this marriage

This is a hard post to write. Especially following that sweet update about our sweet, sweet boys. This is true mostly because this post is about marriage and – as many of you understand in personal, painful, tired ways – marriage is often not sweet.

And there’s not a lot to say about marriage that isn’t a cliché. Most of us have tried and lots of us have failed. It’s a wretched little trap on a good many levels. It’s also painful to talk about because even though it’s hard, and we all know it, we’re supposed to be getting it right. And it’s a gross and a flinchy feeling to confess that we’re not nailing it. Because what will people think? And so we’re often not honest. We sit in our homes, and we try, and we feel lonely. We feel lonely though chances are our neighbors aren’t nailing it either.

This is compounded, for great hordes of us, by the ineffably HARD variable of young ones. The child-raising. Which because I know you know how much I adore it, I feel free to characterize here simply as work. And in some ways, it demands the same bigness of us that marriage does. Grace, and kindness, and patience. Compassion, and curiosity, and openness, and humility. And really: when one, or two, or more little ones need these traits from us all the time, it is hard to find space to offer them to someone who can take care of their own self. Someone who doesn’t rate in the triage because they won’t run out into oncoming traffic outside of the library. Someone who can live without your grace, and kindness, and patience, and compassion, and curiosity, and openness because they are grown. Because you are not their parent. Except of course that marriage can’t live without that stuff.

This summer was one of our marriage’s darkest chapters. By its outset, we had both finally found profoundly meaningful work, and we had settled into our beloved home. Our kids were finally big enough to climb into their own car seats (when they happened to feel willing to do so). No one was nursing, and if we were content to let them sleep where they wanted, they’d pretty much stay asleep all night. There was, relatively speaking, more ease than there had been before. And maybe for exactly these reasons – because there was space – we looked at our marriage, and we felt betrayed by what we saw. What we saw made me sad, and Jax angry.

Some other making-it-hard facts:

  • Jax has struggled with that charming contemporary American notion that if this is hard, especially if it stays hard for awhile, it might be better to ditch. It is not surprising that Jax thinks this. This is exactly in keeping with what we’re taught about intimacy. I suspect that I only don’t think this because I have a natural proclivity towards suffering.
  • I have some abandonment issues. I need eye contact, reassurance, gentleness. My favorite moment in the original Pooh book is this little exchange:

 Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.

“Pooh!” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

  • I feel a tremendous call to a third child. Jax does not.
  • Jax has some stuff around religion that has made my call to ministry a difficult thing. That has hurt my feelings. Jax responds to hurt feelings with anger. It’s a cycle. I’m sure we’re not alone.

The painful truth that this summer has yielded is that it is possible to imagine life on the other side of this marriage. And of course it is. When people say that some degree of suffering is “unimaginable,” they’re not being honest. Or what they mean to say is “I pray that never happens to me.” We’ve all imagined the hell of losing a child. We’ve imagined it precisely because it would be hell. So, it’s imaginable.

But the great glory – on the other side of a summer full of fleas in our home, and Trump’s bid for the White House, and great marital craters – is that I can imagine life without Jax, and I still don’t want it. I would be okay, and I still don’t want it.

There’s an us here that makes these storms worth weathering. Hurtful, but worth weathering. And not just because Jax is the only one who knows why we sometimes sing “Tina” instead of “Dinah” in “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” or remembers eating cold pistachio pesto pizza on the floor of my kitchen on our first date. Who held Bram’s other tiny hand when they took blood out of his newborn foot when his bilirubin was high. Who felt the biting sting of the hospital not putting my name on first Bram’s birth certificate, and then Lou’s. The only other person who knew the terror of Lou’s fall down the basement stairs. Who knows that Bram’s face lights up when his parents sing together. But it isn’t just the history: the eight million irreplaceable private moments that no one on the outside of a marriage could ever grasp. It’s that we chose each other. I chose Jax. And not just the valor or the passion or the boldness, but also the mood swings and the defensiveness. The hard stuff that gets bigger with sleep deprivation, and outside insecurities, and job pressures. The hard stuff that grows when that’s what gets noticed. I believe in this partnership. I am defeated by this summer, but I’m also in love.

My mom and I were talking the other day, and she asked if I was scared that we might not make it. I said I wasn’t, and I tried to explain why. I feel like one of the things I saw growing up was an (understandable and yet worrisome) willingness to let one’s struggles mean more than they need to mean. To let the drama of hard times lead one to the myth of greener pastures. But this middle class home in this Midwestern town. These deeply lived values. This dance of marriage that is so often not pretty: I don’t want anything greener. I mean, I want the fleas to be gone, but mostly, otherwise, this is what I choose.

It’s hard to be honest about marriage, which is maybe part of why we fail at it so much. So if you’re out there, and married, and some of this resonates, then I’m glad I wrote it. I have no big answers, but I think that this work is part of the thing that will save us. I can’t explain what I mean by that, but I feel it in both my guts and my theology. We are meant for these struggles, and for the messy graces we discover within them.




8 thoughts on “this marriage

  1. I discovered your blog when I was pregnant with our 2nd daughter about 4 years ago. I love the writing here so I’m glad to find you’ve returned. And this post did resonate with me. While I could not have written this exact post, I understand and acknowledge the struggle that marriage becomes. My wife and I have been married 10 years (which seems unimaginable yet exactly right at the same time) and have definitely been through some valleys. But what has kept us moving forward and led us back towards the peaks is making that choice to be together, as you say here. When both partners are there, making the choice everyday, it creates an ease for moving through the rough spots.

    I only know you through what you’ve shared here, so not at all, I imagine. But from one Internet stranger to another, I wish you luck as you find your way through this current valley.

  2. Thank you so much for your honesty. I agree wholeheartedly that it is these struggles that help us make it. We learn more about ourselves and our spouses in the struggles and they make us stronger. It is so, so hard, but as you said, it is not just a shared history, but the fact that we choose each other and even in the struggle, we still don’t want to look for something greener, we want this person. I remember an especially big argument that left me wondering if we were going to make it after we had been together about 5 years and recently had gone to Canada to get married. I wanted to get away to be alone with my thoughts, away from my wife and part of me wanted to make an angry statement of walking out to get some space away from her. As I thought about where I might go I considered a hotel for the night, but I didn’t want to be away bad enough to pay for a hotel. I considered going to my brother’s house, but that didn’t feel like the right thing either. I could not come up with anywhere that I wanted to be that was better than where I was. Even in my anger, in my house with my wife was still the place I wanted to be. Maybe in that moment it was not so much because it was what I wanted so much as it was the least undesirable option, but still, it was the better option and I realized it was the one I wanted. That was 10 years ago.

    We celebrated 10 year of marriage in May, and we will celebrate 15 years together in October. We have a 9 year old and a 2 year old. In recent years we have seen marriages begin to crumble and have been shocked to find couples we thought were rock solid, move on to look for greener pastures. We keep turning to each other and asking “we’re ok, right?” Afraid we could be missing a deep unhappiness in the other person. But it helps to keep on asking, to keep on looking for ways to keep the romance and the partnership and the friendship alive and growing, because it is never actually stagnant, even if our efforts are. Once when we were muddling through the early days of parenthood I was on my way home from work and thinking to myself whether I could convince my wife to rub my back that night. It occurred to me that if my back was sore, hers probably was too. And so that night after getting the baby to sleep, I turned to her and offered a back rub. It was probably less than 5 minutes. Then she rubbed my back and we fell asleep. But it was another big moment in our marriage.

  3. Yes. Thank you for this post, it 100% resonates with me; different struggles but same overall sentiment. This parenting gif is hard, but there is no one id rather be doing other with, despite the bumps in the road and the list of personal needs that sometimes go unmet.

  4. I think part of it is the feeling that they’re not babies, so it should be easy now, but it’s not. So the tired and irritable and always putting other people first stuff becomes more wearing. I’m grateful to my stupid 26 year old self for breaking up with my wife for six months and spending time dating other people, since it meant that when I had to (work my ass off to) win her back it was with a determination that she was my person and I was in it for good. That comes in handy sometimes. Also the fact that we still find the same things interesting and funny, so when we are on our own it doesn’t feel like getting to know each other again, just like fun. We have had the blessing of a neighbor with a girl the same age as the boys who is incredibly honest about her marriage, which gives us both a good sounding board. In other news, I’m happy you are back in this space and your boys are adorable and I can NOT believe how good Bram’s drawings are. Edie is finally able to do recognizable stuff, but nothing nearly that impressive.

    • I never knew that: about your short breakup. I thought plenty of times through this little stretch that if we didn’t have kids, some time apart would probably have been healthy/proven to us (really, Jax, as that’s who wasn’t sure anymore) that we are it. But with kids, that just would have been nearly impossible. Or at least dangerously destructive. Anyway, amen to people around us who tell the truth about marriage. Amen to being those people for ourselves and others. And thanks for the words about Bram! It does amaze me, and he’s so serious about it too! I only worry because this world isn’t the kindest to artist-souls. :) Hope you five are thriving!

  5. This brought me to tears. I have moved in and out of fear that my marriage might not make it…in the heat of an argument, in the loneliness of the night with a sleeping child between us. To be clear, I WANT to be married to her, as you said, there are no greener pastures. I don’t want to split up our cds, our children’s toys, our weeks, our lives…so I fight. I rely on my values. Marriage isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s hard…boy is it hard. Divorce is for irreconcilable reasons…abuse, infidelity, wounding lies, things you can’t come back from. It’s not for “we fell out of love” or “we’re growing apart”. These are choices that couples make. I fully admit that I judge people who make that choice and wound themselves and their kids (I’m working on it, I promise). Couples can fall in love again, grow back together, can make it through the loss of faith, child(ren), jobs, homes. If you choose love and do the hard work it takes to sustain it. God intended marriage to be sacred….and forever. I choose love and hard work over being alone in some crappy apartment missing my old life, my kids and my best friend.

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