Marriage is work.
Fight for your marriage.
Those two seemingly simple, short sentences have come to mean so much to me over my 10 years of married life. In one way or another, I was given this advice at my bridal shower by ladies from all areas of my life. I was told this by my mother, grandmother, friends from church, and co-workers. They especially stressed the necessity of this point when kids would come into the picture. I knew it was important and I thought I understood what they meant.
But I was really just fooling myself.
I was just getting married and wasn’t even thinking about kids yet. Marriage itself was a strange new thing and kids were some vague, far-off idea. I had no clue about that phase of life. So at best, I really only grasped those words on an intellectual level. I had no actual experience to prop up those words or to give them weight and force.
Work can be hard. Work can be time-consuming. Work, to be done well, needs to be focused and intentional. Work is persistent effort at something, with a desire and commitment to its value. Work can involve struggle. I’ve found all these factors to be vital in keeping my marriage at the center, to not let it be brushed aside altogether or become simply another thing I casually check off the to-do list of my days.
Before kids came into the picture, doing this work was fairly easy. We went to our day jobs and then could come home to each other, to just each other. We had lots of free time to go on dates, to laugh, to just be together. I didn’t really have to think about the work I was doing; it came quite naturally because there were no other conflicting demands for my attention.
When kids came, all that changed immediately.
Suddenly, there were these little persons who needed me for their very existence. I was literally their lifeline and this being needed in such a drastic and all-consuming physical and emotional way took all my attention, actions, and thoughts. Suddenly, my work had changed so much, it was so easy to forget that I was not just a mother. I hadn’t switched roles from wife to mother; I still had the former position, as well as this new one that was put on me. It was easy to think that my husband, being an adult after all, could just wait while I adjusted. He could take care of himself for a while. He’d do all right while I figured out this mother thing. Then, once I’ve got that down, I can come back and pick up that wife mantle again. We’ll just be able to pick up where we left off.
The problem with this idea is that my husband didn’t stop being my husband. He still needed his wife. He was just as frantically trying to adjust to being a father as I was to being a mother. We both needed to be told and shown by the other that we hadn’t lost our earlier roles. I knew that having children would bring us closer together as we figured out parenting and while that was certainly true, it also caused us to drift apart. The saddest part was that we didn’t realize it for quite a bit of time; we were both so overtaken with trying to figure out how to be parents. There suddenly came a point though when we realized that, on an emotional level, we just felt like roommates. We felt like roommates who were tasked with the job of caring for children. It sort of felt like a professional, co-worker status, rather than the intimate way of a marriage.
We had forgotten to work. All our effort was being put into the kids. We had forgotten that, while yes we were absolutely parents now (with all the beauty and chaos that entails), we were also husband and wife! We didn’t get to just put that dynamic on hold until the kids grew up! Our marriage couldn’t just coast on the emotions of parenthood. We had stopped making time just for each other. We had stopped working for our marriage, and that was unfair to us and our kids.
I want my kids to see, as they grow up, what a strong, committed marriage looks like. I want them to see the difference that makes during hard times. I want them to see what it looks like for a husband and wife to choose to love each other, regardless of changing circumstances or temperaments. I want them to see that marriage vows aren’t just an “if you feel like it” thing. I want them to see that anything good and beautiful is worth the work that must be put into it in order to keep it that way! This was a hard lesson to learn but so worth it. I firmly believe our marriage is stronger now than ever and I am so thankful!
And now I will be one of those people giving that same advice to those about to get married. Marriage is indeed hard and indeed work. I’ve learned that there is nothing wrong with hard work, as it can bring about the most beautiful and long-lasting things of life.
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