As a young man I never wanted to get married. Frankly, it smelled like a trap to me. There were so many examples of broken marriages in my world, ones that had either failed altogether with devastating consequences or (worse) settled into uneasy alliances with a strong undercurrent of burning resentment. It was difficult to name a married couple who seemed really, truly happy together. It seemed like people got married because they weren’t sure what else to do, giving away their freedom and money and young dreams for a promise of a greener pasture that might not be so green. I resolved to live differently. And I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for her.
We had an amazing relationship. We laughed constantly and our default mood was happy. We were both shocked by how well we fit together, how infrequently we fought. And most importantly: she had stuck with me through the Bad Times. After decades of holding out, finding fault in every potential mate, this one was finally a keeper. We dated for a few blissful years until I wasn’t sure what else to do. The only truth of my life was that I loved her.
And with that truth, the trap was set.
The very moment we got married, an invisible switch clicked and our relationship changed overnight. It was less noticeable at first, and it started small. We seemed to be (and were) excited to be off on this adventure together, starting a new life. Now that we were bound together, the strength of partnership was on our side. We could finally make bold moves that we’d been leery of making on our own — moving to a new city, changing careers, stepping out onto limbs. Together, it had been promised, there was nothing we could not do. So why were we feeling this growing unease?
As married days turned into married weeks, months, and years (three of them, today) it was becoming painfully obvious that something was wrong. Instead of being partners, we were adversaries. We took a perverse pleasure in proving the other wrong. Small disagreements became large fights. A string of fights became a war. We felt disillusioned and hurt, the both of us. My wife wasn’t respecting and honoring me. Her husband wasn’t loving and present to her. We were both wronged, we were both wrong. We were both trapped.
And then it got worse.
We could leave each other. We knew we could. It wasn’t difficult to picture it. One of us would move into an apartment and the other would stay in the house. The pets would be split up, two cats go one way, the dog goes the other. We would probably end up splitting the friends, too, but there honestly weren’t many. We could do it. The pastures in that direction were greener for us both…weren’t they?
It has taken me a while to figure out what happened. There has been a tremendous amount of confusion and pain in the three years since this change crept in. But now I know. When we vowed ourselves to one another, we became marriage itself. Everything wrong with marriage, every resentment we’d witnessed, every childish tactic we’d seen in others’ relationships. They were ours now, as members of this grand club, and we were unwittingly playing out the part.
As we continued our dance we began to hate the fighting more than whatever perceived slight had set us off. The confusion and the pain became unacceptable and unwelcome in our home. We started to realize that none of it was ours, really. The battle we were fighting wasn’t between my wife and I, it was a reenactment of the one battle between all wives and all husbands, as the pressures of life conspire to make us forget what’s important. We were haunted by the ghost of marriage.
As we teetered on the brink of either blowing up our union or settling into a life of repressed anger and unfulfilling compromise, we managed to find a third option. Our union proved to be stronger than we’d thought. We hadn’t only come to embody all of the negative aspects of marriage, but also everything true and right that it stood for. Strength, openness, support, commitment. All of the husbands who sat by their wives’ hospital beds, all of the wives who supported and believed in their husbands day in and day out, we were connected to that power as well. Sure we were in pain, but we were together. We were worth fighting for.
The truth was, we loved each other.
We’ve had to fight and claw our way back to happy. Now that we know what the battle is all about, it is more easily avoided. We started to laugh again, slowly. We learned to catch ourselves before sliding back into the bad habits that had separated us for too long. We gave up fighting and then we gave up bickering. We found our strength, together. As we rewired our thoughts to be in alignment with our truth, the feelings of resentment found that they had nowhere left to reside. And so they packed up and wandered off to find easier targets.
The only truth I know is that I love her and she loves me, forever. It’s our choice and no power on this earth can shake it. We may remain trapped in this thing called life, but we are trapped together.