I got engaged when I was 27. By all accounts, I was an adult. I had a home, a career, and plenty of life experience. I also had a romanticized notion of what being married was going to be like. I’d witnessed my parents’ successful marriage of 40 years as well as seen a million versions of Hollywood’s interpretation of marriage. 

After my now-husband proposed, we planned our wedding together, deliberating every step of the way as a team. Looking at flowers, tasting cake, and the hardest of them allthe dreaded seating chart. We said our vows and danced the night away, blissfully happy. We thought we could do anything together. As far as we could see, we were stepping into the happily ever after.

In retrospect, we had absolutely no idea what we were getting into.

The first test of our marriage was our first child, which was an earthquake in our freshly poured foundation. Not because anything out of the ordinary happened but because it was so life-altering. It became usthe three of usin a way it hadn’t before. We went from being a couple to a family. We both had ideas about how we’d like to operate our family, based on the examples we’d seen. 

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I needed him in a way I’d never needed anyone. I’d been largely self-sufficient throughout my adulthood and to rely on my partner was pretty momentous. From little things like picking up milk at 9 p.m., to bigger things like talking me off the ledge when I was panicking about something after not sleeping. I don’t know how I would have done it without him. We needed each other.

And then came other tests of our marriage. Disagreements over things that maybe weren’t that important but still were meaningful. Like who to travel with. Who gets to sleep in. What to do over summer vacation. What kind of hobbies will we have as a family. Things we needed to figure out.

After one particularly hideous fight, the realization set in that there was no easy break up in our future. Even if we were fundamentally different or couldn’t agree to save our lives, we were still a family. Every decision we made affected three other people as well as us. 

We both realized it was easier to let things go, change our way of thinking, or apologize. We both mellowed out. We picked our battles. We swallowed our pride. I learned the art of apology. He learned to give me space. I learned to let him decompress. He learned to take the kids after a particularly difficult week.

Marriage is a constant compromise.

Making enough time for us while also carving out time for them. Balancing work, home life, extended family. Making sure we take care of our own health and relationship, too.

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It wasn’t some romantic happily ever after once we said our “I dos.” What has come for us after the vows has been life, plain and simple, and the necessity to work as a team to conquer it. It’s messy. It’s hard.

It was once described to me that marriage is like two people standing on a tightrope, both holding a long stick. If one person wavers, the other must hold steady. If they both shake, they must shake in balance to not fall. And above all, no one can drop their end of the stick or they will go down.

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Marriage is a choice we make every day. It’s realizing that without one, there is no us.

We’ll be married 10 years this July, and I love him more every day. It’s not a clichéit’s the constant choice to fall in love with someone. It’s messy, it’s unpredictable, it’s beautiful. It’s life.

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Caroline Murray

Caroline is a freelance writer, mama to two young children and one sweet baby.  She loves everything country and tries not to take anything too seriously.  You can see more of her at www.the-othermom.com.