So last week, reader Michelle wrote a comment that grabbed me, and made me think. She commented that “Weddings are powerful things, in a broad, deep, scary and long-lasting way, because they DO shape marriages (and families, for that matter). Weddings are sort of a lens that refract, reflect, and sometimes magnify a couple’s values, choices, personalities, and indeed – their love.” She went on to argue that weddings are powerful, and because of that can refract joy, but also because they can refract and magnify less positive things. Which, having been to some very painful weddings, I can absolutely say is true. All this got me thinking that marriage is the same way. I talk a lot about the importance of marriage here, in a positive sense, but the truth is that marriage can have a lot of negative power as well. Negative power for us, and for the people around us. Marriage is complicated serious stuff.
This weekend I was digging around through a box of my snapshots and mementos from the last 10 years or so. As I was digging, I found mementos from three weddings that have since ended in divorce – some in reasonably positive divorces, and some in profoundly horrible divorces. Looking at all these items, I felt sort of shattered, and deeply sad for some of the things that had come to pass. And then. Then I dug out a picture of me, holding a tiny baby. Since that picture was taken, we’ve watched as that baby’s parents grew their relationship and their family, in ways that really inspired us, and made us dig deeper and be better. Delightfully, that tiny baby ended up being a very sassy small girl at our wedding. I was struck by the way those marriages that shattered in horrible ways effected me, as a member of the couples community. But I was overwhelmed and humbled by the redemptive power of the marriage that thrived. Which made me thoughtful, to say the least.
So all this brings me to an email that I got from a long-time reader this week. An email about how effing hard marriage can be, and about how on bad days, you just keep working through it. She gave me full permission to share this with you, but we thought it best to leave her name out of it:
At the moment, multiple marriages in my family are on the rocks, and my own marriage is having issues that everyone keeps telling me is SO normal… though that doesn’t help us in any way shape or form. In the face of such crap, it’s very hard to be positive about marriage. I’m not not positive about marriage now, I’m just not actively positive. I feel kind of pissy and cranky, and like if I commented on APW right now, I’d be detrimental to little baby brides. They’re all “planning a wedding is HARD” and I’d be all, “You think that’s hard? You know what’s hard? Being married and having to constantly contain the urge to RIP YOUR HUSBAND’S FUCKING FACE OFF. THAT’S hard. Come back and talk to me when your vision of what your marriage will be is crushed.”
Ahem. Okay, maybe not THAT bad, but close. And we’re fine, just like I knew we’d be, we just had one of those bad few months that people say you’ll have and you don’t really believe them. (Was it your mom or your grandma who said that sometimes you’d have bad days and sometimes you’d have bad years? Super smart lady, that one. I kept thinking of that while this was going on, it helped to realize that just because our marriage seemed bad at the time didn’t mean that it WAS bad. So tell her thank you, please.)*
And honestly, you said it best in your post on how a wedding can make a marriage. About holding on to that moment when you made the decision to be together for ever and ever amen. When things get bad, I try to go back to that place, even just for a second. And it kinda works, not completely, but to a point that it at least makes me remember that although he is the biggest bastard in the world right now, he hasn’t always been and won’t always be. It doesn’t fix everything, but it helps. Mostly. Sometimes he just needs to get out my face RIGHT NOW. Ha.
So there is that. Honesty. And I think it makes me a lot stronger, and braver in my marriage, to hear it. And I can guarantee you that while she kept hearing my mom’s advice to get her through this rough patch, I’ll go back to her story in a rough patch. Because sometimes, what we need the most, is to hear that it’s normal, other people have been through it, other people have survived. That, and an enormous scream and a good cry and ice cream.
*Editors note: That was my mom. And interestingly in the comments, people were like, “No wayyyyy…” But, apparently, yes way.