From what I gather, marriage is hard. It’s one of the hardest of the hard things to be successful at. There seems to be a nearly unanimous consensus in this well-documented viewpoint. The “Yeas” have it and marriage has been duly voted in as so incredibly difficult.
So . . . why do we do it? Why do we literally sign up to get married in the face of all the tales of misery? Why are we undeterred by the very high chance of future divorce as demonstrated by trusty statistics? Why do we search out the right person for it, dream about it, plan for it, work toward it, spend heavily on it, and bet on it only to then eventually suffer through it and sometimes stick with it even so if it’s so hard?
When we realize we’re getting more grief than we bargained for in marriage but not enough of what we were hoping for, why do we endure it?
When we languish in our marriages as a result of colossal letdowns like infidelity or addiction, financial instability or the perpetually unequal distribution of duties, divisive parenting methods or extremely difficult in-laws (a list not even close to exhaustive), why do we opt to stay the course?
Why do we withstand suffering even the smaller indignities in marriage? The forgetting, the disagreements, the untidiness, the ignoring, the incompatibilities, the ill-conceived priorities, the laziness, the too busy-ness, the taking for granted, the snoring, farting, nagging and nit-picking, short tempers and mood swings (a list even further from exhaustive)? Why do we put up with it all?
Once we start in on this line of questioning it can feel like a near-impossible challenge not to answer, “I don’t,” or, “I won’t,” or, “I’m done.” Why, despite all of the above, is marriage even still a thing?
At times, there are heaps of woe and toil in marriage; much that feels complaint-worthy and a great deal to feel slighted by. This off-kilter way marriage often stacks up is a bipartisan and multi-racial predicament. Marriage. Is. Hard. People from all walks of life come together in agreement on this. Life is hard too though. Another thing we can all agree on. No matter our age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, creed, history or our level of privilege and opportunity—life is hard for everyone at some point, at some level and not one of us gets out of life alive.
But having a partner in life, means having someone to do the hard with.
I’ve been let down in my marriage, all the way down. And I’ve let my husband down significantly too, on many occasions. In pig pile formation, life has jumped into the mix and let us each down individually as well. Life levels us with blows, setbacks, and obstacles that threaten our paths to success and joyful existence.
But having a partner in life means that you don’t have to go it alone.
You’ve got someone at and on your side who also wants to see you succeed and be joyful. We can be twice as strong, twice as quick, twice as capable and twice as likely to prevail over anything life hits us with when we are two instead of one. And for many of us, this is why marriage is still worthwhile.
In contrast to how I feel when I’m in the heat of a hard moment in my marriage, when I look back over 22 years of participating in the institution, I don’t focus on the awful or dwell on the negative, even though our list of yuck is long and we’ve had some humdingers of heartache to work through—and none of that working through was easy or enjoyable. My thoughts just don’t go there, though. Instead, when I survey all our years of marriage I gravitate toward our triumphs and all the ways we got through life together when life felt unlivable.
I think about the cold, anxiety-ridden night of fitful sleep we had 18 years ago when my husband and I laid down in our own bed for the first time in weeks and grabbed hold of each other with all of our limbs and digits and did not let go until dawn. Our first child, our daughter, had been born two months prematurely and was hospitalized in the NICU, where she would remain until she met her goal weight and outgrew her apnea. But on that particular night, after an unexpected trauma earlier in the day, we weren’t sure she was going to survive. At the sincere and pleading request of our neonatologist, we took a rare break from the weeks-long vigil we’d been keeping at the hospital and stepped away from the fray to go home for the night. I don’t know why we agreed to leave our baby girl that night—we didn’t really want to—so it might have been God gently leading us out the hospital door. But I do know that what got us through the night was having each other to cling to, both physically and mentally. We both understood it to be the best play call for both our combined offense and our defense and subsequently we’ve relied on it many times over the years.
I think about when our two-year-old son’s well child exam revealed a vision-threatening congenital cataract in his left eye and how in traversing that unnerving plight we found ourselves at a teaching hospital in a big city so that he could undergo a lens transplant surgery at just four years old. I was able to slow my waterfall of tears and racing heart rate at the sight of our little boy’s tear-stained face, fearful and questioning eyes, quivering lower lip and outstretched, beckoning arms as he was wheeled to the operating room only because my husband was right there beside me to absorb half of the anxiety that moment induced.
I think about when my daughter and I were t-boned in our car, and how my husband was there in a flash to help us navigate in our uninjured but incredibly stunned and disoriented states. I think about layoffs and abrupt career changes, periods of debilitating debt and times wrought with emotional turbulence. Bouts of food poisoning and ankle sprains and periods of depression. Bad haircuts and traffic tickets. Losing sports teams and horrible bosses. I think about tense relationships with relatives, friendships that didn’t work out, goals we didn’t achieve and winters when snow fell so heavily for so long we found cracks in our walls for the stress the house endured. And every bit of it all was made easier to get to the other side of because we worked together to get through it.
Not that we always agreed on each other’s methods or had the same points of view or outlooks. There was never perfection in our process but there was always teamwork. And not that we weren’t capable of muddling through on our own. But that there was something so pleasing and so powerful in the knowledge we didn’t have to go it alone. There was something so compelling, so comforting in being able to stare life down with four eyes as opposed to two that the hardest of hard work necessary to maintain the marriage was made worth it.
I don’t have any of the answers to any of the questions but I do have a belief about why we’re all here. I think we are meant to learn to love and be loved like it’s our job. You’d be hard-pressed to convince me anything else matters as much—or that there is a much better way to learn to love for no reason than to marry and stay married to another person (assuming the absence of cruelty and abuse). Pulling off a marriage until its endpoint of just death doing the parting won’t be easy. But that was never the point; love is.
Love is the point and teamwork is the benefit. And that’s very possibly why we do it.