Mike and I have been married for ten years and a week. I tend to think of Memorial Day weekend as our anniversary, regardless of where it actually falls on the calendar. We were married the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and spent the entire following three days reveling in our love and Mike’s survival.
Weddings are always celebrations of life, but ours was a bit more specific. As you probably know, Mike was diagnosed with grade four glioblastoma the day after he proposed to me. We were married ten months later, which by pretty much every doctor’s estimation was when Mike should have been getting ready to give up on treatment and start focusing on palliative care. I promise you, he’s never thought of it that way. I don’t think I’ve let him.
We were married just long enough after he finished radiation for him to have a full head of hair, itself a symbol of health and life when you’re dealing with cancer. He was still on chemo, we had to arrange his chemotherapy schedule to avoid overlapping the wedding and his sickest days. For that reason we postponed our honeymoon until after the next round of chemo, so he could be at full health in New Zealand.
And now, we’ve been married for ten years.
So here are a few of the things I’ve learned about marriage in the past decade:
You don’t really want to believe that you’re going to change, let alone that the person you’re marrying is going to change, but you do. Not only physically (and yes, definitely, physically), but in so many more ways. Life changes you. Life is full of little moments that alter who you are, in ways both large and small. Pregnancy and childrearing actually re-wire your brain. In a decade, we’ve definitely had more than our fair share of drama, and we are different for it. That means that one day you realize you’re not married to the same person you fell in love with, not exactly. And one day you wake up and you realize they aren’t married to the same person they fell in love with. And that’s okay. Whatever changes, you have a foundation of love and affection and a history to rely on as you get to know that new person. It’s hard. You have to continuously reintroduce yourselves in little ways, reestablish boundaries and patterns and habits. But it’s healthy. You should change. You should grow and develop new ideas and new habits and new ways of looking at the world. But expecting your relationship not to be impacted is naive. It will affect your marriage. And remembering to essentially date somebody you’ve been married to for years, not in a “Yay let’s have a date night!” way, but in a, “You’re cool and cute and I want to get to know you” way is hard.
You have to love yourself
People, even people who adore you and want the best for you, even people who take care of you through mental illness, treat you the way you teach them to treat you. If you don’t make your own happiness or health or personal growth a priority, they will grow to believe it simply isn’t a priority. If you don’t make your own relationship with yourself a priority, they won’t see it as a priority. And if you don’t have a healthy relationship with yourself, you will sabotage your relationships with everyone else. Even though at first it seems like it should be easier to love yourself with another person on hand reinforcing how loveable you are, this isn’t true. One can only live vicariously through another person for so long.
Be willing to accept you’re bad at married stuff
I have heard often that a divorce is a “failure,” or that a marriage is “failing.” I think this is a bullshit attitude. A relationship ending isn’t a failure. Forcing yourself to be miserable for the sake of not being wrong to believe you were capable of loving a changing human for sixty years without a break is insane. I think, in relationships, “failure” is a toxic word, because relationships, both with a spouse and with yourself, are WORK. And the most important work you ever do is on things you are genuinely bad at… at first. So when you or your partner sucks at something that is important to maintaining domestic harmony, own that shit. Call them out. Call YOURSELF out. Go ahead and say, “I suck at this,” and then work on getting better. Because you don’t fail a marriage, it’s not a test. But if you’re willing to see that you’re bad at something, you’ll know if you’re willing to get better at it. And if you’re not willing to get better at it? Well, that’s a conversation you have together, then, whatever it is.
Smartphones are fucking awful
Seriously, if you can avoid having them, do. And whatever you do, keep them out of the bed.
I feel like I’m comfortable in my marriage in a way I’ve never been before. We share responsibilities and burdens more each year, and the feeling of having a partner in life is different from the feeling of being connected to the love of your life. I love Mike more each year than the last, but this isn’t what sticks out to me when I think of our marriage. I think of the way we are able to make everything work when we do it together, the way we take care of each other’s physical needs as much as our emotional needs. I feel like, after ten years, I’m getting really good at being married.
Here’s to the next ten, to the next sixteen.
Happy Anniversary, my love.
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