Today is my husband and I’s fifth wedding anniversary. I deeply desire to express our story in both it’s hope and joy, chaos and conflict. I need something tangible, preferably weaved with words, to hold in my hands for years to come. I want something my head and heart can remember, and reabsorb again, and again. We have photographs, ticket stubs, and love letters overflowing from a makeshift box, with a faltering lid, filled to the brim with happy. Still, it’s not enough. I need a little more substance, something that captures the whirlwind of emotions, the full spectrum of our colors and shades. There has been more than just happy. I want to remember and learn from it all. I want my daughters to learn just the same.
I wonder if starting with something like, “5 years, 2 babes, 4 states and 11 moves,” is too striking for an introduction. If you have ever moved, let alone with children, you can start to let yourself wander into our shoes. In all that wandering you might assume a calamity far greater than ours. Those moves were tough, but we are a good team him and I, we always have been. We rocked those first few years of marriage. Then we welcomed our first daughter into the world with the anticipated growing pains, but our trials felt attainable and within reason. We were tired and we spoke a handful of cranky words at 3 am, but we were stable. Our love strengthened and deepened, leaving me more smitten than the year before. We not only survived, but we thrived in some less than optimal circumstances. Our enthusiasm for God, life and each other kept us rooted through all our wandering and rooting, stoping and starting. But, after three fairly easy years of marriage we found ourselves knee deep in a big move west, with no job, and no space of our own. We were also expecting another babe in the midst of some significant financial hardship, all the while on the verge of an emotional breakdown. We were unraveled and exposed, both of us a far cry from the spouses we vowed to always be. You see, it’s one thing to love unconditionally with the upmost enthusiasm on your wedding day, it’s another to love unconditionally when you find yourself in the circumstances you never thought you would be, with a spouse who is not being the person you want them to be. Add in two crying babes who regretfully feel this tension, and it should go without saying that this was not my favorite time and place to be.
Before marriage I had listened to seasoned couples share their stories and wisdom. I think every couple vaguely shared their rough times, but it was often quickly glazed over and packaged with a pretty bow. No one who made it to the other side ever invited me into the reality of those lows. I would just hear things like, “we’ve had our fair share of hard times, but if you just keep choosing each other, it gets better than you could ever imagine.” I took mental notes, preparing my head and heart for challenges we might face in our future. I mentally prepared to have rough times, because I knew it was inevitable, yet I secretly hoped we could defy the norm, pass go without paying our dues. But now matter how in love or how lovely, you cannot exclude yourself from your own humanity. It’s unreasonable, not to mention unfair to hold such impossible standards.
In moments of doubt or frustration I’ve thought about those couples words and too often thought, “surely they don’t mean THIS hard, or THESE circumstances.” How and why I tend to think I am an exception to all rules is beyond me. Expectations, especially unrealistic ones, have always been the catalyst for heartache and disappointment.
I think our most beautiful moments far too profound for words and our most challenging moments too painful to speak, are exactly what those couples were talking about. Our joy and mess, disappointments and milestones, they are all apart of it. But, I’ve spent the last year not so sure, because there seems to be a fine line between airing your dirty laundry, and being transparent enough to let others learn from your experiences. Our circumstances will always be different, but I think there is no feeling left unfelt, just waiting for that one and only feeler. They might just be felt at different times and places in our journey, and maybe the intensity of which we feel them could be up for debate.
I am a feeler at my very core. This has proven to be my greatest gift, my most attractive attribute. I savor every last fragment of joy, accentuating and highlighting, doting and celebrating. But I do just the same in the trenches. I accentuate and highlight our mishaps and conflicts, becoming so engulfed in our current reality, that I often lack perspective. A moment of doubt can quickly escalate into the most dramatic day dream of ten years from now. But, after five years I see that those less than desirable feelings are not something to fear. While they are very real, they will always come and go, reaching epic highs and lows, or resting on top of those boring plateaus. The most important part is how I will react to them. What matters is what I choose when I find myself in the hard places I never thought I would be.
This morning I sat across from my husband at breakfast, and I looked into the same sparkly blue eyes I did just five years before. It had been far too long since I really sat and looked, studying every feature and line. My heart swelled with enthusiasm and it longed to love him better. It desired to keep choosing him, again and again. We smiled, laughed and joked about our craziest year to date. I knew he was happy because the unique lines around his eyes told me so. We exhaled the weight of the past and I released my clenched fists. Right then and there I felt us enter into a new season and space as I gained another dose of perspective. We are going to be fine, more than just fine, I thought. We are a good team, him and I.
I can see now that even in the trenches, I was never all alone, it’s just that it’s incredibly hard to share with others when you feel like you’re the only one. When everyone was talking about how challenging motherhood was, I was here struggling in my marriage. But I can only say these things now because I’m on the other side of the most challenging year of my life. Choosing each other while raising little people is just hard, harder than I ever imagined. But I think all those couples were right, you just get through it and then it might even be better than you ever imagined.
Erin Delaney, The Village Journalist