This month, DH and I observed our 19th wedding anniversary. Nineteen years! They've flown by, yet at times it seemed like such a large number would never happen for us. In fact, if you'd asked me two years ago, I would have told you I didn't think we'd make it to our next anniversary, let alone our nineteenth.
We certainly didn't have a good start, statistically. He was 23, I was 21, we had two children, one college degree, no money, no place to live, and he hadn't started his first job out of college yet. He'd graduated from college only 3 weeks prior to our wedding; his last two years of college we'd lived together, with me working two part-time jobs sometimes totaling 50 hours a week and him taking 15-18 credits each semester, including summers. The economy was not great then, and brand new engineers weren't having much luck finding jobs in their field. So we had marks against us: our ages, our kids, our having co-habitated, our lack of resources.
What did we have then, other than kids and the odds against us? We had two people who were very in love, both hard workers, both committed to marriage and a traditional family. We had a vision, a goal, and a firm belief that marriage is for life. In fact, before I even accepted his engagement ring I told him "I don't believe in divorce, only death. So if you mess up, I'll kill you."
Through the years, that statement has been both a guide--divorce not an option--and a source of joking between us : "I just haven't figured out how to off you yet without getting caught."
Really, though, it has been us taking our commitment seriously; our commitment to each other, and our promise to God that we would stay married until we are parted by death, that has been the glue that has held us together through the tough times and repaired the cracks and chips that threatened to weaken us to the point of breaking.
There have been the trials of money--as in not enough money to cover necessities, let alone wants.
There have been the trials of job losses (unfortunately two times these job losses were coupled with having a 3 month old baby at home).
There have been the trials of deaths in the family (most notably, DH's father only 13 months after DH & I married).
There have been the trials of moves.
There have been the trials of building a home (this is a huge trial, no matter how exciting and rosy the prospect of building a house together is) and a homestead.
There have been the trials of DH's job requiring him to travel frequently, and even live halfway across the country from me and our four children for five months in late 1998/early 1999.
There have been the trials of DS2's health issues when he was little, and having to deal with the news that his asthma and allergies were so severe there was a chance he might not survive to adulthood (he has, and I believe mostly due to lifestyle changes DH and I were willing to make--that's where the homesteading really came in).
There have been the trials of premature labor and the threat of losing DD2 before she was developed enough to be born.
There have been the trials of strong willed children and possible ADHD in DS1 and trying to guide him as he grew up.
There have been the trials of family, of our parents and siblings not always supporting our marriage and sometimes inadvertently doing or saying things that could (and sometimes did, temporarily) drive a wedge between DH and I.
There have been hurts and slights and misunderstandings. But we have been committed, trying to keep the big picture in mind and not get sidetracked by the challenges of the day (or month, or year).
Thinking back, I realize that our success in staying married pretty much boils down to us not believing that notion that marriage is a 50/50 partnership. Because there have been many times where one or the other of us was not giving 50%, but we've made it through anyhow. If either of us, during those times where the other was not pulling half the load, had stopped at 50% and said "I've done enough, I'm not doing more until you do", we would be living in separate houses and shuffling the children back and forth between us instead of enjoying family times and looking back at nineteen years of marriage.
No matter what people might tell you, marriage is not a 50/50. If you only give fifty percent, your marriage is going to crumble. If you only give when you feel your spouse is giving, your marriage is going to crumble. If you only love when you feel loved, your marriage is going to crumble. If you only look at the present, not the past, not the hopes of the future, your marriage is going to crumble.
Marriage is a one hundred percent endeavor. Give one hundred percent of yourself. Make a one hundred percent effort. Take one hundred percent of the hard times so you can receive one hundred percent of the good times. When you have a disagreement, reach out. Remember that you are on the same team, not opposing ones. A team cannot win if it's members are fighting against each other. There is no winner--not you, not your spouse--unless your marriage itself wins. There cannot be any holding of grudges, there cannot be any one-upmanship, there cannot be any tit for tat. There cannot be one partner who is greater than the other. There must be love and forgiveness and effort and respect by both parties.
Is this easy to live? Heck no! That's where the rough spots come in. But if you remember that you loved this person once (especially for those times when you're not sure if you still love them) and why you loved them (in other words, see their good traits instead of only the bad/annoying ones that might be most apparent at the present time), it will be easier to hang on. Remember that you're no walk in the park yourself; you have annoying habits, you have mood swings (yes guys who might be reading, you do have mood swings. Just ask your wife ;0) ), you probably don't look the same as you did when you were dating. It's not just your spouse who has changed from the perfect person to someone who gets on your nerves.
It all starts with you. Doesn't matter if you are the wife or the husband, you are responsible for your own happiness in your marriage. You cannot change your spouse. Not by concentrating on trying to change them, anyway. The only person you can change is you. So when you are unhappy, don't look so much to what your spouse might be doing or not doing that makes you feel this way, look inside to how you are reacting to your situation. Then change what you don't like.
I'm not saying you should become someone you don't want to be. What I am saying is that other people will react to what they see in us; our body language, our tone of voice, the efforts we make. Follow the golden rule and treat others--most especially your spouse--how you want to be treated. If you want to be grumped at and found fault with all the time, well, go ahead and treat your most loved one like that. If, however, you want love and forgiveness and empathy and gestures of kindness, then that is what you should do for your spouse.
To use an old-timey farming illustration here, two horses teamed together (you and your spouse) make no progress, get no work done, by pulling in opposite directions. They (you) only get upset and worn out using their (your) energy against each other. But two horses who pull in the same direction can get the work done more quickly, easily and enjoyably.
Raising kids will strain your relationship, at times. But I can honestly say, as DH and I prepare for our third child to leave home and know that in three very short years the fourth and final one will also leave the nest, that if you remember that you and your spouse are a team, you can make it through those child-rearing related strains and when the kids are grown, you will still have your best friend at your side to spend the rest of your life with.
Pull together. Enjoy your marriage, for the years fly quickly and you never know when you will suddenly find yourself at the end of your (or your spouse's) time. Try to make the 'worsts' (at your wedding you did say you were taking your spouse "for better or for worse" didn't you?) as brief as possible so you can enjoy the 'betters' longer and longer!