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.