to start saving. There for the struggle with sex when he wants more of it but she says she is just not in the mood.
There are a thousand things between two people that make marriage hard. But I think the absolute hardest part about this agreement, this arrangement, is having to face YOURSELF in the eyes, heart, and thoughts of your partner.
I can’t escape me when I see myself through his eyes. Through his hurts when my tone was needlessly vicious. Through his impatience when he has tried for so long to give me space but I keep pushing his buttons… So on and so forth. He, through his constant interaction with me in this house, and within the framework of our life, forces me to see my part in any issues between us.
Many marriages fail because we are unwilling or for some reason unable to stop and see what WE do to contribute to the difficulty.
After all, it is not an easy feat to see my part, through his interactions with me, and his reactions to me, and then want to do anything about it other than blame him. It is easier to do that – easier to say he’s the problem – because otherwise who am I left with?
The symptoms happen – these are the fights we have. The money. Sex. Quality time. Expectations unmet. Priorities shoved aside because someone changes their mind. These are symptoms of two people trying to share a life together. Not one marriage is immune, but it does have a purpose: I could so easily, and I have many times, simply chose to get angry at John for the special ways he mirrors my own negative behavior back to me. I chose to lash out, blame him, and make things worse.
Because the alternative is admit I am doing something wrong.
He forces me, by being here day in and day out, to stop and assess that I am 50% of this marriage. Therefore, most of the time I am responsible for something happening between us.
It is my pride that tries to convince me otherwise, and we all know how well that unites a couple. There are few things more detrimental to a marriage than pride, or refusing to acknowledge and work on things because you won’t admit you’ve done anything wrong.
The thing is, what I am left with, once I see myself through his eyes, is the choice. A hard one. One I fail at answering to correctly too often to admit. . .
Do I change, because I don’t like what I see? Or…
The “or” I’ve answered, twice. Two failed marriages – two opportunities to change wherein I failed to do anything real about my part. Granted there was a lot of grey matter to those experiences, but the ultimate reality is that I made the wrong choice, one way or another, at that time.
I don’t want to keep answering this wrong and ultimately see demise of the one relationship I’ve pledged to keep strong. To keep center to my life, under God, before any other priority, hope, or petty excuse. I don’t want to realize that I could have changed, could have bettered myself, and could have worked harder when all I’ve got left is resentment and pain.
I want to preserve what is good. What is decent. What brings me immense satisfaction, intimacy, and happiness. I want to see, when I look at my husband, the best version of myself, and the best version of him.
Not that we won’t struggle. That we won’t have pain, and times of stress, and money trouble, and silly annoyances that we bicker about. These things are a given. I feel the same tension mount with my own children, and I birthed them so it would seem no relationship is immune to such things.
Right now, I see some of the worst in myself when I look at him. I see that I am quick to anger and slow to forgiveness. I see that I refuse to acknowledge where I lack but instead just point out where he does. I see that I easily allow my past to dictate who I am today, and how quickly I quip, “this is just who I am, get used to it!”
Was I this version of me when he met me? When we fell in love? At times, I am sure, yes, but I tried harder. I gave more. I silenced the voices that screamed at me that I will fail at this, too, and instead I put my best foot forward, and he fell in love with the part of me that is mostly good. He pledged his life to me, in sickness and in health, until death do we part, knowing that I had ugliness, and pettiness, and baggage – but he didn’t see it then like he sees it now.
He sees that part of me now more often than he sees the good he fell in love with, and that right there, is when I have a choice to make.
I could seek for my own selfish gain. Whether that be pride bolstering my ego when I won’t admit I have done wrong, or when I withhold intimacy because I am tired – or just say I am tired. When I spend frivolously and don’t mind the budget. When I pick him apart, whether in my thoughts or aloud, and bring pain to his heart because I refuse to look at him and see anything good.
Because when I am being nasty, when I am cold, when I am bitter and easily frustrated, what else would I see when I look at him? A reflection of myself – and that is a hard truth, and one I can easily ignore and blame on him instead.
I don’t want that, not for us. Not for anyone.
The thing is, there is so much good worth preserving, but it gets lost in the mess of everyday life. And that is when I see the worst of me the most – when I really have no excuse!
I think marriage puts a mirror to the worst of our selves and forces us to stop and think, “What could I do better?” But it is how we answer that that either makes or breaks a relationship.
How many times have we answered it wrong? Because we took the vows, for better or for worse, but we didn’t really mean it, because to make such a commitment we must face where we lack. How much we suck. And we must choose, with that knowledge, to either change and bring happiness to the marriage, or fight it with pride as our ammunition, and watch our sparks eventually catch flame with an inferno of resentment that we cannot put out.
It must come from truly wanting happiness for John, sometimes at the expense of my own. It must come from knowing he is a person, with the same feelings, the same thought patterns, the same insecurities, and therefore I must not look at him as less-than me just because he pisses me off. After all, wasn’t I at that alter, too, making those same commitments – putting my best foot forward in faith? If I can dissolve into this worser version of myself, and so can he, don’t we owe it to each other to forgive these things and work harder to keep things peaceful, and content between us?
I ask forgiveness from him, and I try harder, because I know how easily a marriage can dissolve, and how hard it is to repair it once things go too far. But it is SO hard sometimes. To silence my pride, and to realize I see the worst in myself and I must either change that – do my part – or risk so much good at the expense of a man I love’s very deep trust and faith in us.
Marriage is hard.
Relationships force us to stop and realize we have work to do. That there are things that will always bother us about the person we chose – and things that bother us about ourselves that only amplify a thousand times in the face of someone we love’s disappointed glance.
We start marriage with so much hope, and then we break it down, little by little. But it doesn’t have to be lost. Commitment is the very reason to fight harder – to honor what we pledged when we were trying our best, swearing before God and our families that we will always try, always give, always nurture, and always work hard to ensure our love endures.
I want to wake up tomorrow and try harder. Because I care about his happiness more than my own pride. Because I swore to him I would not give up, and I don’t intend to, even when it’s hard and I am forced to examine how much I suck. I know he is pushing for the same thing, and I am grateful he can look at me and see the person he married, even when it is hard, even when he doesn’t like me very much…
Because it’s worth it. Push forward. Give in. Ease up. And when you see the worst of yourself in someone else’s eyes, use that as fire to do better. Give more. Try harder. Marriage requires this, and though it can be so hard, the reward of that kind of intimacy and history shared with your partner will be one of life’s greatest treasures.