But beyond any complications – which I’m actually grateful for in many ways – he was my high school sweetheart, my soul- mate, and the one I believe with all my heart that God intended for me to build a family with.
Regardless of who your partner is or what kind of history you have, one thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that marriage.is.hard. It takes intentional and consistent effort on both sides to not only avoid divorce…but to flourish in marriage. We found this out the hard way.
They say approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce. When difficult things such as losing a chid, going through infertility issues, adoption, difficult pregnancies, or a child being diagnosed with cancer become a part of that journey, that percentage rises dramatically. So in theory…we don’t stand a chance.
Throughout the course of our marriage, when faced with each and every one of those things – and more – we actually got stronger. Tragedy and hardship had a way of bringing us together. As parents…as partners, we were on the front lines of it all…experiencing it the same way, walking hand in hand, and being each other’s rock… at first.
As time went on, the ways we both coped, dealt with, and “moved forward” started to highlight our differences…and we began to drift.
It wasn’t easy to recognize at first…and for many couples I’ve met and talked with along the way, sometimes once you DO see it, it may seem like it’s too late. To be honest, Mark and I have both been afraid that it was too late for us on more than one occasion.
But I’m lucky in that I have a partner who was willing to join me in taking a good, long, hard look at our marriage and in making a consistent and intentional effort to not just make it work, but to heal it at it’s core and help it thrive amongst some of our darkest days.
I certainly don’t believe we have all the answers when it comes to having a happy, healthy marriage. Not in any sense. Truly. We’re a HOT MESS sometimes. And of course, circumstances beyond our control have played a huge factor in how difficult things have been. But by acknowledging that THIS IS HARD, by looking at the big picture, by thinking honestly and critically about what WE can do to make things better, I believe with all my heart that our marriage will not only make it, but be pretty.damn.awesome for years and years to come.
In order to share how this hot mess is starting to resemble somewhat of a healthy marriage, I’ve put together a list of some things I feel have helped us the most. This list is by no means complete…there are so many more things we both do on a regular basis to heal, restore, and invest in our relationship. But I can’t even imagine how much time that would take to put into words! A quick “top 8” will make for quicker, easier writing AND reading. 🙂 Mark has had input on this but I’m trying to get him to make his own list too. Keep an eye out for a “hubby” perspective on all of this in the near future. (Also…help me bug him so he’ll actually do it.)
- Go to Bed Angry – Whhhaaaattt??? Doesn’t this go against every piece of advice we’ve gotten along the way? Yeah, it probably does. While the opposite might work for some, what we’ve found is that sometimes the best idea for us…is to SLEEP IT OFF! I can’t tell you how many times we’ve stayed up until who knows what time (because of course we wait until our kids are in bed to have our “talks”…meaning “disagreements”…meaning “arguments”…meaning “I’m right and you’re wrong”) trying to hash things out. And trust me…TRUST ME…nothing gets solved in the middle of the night! If anything, feelings escalate when you’re exhausted from the day and you don’t feel you’re being heard. For us, if things are getting heated, it’s a much better idea to walk away and go to bed (or in Mark’s case…to the recliner, his “alternative sleeping place of choice” 🙂 ). It’s amazing what some rest will do and I often find myself waking up the next morning with a whole new outlook, ready to discuss things in a much calmer way.
- Serve Together – We had the amazing opportunity to travel to Haiti together last year. Being in such an extreme situation with your partner, one that tears you down and then builds you back up in a way that you can’t put into words…I just simply can’t imagine NOT experiencing that along with him. And it doesn’t even have to be that extreme…we’ve also tried to stay intentional about going somewhere like Feed My Starving Children, attending benefits, raising money for a good cause or doing some other sort of volunteer work as a couple. Other ideas could be helping build with an organization like Habitat for Humanity or volunteering together at church. I’ve found that those experiences can bring you back to your ultimate purpose, help put things in perspective, be a good reminder for what’s truly important. Suddenly, the “spat of the day” doesn’t seem quite as significant anymore.
- Spend Time Apart – I remember when we first got back together after 8+ years of being apart, we did everything with each other. In fact, we almost didn’t know how to be apart. We experienced our first hardship when we lost our daughter about a year into our marriage. We were each other’s rock…being together was our comfort zone. And then, as life happened and we were apart for periods of time…whether for work things, trips to the cabin where he couldn’t take time off to join us, girls’ /guys’ weekends…it wasn’t easy at first. But we learned to use those opportunities to miss each other. We’d spend hours on the phone…get this…TALKING! We realized that we had fallen into habit of being together but not really connecting, sharing, or knowing what was going on with the other person. Being apart from time to time meant we had to be more intentional about that…and you might say it helped us get to know each other again in some ways. Even our nights apart when one of us was at the hospital during an in-patient stay with Dani and the other was at home with Sawyer and Cassidy…once the kids would all fall asleep, we’d have our time to catch up on the phone. We probably talked more during those hospital stays than when we were both home together. We longed for things to be normal, for us to be together and for our family to be in tact again. We missed each other. In addition, I truly believe that while it’s important to grow TOGETHER in a marriage, it’s also so incredibly important to not lose YOURSELF. Being your own person, having your own interests, spending time with friends…it’s all so important to keeping your own identity, which in turn, makes you a better spouse.
- Pray Together – I believe that my relationship with God is the most important one I have. Mark feels the same. Spending time in prayer on a regular basis is imperative for each of us to maintain that relationship. But praying together…as partners…is such an extremely powerful way to build and maintain your relationship with each other. This is an area that I admit needs some effort on our part. We pray with our kids every night as we tuck them in to bed but we don’t do it nearly as often as a couple as I believe we should.
- Seek Counseling – This has been invaluable for our relationship. We began seeing a therapist shortly after our first child was stillborn to help us manage our grief. I’m proactive and believe SO strongly in the power of talking things out with a neutral third party. We’ve visited the same therapist on and off for more than 10 years. We see him together and apart. He knows us, he gets us, and it’s a safe and validating place for us both to voice our thoughts, opinions, struggles, concerns, highs and lows. I know people who think counseling or therapy is some sort of crutch or perhaps there’s resistance because there’s an implication that going to therapy means “somethings wrong”. For us…it definitely is a place we go when something’s wrong…but also where we go when things are going well. Because I firmly believe that hearing what we LOVE about each other is just as – if not MORE IMPORTANT – than what we don’t.
- Try New Things as a Couple – I’d love to say we’re good at this but we’re totally not. We used to be (yes…that’s THEE Richard Simmons…we attended one of his workout classes in LA a few years back because…well…why not?!) but not so much anymore. I admit it has something to do with our current circumstances and simply not having the time. Not the excuse-version of “we don’t have the time” but the true, honest, reality that “we.don’t.have.the.time“. We have, however, come up with a list of adventures we’re going to go on together. Putting it in print and sharing it publicly will hopefully keep us accountable. I’ve also written this list on a sheet of paper and hung it in our bathroom between our mirrors…not on the bulletin board where it will get lost amongst the wedding invitations, school lunch menus, coupons, and fingerprint art…but where we’ll see it every day as a constant reminder to MAKE time for growing together as a couple. Here it is:
- Get matching tattoos (I know…we’re such rebels)
- Attend a cooking class
- Try a new restaurant
- Go cross-country skiing
- Pack a picnic dinner and go to a concert in the park
- Write a blog post together
- Go whitewater rafting
- Do something artistic together (Cheers Pablo or something similar)
- Spend Time Together with Your Kids – I know, this isn’t REALLY about marriage but also, it SO IS! Spending time together as a family has a HUGE impact on our relationship. When we get a chance to include Lizzie, Andie and Stella in all this, it’s a HUGE bonus. Parenting our little ones together is something we don’t take for granted because there was a pretty long while there when we didn’t know if we’d be given the opportunity. We’re blessed beyond belief with the children God has entrusted us with so regardless of how difficult things get, we know it’s our calling and we are equally dedicated to doing what’s best by them. Being parents is the best thing we’ve ever, ever, ever done together and it’s a huge “reboot” to our relationship to just look at them in awe and realize how far we’ve come and what we’ve been given.
- Celebrate Each Other – In times of struggle or hardship, it tends to get easier to point out each other’s faults, rather than each other’s strengths. I’m juggling a LOT right now. Doors are opening and opportunities are presenting themselves…and I feel SO blessed that in the middle of all this hardship, those things are coming my way. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t stressful to try and make it all work. And not just for me…for him too. He’s taking on more, filling my shoes, picking up my slack at home. But instead of complaining…he’s VERY intentional about encouraging me. Reminding me that things are headed in the right direction. That he’s proud of me for what I’m doing and that he knows that right now, THIS is his role and we’ll get to the next phase – whatever that looks like for our family – together. Neither of us is perfect. We both have shortfalls. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Recognizing and CELEBRATING that in the midst of all this stress is sooooo important.
Our marriage, like many others, is hard, difficult, complicated. There have been times on this journey when would have probably been easier to simply give up. And that’s something we’ve both seriously contemplated more than once. But in the end, we’ve believe our family, our kids, our promise, our COVENANT is worth fighting for. It’s not always going to be easy…but often times, the most rewarding things aren’t.
There’s no one I’d rather be on this path with. The terrain has been pretty rough but as long as we’re willing to walk side by side, hand in hand, and occasionally carry each other when we inevitably trip and fall…I know we’ll make it to the end just fine.
Happy Valentine’s Day to my friend, my partner, my soul-mate.
I love you…