These are the rules for talking or writing publicly about your marriage:
1. Only acknowledge difficulties in the past tense.
2. Take on the bulk of the blame (i.e., don’t point fingers, even if said fingers are justified).
3. Emphasize the lesson you learned during your brief flirtation with marital discord.
Last year I published a spiritual memoir which was about, among other things, my marriage. I wrote about the way our already-strained relationship imploded after the birth of our first daughter. I wrote about how we were slowly poisoning ourselves with indignation, how I used my husband’s tendency to verbally lash out as an excuse not to own up to my fair share of our problems, how we pulled off the road one afternoon and talked about the possibility of divorce while our six-month-old baby napped in her carseat. And then I wrote about how we patched it all up with a little bit of couples therapy and a dash of prayer. By the end of the chapter we were more or less once again living happily ever after.
Which is why I was so mortified when we got into an enormous and ugly argument the very same day my shipment of books arrived from my publisher.
It’s not that what I wrote in that book wasn’t true. It was, and is. We aren’t necessarily fighting the same battles we fought before we learned our lessons in marriage counseling. We are infinitely more mature, and have a much deeper awareness about ourselves and one another. We still have the ability to slide into unhealthy patterns, but we recognize them quicker, and have a few good tricks to break out of them.
Still: when Ben Affleck admitted in his Academy Award acceptance speech that marriage is “hard work,” I did the slow clap.
* * *
When we were newly dating, Benjamin’s former roommate and best friend said something that deeply wounded him. He said it would take a special woman to be with Benjamin. To Benjamin, this was a heartbreaking insult, an embarrassing admission that he was hard to live with. I, on the other hand, was flattered. I wanted to be a special woman. Moreover, I heard what Benjamin couldn’t hear: the other half of the remark, the affirmation that loving him is worth it.
He is a good man, my husband, possessed of what we Christians like to call a “servant heart.” For the past couple years he’s stayed home with our daughters so that I can work, but when he does work outside the home – in social services – he invariably rakes in the employee recognition awards and glowing evaluations. He is funny and sensitive and humble enough that when I sent him a draft of this brutally honest essay he wrote back, “It’s a hard read but we’ll see if anyone can relate or benefit and that’s what matters.” Indeed, the reason why I keep writing about our marriage is because he encourages me to do so. He wants to be of service, always, even when it costs him a portion of his pride.
I’ve thought of his friend’s comment so many times through the years; sometimes I think I’m just grateful that somebody else has some idea of what it’s like to be partnered with someone as remarkable – and remarkably difficult – as my husband.
* * *
This is what I want to say about my marriage today: it’s strong, and healthy, and hard as hell. Sometimes in the course of one day I both revel in the grace of our life together and despair that being his wife is never going to be easy. We bring out the worst in one another, but also the best. I’m not going to give up on him – he is trying so hard to change. And he’s not going to give up on me – I am trying so hard to stop trying to change him. We covenanted ourselves to one another eleven years ago, and if sacred vows aren’t a good reason to keep on loving a person, I don’t know what is. And I do love him.
I’m breaking the rules here. We struggle, present tense. My husband is more difficult than I am, albeit incrementally. But I won’t break the third rule. There’s still a lesson: even if your marriage is hard as hell, you can still love one another, like, a ton.
Till death do us part.