Nineteen years ago, I stood across from my husband, looked deep into his eyes while holding his hands, and pledged to love him for better or for worse. 

I didn’t understand those vows back then. I didn’t get it. Because I thought for better or for worse meant that I just had to put up with his worst qualities. I thought it meant I had to love him during man-colds and he had to love me even when I burned the meatloaf.

I figured “for better or for worse” meant I needed to stick around during the tough times, for whatever life threw at us, but I couldn’t imagine what the worst would be.

And nearly two decades later, life has thrown a lot at us. We’ve had our share of the worse.

We’ve watched parents die and lost friends to cancer. We’ve faced sudden job loss and infertility. We fought serious health challenges and major issues with our children. We’ve moved around the country so many times I don’t know where to tell people where I am from.

But what they don’t tell you about those wedding vows, what no one can explain unless you’ve been through it, is that when you truly love someone, when you put the commitment to each other above all else, those worst times often bring out the best in us—and are the greatest opportunities to show our love and affection for each other.

What you think about “for better or for worse” when you say these words at the altar is that it’s really for better most of the time, and we’ll muddle through the worst. 

What they don’t tell when you say these vows is that the lines often become blurred in life between the best and the worst moments. They don’t tell you that you can find beauty in the soul-crushing moments that bring you to your knees, like when you see the tears in your husband’s eyes as his strong hands hold your premature baby. They don’t tell you that together you can survive the unthinkable events the world throws at you, like freak illnesses or chronic pain. They don’t tell you that out of your darkest moments, when you have to face your greatest fears, when the worst creeps into your life-like mold spreading on a clean surface, that just having the support of your spouse can get your through to the other side.

If you travel the road side-by-side, helping each other along the way, even the worse can be better. The worse can turn into the better if two stand to fight, if one is willing to carry another when she cannot walk, if one will lift the other when he falls to the ground.

And just like we didn’t understand how we would get through the worst, our best days aren’t what we thought they would be either. Our favorite moments aren’t about job titles or fancy cars or the perfect house, but instead involve lazy days at the beach, s’mores by our faux fire pit, or Friday pizza nights with a room full of loud teenagers. 

For better is so much sweeter since going through some of the worst, and our worst is softened by knowing what we have endured together.

So, what happens in marriage is sometimes your best and worst days blend to create the tapestry of a life—a life well-lived by two people who loved the best they could, for better and for worse, for as long as they both shall live.

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is the mom to three tween daughters, a communications consultant and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays http://playdatesonfridays.com/