My husband and I fight a lot. We have a ton of stressors in our shared life, and in the past 6 months in particular it has been really, really stressful. He has had to travel quite a bit for work lately, and after chores, projects around the house, and the demands of an ever-active toddler, that leaves us zero quality time. We need it more than ever right now, as we shoulder the burden of serious problems facing our extended family and the prospect of putting our trusty 16-year-old dog to sleep. We are barely holding it together most days.
We have always fought a lot though, so when my brother once told me that someday he wanted a relationship like Michael and I have, I was shocked speechless. Just so you know, I am NEVER at a loss for words, so I was really, really shocked. I spent several weeks mulling over what my poor delusional brother saw in our relationship that he could possibly emulate. Finally, I realized that the secret to our marriage is this--we fight a lot, but we are also willing to fight FOR our marriage. We are two of the toughest and most stubborn people I know. We are fiercely independent and opinionated. We say exactly what we are thinking and our lack of tact is pretty much legendary. But we are also fiercely, stubbornly, passionately, and honestly committed to making our marriage work. The secret to a healthy marriage is that both people are wholly committed to making the marriage work. That's the bottom line. And now for the details...
I said we are both fierce, stubborn, passionate, and honest. We share those and many, many other traits in common. We are also diametrically opposite in many ways. For one, while I am the quintessential social butterfly, he hates mixers and small talk to such an extent that I have sometimes suspected that he may have a social anxiety disorder. Or maybe we are so different that I can't even comprehend that chatting with total strangers isn't fun for everyone. But whenever one is thoroughly frustrated with the other, we go back to Mike's favorite saying, "You knew that when you married me!" We allow each other to be ourselves. Neither has tried to change the other through bullying or manipulation or passive aggression. I see that go on in too many relationships, and it is a recipe for disaster. I'm not talking about the benign things, like trying to get dear husband to restock the toilet paper roll when it is empty. I'm talking about really respecting your partner for all the things that make up who they are, and this includes allowing them space, free time, and the opportunity to pursue their own pursuits, some of which you may not like or even understand. (Case in point: my husband loves playing Magic the Gathering and I love watching old musicals).
As one of the few people who has remained with their high school sweetheart, I can say with some confidence that your partner will change. Read: not MIGHT change--WILL change. We are certainly not the 16-year-olds that we originally fell in love with. We have allowed each other to grow and morph into different people. Maybe you won't change from a teen to an adult in the course of your relationship like Mike and I did, (although I have seen people devolve in the opposite direction, but that's another story), but I can guarantee after several years together at some point one or both of you will lose your job/health/home, or have a significant spiritual awakening, or discover a whole new life from the one you led before, or be forever changed by the birth of a child or the death of a parent. I challenge you to find one couple who has been together for 10+ years and not faced something life-changing and/or earth-shattering together. It may be difficult, and sometimes it's even emotionally painful, but I know from experience that being part of each other's development has made us both better people and made our relationship that much stronger.
Finally, my personal mantra on marriage is "work hard, play hard." Michael and I have been friends for 17 years, a couple for 15 years, living together for 12 years, and married for 5 years. We have gone on a million adventures together. We have traveled to exotic tropical locales, hiked dozens of trails around Northern California, and even sneaked into local elementary school in the middle of the night to create a dog obstacle course on the jungle gym. I have introduced him to the joys of civic engagement and volunteerism and he inspired me to start both running and martial arts. We thoroughly enjoy each other. But a marriage is more than just having a grand old time with your best friend and lover. A healthy, long-lasting marriage takes a lot of work. Michael and I have had to learn how to communicate, listen, accommodate, and apologize. We have gone through couples counseling three separate times. At the very first meeting of our longest-lasting counseling session the therapist asked us whether we were interested in seeing if this relationship would work, or if we were committed to making it work and we just wanted tools to do so. We looked at each other and then at him as if he were crazy. Of COURSE we wanted to make this relationship work! It's important to note that we did all of this counseling well before we got married, and we actually lived together for seven years before we finally tied the knot. Now I don't advocate that all couples wait nearly a decade or go through counseling three times before tying the knot. Rather, I recommend that couples equip themselves with the tools and emotional maturity to have open and honest communication and healthy ways to cope with disagreements (which arise in EVERY relationship). A long relationship is very hard but so very much worth it.
I am so very overwhelmed with everything right now that I've been pushed to tears more than once. I told Michael that simply being appreciated and recognized would help immensely. He started thanking me for everyday contributions, such as making a complete dinner from scratch after a long day of work and mommy duty. Even after a few days it makes a huge difference. Our relationship is far from perfect, and it is a constant struggle to get through each whirlwind week. One morning I woke up and blinked awake to see my husband's left hand right in front of my face, a thick, scratched gold band gently reflecting the morning light. I was reminded that even though I had a long day full of work and play and stress ahead of me, at least I got to wake up knowing that I had my best and oldest friend right here by my side, helping me get through it day in and day out for the rest of our lives.
Two years ago I ran the Women’s Fitness Festival 5K. My husband and I were preparing to start a family, (which is really just a polite way of saying that I went off birth control that week). As I ran through the crowds of women from various walks of life, I was overcome with the realization that this may be my last race for a while, that the next time I would run this race I would be pregnant, and quite possibly even a mother. The prospect of that was astounding. I set a personal record that day by finishing the race in 22:06. I knew that it would be a long time before I was running that fast again.
I got pregnant two weeks later.
When Zen was 6 weeks old I ordered a B.O.B. jog stroller. The day after it arrived I signed up for the Women’s Fitness Festival. Zen wasn’t sleeping through the night, and I had to strap down my milk jugs with two sports bras layered on top of each other just to walk/run for the few minutes she would let me between feedings. Needless to say, I was determined to return to running. During this period I needed that release more than ever. By the time the race rolled around Zen was just shy of 3 months old and I had been run-walking a whopping 2 weeks. It felt so good to run again, I ended up being the fastest jog stroller in the race, completing the 3.1 miles in a respectable 27:01.
Fast forward to Sunday. I had been training hard—I was not only determined to run, but Zen’s stranger anxiety was making it nearly impossible to leave her at the gym daycare for even one one-hour kickboxing class. So running was it—it was pretty much my only outlet. I did two half marathons in two months and tied my personal record of completing the race in 1:45. Boosted by the confidence of doing 13.1 miles at just over 8 minutes per mile, I confidently set my sights on the fastest jog stroller title for a second year in a row. At the starting line I gathered with my mother and nearly a dozen friends—and approximately 4,000 fellow runners, walkers, and strollers. I was inspired and humbled to be surrounded by loved ones and the sea of strong women doing something healthy.
But I had no time for mushiness—I had my eye on the prize. I had my fluorescent yellow jersey, matching running skirt, and nearly-new yellow running shoes. I was here to kick ass and look kinda cute doing it. When then gun sounded I took off, dodging through the crowd with my bright yellow stroller. (Do you see a theme yet?) Finally I pulled into a gap in the runners. Just as I was settling into my pace I saw something disturbing--another jog stroller in the distance AHEAD OF ME! Not to be outdone, I sprinted past dozens of runners to catch up to this anomaly. Then I noticed that she had a sort of entourage—two female cyclists were clearing a way for her in the crowd. When I was only a few paces behind her, one of the cyclists broke off and joined me. She grinned, cheered me on, and then forged a path through the sea of bodies, yelling, “Clear the way! Mama and Baby coming through! Move to the right! Let’s hear it for this Mama!” I sprinted through a crowd that cheered me on as I ran past pairs of best friends, mothers with their grown daughters, and small children running in intervals until they became distracted by flowers at the Capitol Park or spectators with cow bells.
The finish line approached, and try as I might I could not catch up to the fellow stroller mom. I closed the distance and finished nine seconds behind her. But I set a personal record that day: 21:55.
This event has become much more than just a race for me. It has truly become a celebration of women. I love seeing fast, fit women zoom past at a 5-minute-mile clip. I love seeing middle-aged BFFs in their matching shirts and smiles that speak of decades of shared secrets. I love the super-fast mommy pushed me to go faster than I ever could before—and WITH a stroller! I love that every year I have more friends joining in on the festivities, and that we celebrate each other’s triumphs. I love that my mom came with me for the first time this year.
I am also inspired by myself. It was really, really hard to make the multitude of changes to my life that motherhood required. But I’m driven and tenacious in everything I do, and I was determined to find a way to keep running to preserve my mental and physical health. Zen likes brushing herself with my makeup brushes and taking cards out of my wallet. It’s a daily reminder that she watches everything I do, big and small, good and bad. I hope that she will want to follow my lead to become a healthy, happy woman someday.
One last note: I ran past a little girl who was no more than 8 years old, and she was running alongside her mother. Yes, she was RUNNING. I called to them, saying, “You two are my idols!” The mother hollered back, “That’s how I started off. I know how hard it is to run with that stroller. Go on, Fast Mama!”