Thursday, May 16, 2013

marriage is phenomenally difficult



I’ve been contemplating this post since reading Jamie Gladly’s “[tap tap] Is this thing on?” post in August 2011. It’s not been an easy post to write and publish. I keep re-reading and editing with the intention of posting and then saving a new draft instead. 

Jamie wrote,
“I think this is the longest I've gone without blogging since I started this blog almost five years ago. It's been a tough summer and I couldn't seem to write non-whiny posts. I've been intensely frustrated with my marriage but that's not blog material. (Sometimes in the Catholic blogosphere it seems that everybody is in shiny happy marriages where they're jointly striving for heaven and Communicating Effectively and nobody else is fighting unproductively about the same damn thing for ten years. And counting. Am I keeping it real or bringing things down if I say that sometimes it's really ferociously hard to be married?)”

To which I reply, "Keeping it real, Sister!" Sometimes it is ferociously difficult to be married, and we should be talking about it with our spouses and with each other. The fact that, on some level, we expect marriages to run smoothly on love is part of the reason marriage is phenomenally difficult. That expectation sets us up for frustration. Marriage isn’t all sunshine and roses. It’s cleaning up puke and ignoring body odor. It’s sometimes putting your needs on hold to meet your partner’s. Then, it’s asserting your needs and asking your partner to make sacrifices. Marriage is balancing on a tightrope in tandem.  

I'm not sure that I would want to try actually balancing on a skinny little tightrope way high above the ground with Adam. We don't generally manage to dance very well down here on the ground. I am, however, proud that he and I have managed to figure out how to make our crazy partnership work for us for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, living in one house or two.

A big part of what keeps me sane is having come to the conclusion that long-term love is a choice and an action, not an emotion. Twitterpated Bambi and Fauna love is nice when it comes, but it doesn't stay. Adam and I know that even though we have committed to love each other until death does us part, we may not like each other every day. The following words have, on occasion, crossed my lips,  “I love you unconditionally, but the conditional love just flew out the window.” And that's okay. Because it is the daily choices to act out our unconditional love that create space for twitterpation to flourish.

When it comes down to it, really, twitterpation is just the chemistry of attraction allowed to flourish until one's cup runneth over. There have been times in my married life where I've been mildly attracted to other men or realized that were circumstances different, I could see myself in a relationship with someone other than Adam. I'm sure Adam has had similar experiences with his female friends and colleagues. The simple presence of these emotions related to other people does not weaken our marriage because we choose not to act on them.

Another tool for sanity is the recognition that any individual argument is probably just the apparent part of a deeper issue. Our ongoing argument about cleaning is a prime example. Adam and I fought bitterly and repetitively for years before we finally realized that the core issue is the difference between tidying and deep cleaning. I like things to be tidy, and I try to put things away as I use them. I sweep the floors often, but I'm lax about cleaning otherwise. Adam rarely just tidies. If he's putting things away, then he also gets out the simple green and the scrub brush. The debris that Adam leaves behind when he makes coffee drives me crazy, but my habit of sweeping the visible bits of floor without moving the furniture baffles him. Since we stopped shouting (at least about this topic), we've been able to learn from each other, and we're both better. But it certainly hasn't been easy or painless.

Conventional wisdom says that children of divorce tend to be either commitment-phobic or commitment-maniacal. It's pretty clear that I'm the latter, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I don't know if I could handle the niggling day-to-day frustrations of sharing my life with another person if I didn't have a long-term view. So, yeah, when it's working, it's wonderful, but making marriage work is phenomenally difficult.

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