I think marriage is misunderstood.

It gets a bad rap.

Ball and chain. Your life is over.

There are marriage-deprecating memes all over the internet, and I laugh at them just like you.

Marriage also gets idolized.

Fairy tales. Happily ever after. You complete me.

I was hustling out of service this morning after church, my mind fixed on grabbing my kids from the nursery and getting home in time for lunch and naps.

The crowd was moving slow and I inched forward a step at a time as we all tried to make our way out the same exit.

Then, I saw this couple.

And I paused, caught off guard by the intimate moment I was witnessing right in front of me.

I wasn’t focused on how sweet they looked, although, look at them. GAH.

Instead, I wondered about the life they’d led to get to here—hand-in-hand, slowly helping each other make their way to the car.

I wondered how many times they almost quit on each other, how many nights they’d gone to bed angry, maybe even in separate rooms.

I wondered how many times she’d nagged him about leaving his dishes in the sink, and how many times he glazed over something she deemed incredibly important.

I wondered how many holidays they’d spent with each other’s families; how many birthday gifts they’d exchanged.

I wondered if they had children. Grandchildren. Hell, great-grandchildren.

I wondered how often they’d wondered if they’d made all the right choices, if they ever wondered if there was something more.

I wondered how badly they’d hurt each other along the way—unintentionally, or maybe sometimes, on purpose.

I wondered about their real life—not the life we so easily conjure up in our minds when we see another couple. One that looks happier than we feel, more together than we know we are.

I bet if I were able to sit down and talk with them they’d have stories to tell.

About times they laughed until they cried, and times they cried so hard they didn’t know if they’d be able to stop. About moments that felt like pure bliss, and moments they didn’t know they’d see through to the other side.

Yeah, I bet they’d have a lot of stories.

But, I’m betting, if I asked them what their biggest takeaway would be to someone like me—someone who’s been in this marriage thing for just long enough to see the ups and the downs—I bet they’d say something like this:

Hang on for dear life.

In the highs and the lows, when the love feels palpable, and when it feels all but gone—just keep hanging on to each other.

And when you’re our age, and the simplest things, like walking to the car after church get hard—just hang on.

This post originally appeared on Daylight to Dark

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Kendra Barnes

Kendra is co-founder of Daylight to Dark, a lifestyle blog. She's a fun-loving wife and momma to a spirited, blue-eyed girl and a particularly jolly baby boy. She's an expert at holding down the fort, abandoning her coffee, and interjecting just the right amount of snark into any conversation. Through her love of writing, she aspires to share how she turns regular days into memories.