Did any of you really know what marriage would be like when you said, “I do”?

I mean, how can we possibly know?

Well, I thought I did. You know, rainbows and sunsets, lovemaking and carefree timelessness, laughter and fun. Because that’s what fresh love looks like. All bliss, right?

. . . and total naivety, if we’re honest.

We don’t know what we don’t know until we know. And sometimes, the knowing comes in tidal waves.

After five years into our fairytale, three quick kids, career changes, moves, and both sets of parents divorcing, we learned some things. Specifically, that we didn’t know how to be married. Life suddenly became less blissful as a couple.

So we went on a marriage encounter retreat to save our family. We poured our hearts out and cried lots of tears. We listened. That’s when “real” communication found us and saved our backsides.

We then paid our healing forward and spent over a decade in marriage ministry serving other couples—which was double the reward in making our marriage stronger.

Our love was beautiful and extraordinary for a good stretch . . . until it wasn’t.

At the 11 year mark, I had a mental health breakdown that wrecked our world. So, we got help. I spent years in therapy healing childhood trauma I’d stuffed down into my cells. I learned how my unresolved pain was bleeding into my marriage and my mothering. That’s when more clarity and understanding found us and saved our backsides again.

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Our love was deeper, more grounded, and beautiful for a longer stretch (with some definite peaks and valleys) . . . until it wasn’t.

At the 26-year mark, we crumbled. The hardest season of our marriage yet. It was brutal and scary and heavy. We didn’t know what the future had in store. The pain was devastating. I didn’t know. He didn’t know. We didn’t know how to process.

So, we got help. We dug deeper than we thought possible. We willed ourselves through by backing up to the edge and trust-falling into the canyon of love we’d cultivated over two decades. Unsure if either of us would land safely, we went for it on blind faith, bolstered by the prayers of our loved ones who were in the know.

And by God’s grace, we made it. Love was strong enough to catch our fall. Both of us are more authentic and healthier humans, individually and as a couple, because of it. I’m grateful for the journey . . . words I never thought I’d say two years ago.

Today we celebrate 28 years. And my amazing husband would tell you they’ve been the best 12 years of his life. I mean . . . 

But in all seriousness, these HAVE been the most incredible 28 years of our life.

We found ourselves. We found each other. We found forgiveness. We found strength.

We found perseverance.

We found great faith.

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We found beauty in ashes.

We found joy.

We found excitement.

We found connection.

We found love.

Real, penetrating, life-giving love.

Turns out our marriage actually did come with rainbows and sunsets, lovemaking and carefree timelessness, laughter and fun amidst the trials and tribulations. And we also have three incredible children to do life with, which is the icing on the cake of our love story.

So, no. We had no flipping clue what marriage was going to be like. Now we know.

Those good times and bad, in sickness and in health vows carry some serious weight.

Friends, I don’t know what your marriage looks like right now. But I’m here to tell you to never give up hope. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try, it just doesn’t work. But sometimes it does. And when it does, and you can look back and see what you overcame and what you built together, it takes your breath away.

Originally published on the author’s Facebook page

Shelby Spear

A self-described sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, and love enthusiast, Shelby is a mom of 3 Millennials writing about motherhood and life from her empty nest. She is the co-author of the book, How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don't need to say, "I'm fine.") , and you can find her stories in print at Guideposts, around the web at sites like Her View From Home, For Every Mom, Parenting Teens & Tweens and on her blog shelbyspear.com.