Tim and I have now lived in partnership for over half our lives and are acutely cognizant of the blessing of this long marriage.
When we agreed to marry, we promised not to stifle each other. And even though we tried our best in those early years of career building, nest-feathering and child-rearing, it took me about seventeen years before I could breathe easy.
Some of that had to do with sleeplessness. In those early years, Tim was on-call at the hospital every third night, and I was pregnant or nursing an infant for six consecutive years. We became efficient: I didn’t hear the telephone at night, and Tim slept through the babies’ cries – if he was there. [You can read about those early years here.]
We also felt trapped: he locked in his work; me locked out of mine. We devoted ourselves to our children and craved down time. But when Tim took an afternoon to walk in the woods by himself, I steamed at home, resentful that I never had a moment to myself. There were times when I felt so ground down by marriage and motherhood, I wanted to walk away from it all. For a long time, I fantasized that I could.
During those years, we’d argue to win, both of us insistent on being right. As distressing as the heated conversations were, they were better than the cold wars that followed. These lasted until one of us thawed, apologized, embraced. Usually, that was Tim, always more interested in loving than being right.
There are any number of hurdles where a marriage can falter and fail. Early on, I thought faltering was failing; in time, I learned that faltering was a signal to reevaluate our combined lives, to figure out how to make things right. In time, I stopped imagining walking away. In time, I knew that I wouldn’t.
It wasn’t just that I was too tangled in our joint lives to walk out; it was that I no longer fantasized that any other life would be better; it was that I finally realized ours was a proven partnership that keeps improving as we age. Now more than thirty years in, and I’m deeply committed to this marriage.
In hindsight, I realize that I’ve always been committed to this marriage, even – or especially – when dissatisfaction led to conflict about how to make it better, to improve our time-management, tidy the clutter, live less wrinkled lives.
If there’s a secret to a long marriage; I doubt anyone knows what it is. But there’s definitely a comfort in a long marriage. For Tim and me, sticking with it has taught us how to grow together. We’re not the same people we were when we married. We’ve both changed, sometimes kicking and screaming, and sometimes with grace. Breathing, changing, learning to love – it’s made all the difference.
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