Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul


Today’s post might be the perfect follow up to yesterday’s fraught, yet ultimately rewarding conversation. When Elizabeth of Lowe House Creative offered up her mom, Karen, to write a post on marriage and money, I leapt for it. Her parents will celebrate their fortieth anniversary this summer, so they know a thing or two about being married. (Note: Let this be motivation for all of you to call your moms and ask them to write a post about marriage. We could all use their wise counsel.) But what I didn’t expect is to literally sob through the end of this post. Karen shares a ton of really useful advice about money, and she also talks about her hard-earned perspective on a career and outside interests, raising kids, and the balance of partnership. But what grabbed me is how much respect she clearly has for her husband after forty years, and just how much they like each other. So I’m warning you, get out a tissue now. You might need it. And paper and a pen, so you can take notes (because you’re guaranteed to learn something).

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

We were hopelessly young and poor as church mice when we got married. “For richer or poorer” and “in sickness and in health,” the words said to each other forty years ago resonate deeply in our marriage today. I was eighteen and my husband was twenty and we didn’t have a pot to pee in, as my Texas born grandma always liked to say. I had two years of college credits under my belt, and Stephen had three. I helped pay for the wedding with money I had saved working through high school. We were so poor we had to borrow one of his parents’ cars for our honeymoon because our old beater wouldn’t have made it as we camped our way up the Oregon and Washington Coasts

But the thing was, we had prospects. Though we were poor, the future loomed bright and shiny. We headed into marriage thinking we were going some place, but we weren’t deluded that it was going to be easy. I gave up college for a while because the plan was for me to work for a few years while Stephen finished his B.A. Then it would be my turn to finish my degree. During our first year of marriage I worked at three crummy jobs, but because better things were just around the corner, it was bearable.

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

The second year of our marriage, my adventurous husband proposed that he finish his degree in Japan at Sophia University. I was game, and so off we headed. Our apartment was the size of a shoebox, uninsulated with no furniture, except for a futon. What little furniture we did accumulate, we literally found on the side of the road. Sort of like a Monty Python Japanese version of “we were so poor…” We had a little two-burner cook top, no oven, and no hot water. We heated our bath water with a circulating heater, much like a hot tub system. Once we accidentally brought the water to a boil, which we discovered when we heard a strange booming emanating from the bathroom. It was the plastic bathtub undulating in and out in protest.

We both taught English for what seemed like amazing amounts of money to us then, and I worked as a fashion model, a bizarre job but a unique life experience. We were partners in an adventure rife with paradox. We were poor, but feeling rich. We made do but didn’t feel as if we were making do.

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

Though we had barely scraped by in our first year of marriage, living in Japan provided a concrete exercise in budgeting because Japan was a cash society; all bills were paid in cash, and I mean every one of them, because checks didn’t exist.

When we returned to California, I resumed studying for my degree and my husband started law school. Like many students, we struggled financially. I received grants, took out some loans and worked at least twenty hours a week in the library until I graduated. Stephen worked every summer. We drove the same old beater we had when we were married, or biked and took public transportation. I staggered paying the bills; we didn’t have the money to pay them all when they were due. And I’m not talking about credit card bills: we didn’t own one. We paid cash for everything. We were a team, a unit, best friends, partners, committed in every way, including financially. We still had prospects and shared goals.

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

We graduated, got good jobs and went in with another couple and bought a big old run down Craftsman that had been turned into apartments, intending to renovate it and make some money. The other couple promptly split up before we even moved in. So, it was Stephen and me and Joe, the half of the couple who stayed in on the deal. Joe got transferred to another city after the first year, but he came back every weekend to work on the house. Stephen and I worked on it nearly every night after work for two years and on most weekends. But, we sold it for double what we’d paid for it to Joe’s co-worker, who practically begged to be able to buy it. Interest rates at the time were a whopping 17%, but he really wanted that lovely old house impregnated with all our sweat equity.

And then we moved to Seattle and went back to graduate school. Stephen for an advanced law degree in Asian Law, and me for an M.A. in Japanese Lit. The Japanese culture bug had bitten us. We lived off the money we had made from the sale of the house and on scholarship money before realizing we were burning through our savings from the sale of the house pretty fast. So, the second year, we moved into and managed a 42-unit apartment building.

We moved to Tokyo again and Stephen worked at a Japanese law firm after he finished his Ll.M program. We lived in a 500 square foot traditional Japanese house. Though the kitchen set up was similar—we still had a two-burner stove and no oven—we had hot water! We had enough money to pay the bills and eat out every week. Japan was still a cash society, though ATM machines had appeared, so we were again able to budget pretty concretely.

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

I worked as an editor and writer, including during my first pregnancy and part time the first year of our oldest daughter’s life, who was the only gaijin baby in the maternity ward in the big Japanese hospital.

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

I have always been the money manager in our marriage. I think this is because Stephen comes from a really frugal family, and while he is one of the most responsible and hardest working human beings I have ever known, he has never been comfortable spending money. That was my job.

But then again, maybe that’s why when I stopped working to stay home with my daughter after we moved back to the States for the second time; I didn’t feel too anxious about not contributing financially. Stephen’s jobs over the next twenty-five years were incredibly demanding and required a lot of travel, often up to ten days a month. I happily held down our home life, raising two daughters, doing a lot of community work and managing our money. I even went back to graduate school for an MFA in writing.

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

Then just when I was one of only two students offered an assistant teaching position, Stephen was offered a position in Japan as the Asian General Counsel of his fast growing IT company. The money was great and the potential for socking a lot of that money away was a no-brainer. He figured we could save the entire COLA and more. And he turned out to be right, though it entailed some teary sacrifice on my part. I had planned on combining teaching with writing, and instead, I compromised and came down on the side of practicality in terms of our financial picture. And, let’s face it, more adventure. To be honest, I’ve regretted that choice on some levels ever since.

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

I did finish my MFA, writing a chunk of a novel in Tokyo as my thesis, but had to forfeit my teaching job. The next five years were full of memorable times and the daily demands of family life—but they were also daunting. We moved from the U.S. to Japan to England and back to the U.S. Every move meant I was literally the homemaker, arranging everything we needed to live happy lives. We didn’t live in sheltered expat enclaves or on a military base or a state department compound. We lived on the economy. Acculturation takes time, especially when it’s a first grader and a fourth grader who are not only settling in to a new school, but also a new culture. As the stay-at-home parent, I was the facilitator, the resource queen of our new country/home. And still and always, the money manager.

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

Back in California, the IT boom was big and we were incredibly lucky to cash in on our stock shares and buy a big house in a great neighborhood with good public schools. I got breast cancer and had a severe accident and between them it took me two years to heal.

The girls grew up. We found we still liked each other just as we had when we were young and penniless.

Many conflicting money issues tug at the shirttail of a marriage. Keeping your family going day-to-day contains enough conflict to be daunting in itself, but then somewhere along the way, if you’re lucky enough to pay attention, you may begin to discern the ghost of retirement haunting your future. A close friend of mine in Japan and I used to joke, calling it the “R” word, but if one lives long enough, there may come a time when work is impossible to get or do. So planning for retirement is vital.

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

And so Stephen and I’ve arrived at the “R” word. His company was acquired and though he’s looked for work for over a year, it’s been sparse pickings. Age discrimination? I’ve just finished a novel, but can I sell it? Luckily, we think we saved enough to live comfortably into our old age, barring another financial crash. In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. We’ve lived through it all.

Looking back, would I do anything differently in terms of our financial picture? I actively encourage both my daughters to plan on working at least part time when and if they have kids. I loved being a stay-at-home mom—and I was convinced it was necessary to ensure that my kids had the best childhood they could have. But I’ve changed my mind. I think kids can survive in good daycare just fine, and frankly, I’ve seen too many marriages end with the non-working partner winding up in a tough place, financially—and let’s face it, it’s often the woman, even today. I was lucky because my husband and I both felt I was an equal partner. Managing our money, as well as our family life, helped empower me in our marriage.

Marriage, Money, and the Long Haul | A Practical Wedding

Still, I cherish the life and family we made together. Our financial decisions and our enduring partnership now mean we’ll have a roof over our heads and some soup on the hearth come what may. And hopefully, some golden years with each other, our family and friends.

Photos by: Karen & Stephen’s personal collection, final photo by Gabriel Harber Photography

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  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.com/ Amanda

    Thanks for sharing this. It helps put things in perspective, the fact that we decided to live in a country where my husband has a good job… and I have a job, but not in my field (which to be honest kills me when I start thinking to much about it).
    It is the big picture that matters and we are in it together… And what an exciting life, Japan, England…

  • http://minnesota-chic.com PA

    It’s so nice to hear from someone who is acknowledging regrets and other options, but from such a positive place emotionally (and overall!). I know there will be so many things I will learn only through experience, conclusions I will come to and then discard, choices I will regret in retrospect – but that’s part of living, and you have reminded me of the most important thing: regrets are to help us as we move forward, not rule our lives and keep us looking backwards.

    I want to print out this article and tuck it away in a file folder so that I can keep reading this wisdom as the years go by!

    I wish you joy, health, and love as you move into retirement!

  • Amy March

    This is just like my mom’s story. She was the financial manager of our house, and shepherded us through multiple international moves, all the while complaining that companies shouldn’t be able to get away with assuming wives will coordinate everything. She stayed home most of our childhood, and then went back to college and became a nurse. She has always told us to work, even when our kids are tiny, because she has seen too many of her friends’ 30 year marriages fall apart. Even when they have ample financial resources and alimony, they haven’t had a role other than wife to fall back on.

    • http://www.notintentonarriving.blogspot.com Kristin

      My mother’s also given me the same advice. She says, “If you’re lucky enough to not have to work, and there’s no promise that you ever will be, then volunteer. You have to have some skills and something to show for yourself because nothing in life is ever certain and you need to be able to depend on yourself.”

      (Coincidentally, she’s also a nurse!)

  • DKR

    Wow, what an amazing, inspiring story. Thank you for writing this, Karen, and I wish you and your family many years of health and happiness. All the best to you!

    And a point of curiosity: Karen writes about multiple international moves with such grace, and I know the moves couldn’t be as easy as they sound here – leaving family in California, visa/immigration paperwork, learning a new language, acclimating to a new culture, etc. Could we get a conversation going on this topic? I’m curious how the folks here who have done this navigated it.

    • Hanna

      I think moving in general (especially early in a marriage) would be a great post/series for APW.

      • H

        Yeah, I would also vote for a moving week. Last week I actually searched APW for advice on moving in together. Blargh.

        • Kat

          yes… moving in together advice! We’ve been living together for almost a year now, pre-marriage, and there were so many curveballs that I NEVER could have imagined.

          Negotiating grocery shopping aisles and the halls of Ikea often left me in frustrated, hurt, angry, tired tears… not because we don’t get along or shouldn’t be together but because, “What do you mean you would’ve rather spent $15.00 on the large can of Nestea mix instead of $3.00 on the same sized WalMart brand iced tea! I thought you preferred buying the cheaper stuff because it was cheaper! I’m trying to be thrifty for you!”

          Or the similar experience a newly married friend had with her hubby: “Why did you buy the off-brand Ketchup?! It’s Heinz or nothing!”

          I found moving in together was like relearning how I did everything in life from cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, to shopping and cooking together.

          • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

            No joke: Grocery shopping was the single most horrific thing we dealt with when moving in together.

          • angela

            no joke. we didn’t plan on moving in together until we got/get married (two weeks from now!) but we ended up finding/buying a house earlier… now that the adjustment dust has settled we talk about how glad we are that we didn’t have to deal with that fresh after a wedding.

            my favorite “what the hell am i doing” conversation was fiance calling from the produce section to ask me what a nectarine was. he still laughs about me being unable to figure out how to tell if the front door is locked without turning it to make sure.

          • Liz

            You have seen the 30 Rock episode where Liz and Kriss go to IKEA. Riiiight?

          • http://prettypicturesbydanielle.tumblr.com/ Danielle

            Ikea = Hell. A Swedish, modernist hell.

          • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyEF

            We always joke that surviving ikea was like the relationship olympics. Everytime we make it through without yelling at each other and startling all the screaming kids, it feels like we should be lead to a podium.

          • http://twitter.com/whitney923 Whitney

            Grocery shopping itself has been okay, but we don’t combine our finances, so the who-pays-for-groceries is our issue.

            I think a moving in together series would be great! Chores, finances, decorating (what do you mean, you don’t want to keep my [INSERT UGLY BACHELOR ITEM]), combining belongings (why do we have to get rid of my set of dishes and keep yours), etc.

          • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

            Three years later, I still can’t grocery shop with Forrest. I do it normally so it’s like a field trip for him to pick out All The (Unhealthy) (And Expensive) Things. I’m a get-in-and-get-out shopper and I know how everything fits into our food budget so I get realllyyy frustrated.

          • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

            David makes grocery lists according to the layout of our co-op. So produce first, meat section last, etc. But then the list is also organized as to where each food item appears WITHIN each section. His grocery lists have SUBSECTIONS, people.

            I just kinda make my list as the items appear in my head, or according to whatever recipe I’m making. Meaning that I double back and even triple back sometimes to pick up things I missed the first time down the aisle. This doesn’t bother me in the least, as I find grocery shopping inspirational, but according to David it’s “Inefficient (capital “I”)” and pisses him off probably more than most things on earth.

            We both love to cook and each do it often, separately and jointly, so we both have a stake in grocery shopping and the way it’s done. It is not uncommon to find us glaring venomously at one another across the potato bin.

          • Liz

            Our version of this debate centers around stocking up at the grocery store. I like to buy lots of the same things so I only have to shop a few times a month, with quick trips if necessary. It’s taken him years to get that I don’t do this so he can EAT ALL THE THINGS in the first couple days after shopping…

          • CBaker

            We spent the first couple months at our new house with me yelling up the stairs for him “turn the @*! hallway light on so I can walk through here without tripping!”

            Then I realized there was an alternate switch about three inches from where I would stand and holler. Woops.

          • Denzi

            Tom does our shopping, and I am slowly trying to add foods that I like to his list. (I haaaaaaate shopping, unless it involves me buying too many books.)

            But more than that, his method of grocery shopping is to wander around the store, because he is super anti-authority and so likes to defy the grocery store layout and the sensible up-and-down-the-aisles groove.

            Drives me batty, is a little hilarious, and hey, I never have to do the grocery shopping again! Totally worth it.

          • Tina

            YES to the 30 Rock Ikea comment that I can’t reply to directly. I was hoping someone would bring it up. Cracks me up every time.

        • http://somethingshavehappened.blogspot.co.uk/ Siobhan

          When we moved in together grocery shopping was exciting and easy.

          It was easy as we had no money, so we bought what we could afford, no more no less.

          He had moved from Canada to England to be with me as I was the one of us who could get work (the original plan had been for me to move there). It’s odd how sometimes more adversity makes these things sort of easier? I think it makes you see how little of that stuff matters and helps you to just get on with it.

      • http://www.thewovenway.com Rebecca

        I’ve always wondered what sort of post I could write for APW–this one could definitely be it. In the Summer of 2010, I did the following:
        A) graduated from college,
        B) visited my sister in Japan for the month May,
        C) spent June and July gathering belongings from two states (AR-husband + MO-me), having a giant garage sale, and dumping what was left in our new place in TN,
        D) went back to AR for wedding and then off to the honeymoon, and
        FINALLY landed in TN in August, a single day before his seminary (and there’s a whole ‘nother can of worms: I’m gonna be a priest’s wife! Cue reaction–”Wait, they can have those??”) orientation started.

        While some of our experiences aren’t typically replicated (such as arriving in your new community with a U-Haul and a cooler of beer for the move-in volunteers, only to see they’ve already gotten started on a cooler of their own, and still move all your stuff in under 30 minutes), I’m sure I could reach back for a few tid-bits that helped. Honestly, my biggest concern was what it would be like getting to know people who didn’t know me before marriage… esp. since he’s the outgoing one. I was worried about just getting lumped together in some amorphous blob of combined persona. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

        • http://twitter.com/whitney923 Whitney

          If your “new place in TN” is where I suspect it is, it is one of my favorite spots in the world. :) I never lived there, but I love it.

          You could write about being (or going to be) a clergy spouse. That’s got to be some interesting marital ground to walk.

          • http://www.thewovenway.com Rebecca

            Whitney, if you know Sewanee, you probably know right where I live. As in the exact neighborhood and everything… and it really does deserve all the love it evokes. “We live here!” is a common refrain of wonderment/disbelief in our house (well, really, outside of it–around campus or in the woods).

            The whole clergy spouse thing is definitely interesting, especially some of the advice/comments you get from older spouses. I’m not sure I really have enough for a post, because I haven’t hit clergy spouse yet, and seminarian spouse isn’t quite as fraught with social implications… We’re in a little Episco-bubble right now, which makes things relatively easy. Cracking liturgical jokes in the real world might not win us many dinner party invites, though.

          • http://www.notintentonarriving.blogspot.com Kristin

            Rebecca, I know you said you’re not there yet, but I’d also really love to see a post from this perspective. Maybe one day – or maybe one of the older spouses could be interested!

        • MDBethann

          More power to you and best wishes as a clergy spouse. I grew up a Lutheran PK (pastor’s kid) and always felt that my mom occupied this weird little niche that not a lot of people understood, and I’m not sure she always did either. It’s definitely an interesting and different life. There are some perks, but like the “priests can have wives??” reactions you’ve received, there are A LOT of preconceived notions and stereotypes out there about clergy and their families and you will likely deal with stuff like this all the time. You just end up patiently educating a lot of people so they realize that you are a normal person, just like them.

      • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyEF

        Yessss! We’re moving across the country so that my intended can go to school. Even though we already live together, I’d love to see some perspectives on building a new home in a new place at the very beginning of your marriage. Right now, I’m scared out of my mind.

        • Hypothetical Sarah

          One of my cousins told me that living somewhere new and away from your family for the first few years of marriage can be liberating. It gives you room to find yourselves and each other without families meddling (as they are wont to do). I’m not sure if I agree — I’d love to be near my family — but I’ll find out. We’re moving to a new country a few months after our wedding.

          • http://www.thewovenway.com Rebecca

            We moved our stuff right before our marriage and ourselves right after. Personally, I’ve really liked being far enough away from family, but not TOO far. We’re an 8-9 hour drive away from either side. We were very clear from the get-go that we wouldn’t be going to both places at the holidays (alternating families with holidays instead), and though it’s sad to miss things, it’s saved us so much grief/travel. Thankfully, we don’t have to factor in children at this point.
            Being away from friends has been hard, but I’ve been able to see most people once a year so far. I’m hoping that as we get older, groups of friends will be able to set aside a long weekend to vacation together every year, but we’ll see.

            I mentioned this in a comment above, but for me the scariest part wasn’t what I was leaving, but what I was getting into… I was scared that when I met people who only knew me as a married person it would change how I was perceived and make it harder to make close friends (not true!). The BIGGEST help in moving to a really, really small town/school community was getting a job that was unrelated to the other social circles I was in by default. I work at a little cafe–so I’ve made friends with other employees and our regulars.

            Overall, it’s been a great experience, though the biggest move is still ahead: one more year of school for my spouse, ordination (God willing!), and then the Bishop of our diocese will tell us where we are going. Which is nerve-wracking on one hand, but also a huge blessing in that we aren’t going to have to be on the job hunt all next year.

    • http://elissarphotography.com Elissa

      I’ve personally been waiting for Lauren McGlynn to write a post about it, since she moved from Texas to Scotland with a small business and a new marriage (from what I understand). Lauren, I’m calling you out! Will you please write this? :) :)

    • Karen Clayton

      Moving abroad is not something to be taken lightly. When Stephen and I moved to Japan for the second time, we met with two American lawyers and their ex-wives to talk about their experience working with the same Japanese law firm Stephen was going to be working for. The stay in Japan had effectively broken up both marriages, because the spouses were unprepared and unenthusiastic in the first place and really hated it in the long run. I remember Stephen and I leaving that dinner meeting and feeling very sobered. One profound difference is that I spoke Japanese well, and – more importantly, I had the mindset of an amateur cultural anthropologist – I was interested in learning about Japanese culture (and later, English culture) and Japanese people.
      There were a lot of tough things. I had to fight to keep Elizabeth in my hospital room after she was born and to go home on day nine after my c-section. I was aware, though, that I was fighting against the cultural stream, and I did it anyway. That’s the key – to be aware, to be sensitive, but realize who you are, what your own cultural background is and how that has shaped you.

    • S.

      Our journey so far has taken us from together (in the US) to apart (me: UK; him: Asia), to long-distance engagement, to choosing to be together (a rejected UK visa application, followed by secret immigration elopement, followed by successful visa application. stupid.) with long business trips apart. Our Official Wedding is next month and we’re planning to move to China together in the fall.

      The part I can’t speak to yet — because I’m too deep in the middle of it right now — is how to handle/navigate the situation when a couple’s geographic needs are conflicting or mutually exclusive. We’re facing that this summer, starting less than a month after our wedding, and it’s been the source of many tears.

      • http://www.abuttercreamwedding.com Sara C.

        Yes. This May my fiancee will get married and then the very next day leave for two different cities for work reasons. Why yes, we are spending the first 3 months of married life living apart. (I don’t really want to think about it…I think my heart is already starting to build a fortress to protect it and I’m trying to keep that from happening). The long term outlook for when we will live together/apart is far from certain. (And, by the way, I’m tired of people looking down on me because I’m not following him (and I couldn’t get a job there, but that’s another post) and no one is asking him why he doesn’t follow me. grrr.)

    • meg

      We’ve never gotten A SINGLE POST on moving or moving in together! So, if you guys want to band together and make it happen, that would be great. David and I moved in together (and across country) five years ago, and I’m not sure I have anything to say about it (then or now). In the interpersonal ways, it was one of the easiest things we’ve ever done. Though I could tell you how the first night at our apartment was the day the final Harry Potter book came out, and we stayed up reading it by lamplight (since SOMEONE had forgotten to get the electricity turned on).

      • CBaker

        My man and I moved in together just over a year ago. AND WOW, I would love some dialogue on THAT experience. He is the absolute, hands-down, best roommate I have ever had, but moving away from your community is hard.

        Submitted a post, but would love to read about others’ experiences.

        • MDBethann

          My FH is the best roommate I’ve ever had too – we bought our house 2 years ago and it has been a great experience. But I think that was because we consciously made the decision to get a new place together instead of having one of us move in to the other person’s space. And in some ways, we got closer to our community – we now live closer to friends than we did before.

          But I too would love to see some posts and discussions on moving in together – sometimes it works really well and sometimes it has its challenges.

      • Bears fan

        I second a moving week post. I just moved into a new place with the boyfriend last week. So far we’ve survived combining two apartments into a new apartment on a rainy day in Brooklyn — I did the driving, he and friends did the physical lifting of stuff. Despite all the unpacked boxes and strewn clothes (we only have one tiny closet), it’s been bliss at home.

        So far, we fit each other well. But it’s still early and I’d love to read discussion about the unforeseen challenges of this experience that others have had.

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      Yes, navigating the immigration process, then making a life in a different culture and language is certainly challenging. And exciting. And if you and your spouse come from two different cultures, there are additional layers to that, of course. Honestly, my experience ended up being more challenging than I had expected it to be, considering I already spoke the language before I moved. Maybe I will think about writing something about this, because it is something I have been reflecting on for a few years now (since around the time I moved)….

  • Ceebee

    Oh momma you’re gorgeous as much as you’re wise and strong

  • rys

    First, what amazing pictures! Especially from the older years, and that black and white one is just stunning.

    Second, it’s wonderful to read a retrospective that isn’t saccharine and instead talks about hard decisions and regrets alongside highlights and learned wisdom. It feels so much more real that way, since life is ultimately about learning and growing, much of which happens from hard, possibly-foolish-at-the-time, uncertain, risky, poor, wacky, unclear experiences.

  • carrie

    Thank you so much for this, Karen. I loved every bit of this post; I’ve loved every post from the Richer for Poorer weeks because it’s made me think about things differently. Which is strange, because I’m close with my parents and we talk about money, retirement. But I suppose I needed to step back and see what 40 years looks like somewhere else, where I wasn’t the child (although its 26 years for my mom and stepdad).

    Meg has talked about inspiring people to do things in the real world, and I can report that we are making some changes at home with our finances. Mainly because these posts have made me think a lot, and so David and I talked a lot. Thanks, APW and everyone who has contributed.

  • http://www.abuttercreamwedding.com Sara C.

    Wow. wow. WOW. You, your family, and your writing – brilliant & stunning.

    Also, I love the fact that even though this was a post about money & marriage, when I’m done reading all I’m left with is Feeling. . Smiles, a sense of joy in the world, and hope for my own soon-to-be baby family’s future.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/Molpol Molly

    Oh gosh, this made me all teary – what an impressive life and such a quietly inspiring lady and marriage. I hope to have achieved as much and lived as fully when I retire. This article even made me feel good about my own life – I am really kind of proud of myself that I recognise some of my own good sense and financial habits in the way that Karen and her husband have lived. Wow – Karen, I think you’re great!

  • http://suburbaliciousliving.blogspot.com Lauren

    Little Elizabeth!!! So cute!

    • Maddie

      Right?!

      • Elizabeth @ Lowe House

        Little known fact: I was a baby model in Japan. There’s a framed magazine cover in my parents’ house to prove it!

        • meg

          Except it’s not a little known fact, because Elizabeth totally brings it up in conversation ;)

          • Elizabeth @ Lowe House

            Meg, most people reading this site don’t hang out socially with me ;)

  • http://averyhappyaccident.blogspot.com Alice

    How I love this! I so want to hear from more long haulers! I love reading the posts by others new to marriage (or relatively new) but there is a bit of a lack in the wise and experienced category. Everyone go harass your mamas and make them submit a post to APW!

  • http://www.notintentonarriving.blogspot.com Kristin

    This is wonderful. I think seeing how much someone can grow and change in forty years is so important – both the pictures and the words. Things rarely work out the way we plan them, but they always work out, and I think this whole post really speaks to that. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • http://weehermione.blogspot.com Hayley

    I love this. My parents have been married 26 years and my mom recently confided in me that she really thought they wouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck at this point in their lives (they started their marriage living in a basement apartment), but they still are. Between jobs that didn’t pay well (teaching!), disabilities and the medical bills that go with them, failed business ventures, and having three kids, they have struggled and struggled to make ends meet, and yet they’re together, and the money (lack thereof) hasn’t driven a wedge in their lives. And that gives me a lot of hope for when my husband and I also are broke and struggling.

    We (as a family) never had the money to buy new clothes (we got to go to a charity a few times a year to pick out stuff for free because my dad worked with the troubled youth program which gave teachers the “hookup” with that on certain days) (great benefit, huh? You get to pick out clothes from this charity!) (it was like Christmas to us kids) and money was always something I was keenly aware of. And I think that’s okay. Because I also learned that lacking money is a struggle that you can get through. Money buys a sense of security, absolutely, so in a way money can buy that comfort that can bring a sense of happiness. But without it, you aren’t doomed.

    • Karen Clayton

      I couldn’t afford to buy “new” clothes for many years of our marriage. My beloved grandmother used to buy my “nice” outfits every Christmas and birthday, and my mother was an amazing seamstress -she sewed my wedding dress from a Betsy Johnson pattern and made my honeymoon “trousseau” – which I wore for years! But, you’ve got the point, as have many others, that though money doesn’t buy happiness, it does lend a sense of security that is important as we age. It’s that feeling of still having prospects.

  • http://www.stitch-witch.net Christina McPants

    Every once in a while, one of the posts/wedding grads make me go ‘I wish I knew them in real life because they sound awesome.’ This is one of those. Thank you for sharing!

  • http://emiliajanephotography.com Emilia

    Oh Karen! I had the joy of meeting Elizabeth just a couple months ago, and getting this glimpse into your family and marriage gives me so much hope!! I needed this today, thank you :-)

  • Claire

    Like others have mentioned, I really love how the author is able to convey a sense of satisfaction and pride with the life and family she has built with her husband, while also admitting to some regret and wistfulness for the path not taken and the sacrifices she made to make that life possible. This really captures the rich complexity of real life. So often it’s easy to think in terms of black and white; decisions are classified as either good or bad. This oversimplification ignores the massive gray area. This post beautifully illustrates how difficult choices can be both good and bad, both cherished and regrettable.

    And this quote is definitely food for thought: “I’ve seen too many marriages end with the non-working partner winding up in a tough place, financially—and let’s face it, it’s often the woman, even today.”

  • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

    I love this! Thank you so much for sharing. :)

  • sarahdipity

    Oh this is such a lovely post. I’d be interested to hear more about handling regrets in marriage. I can imagine this post being written with another decision having been made and there still being regrets about the option not selected. Sometimes there isn’t a right/good decision and no matter what you do you will likely have some regrets. I’ve seen regrets sour and kill so many marriages. How do we learn to handle this in a way that is healthy for a marriage? So far my plan/approach has been to be honest and communicative but also realistic and realize that choices must be made.

    • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

      I’m not married yet, so my regrets haven’t withstood the test of time at this point, but expressing them and having them acknowledged by my partner has been a significant part of accepting them in my life and giving me the peace of mind to move forward.

      The biggest one (though not finacial): due to my partner’s legal and, of course, moral responsibilities and obligations as a guardian and caretaker of his mentally disabled sister, we had to move to Minnesota, where he grew up, permanently. I have spent my whole life on the East Coast, and ALL my friends and family are there. There is no option, ever, of us moving back. And this has been HARD for me. I’ve been in the Mid West for three years now, and sometimes the homesickness is so acute that I have trouble getting out of bed (though less and less often, now).

      But I realized when we made this decision to move together, that I had to accept it. It was a choice that I made. I could have chosen to end my relationship and stay on the East Coast. But I didn’t. I would rather be with him here, than without him back there. And that means not blaming him for where we live. But it’s still hard. So I talk to him, a lot, about how it is hard. And because I’ve taken ownership of my part of the choice, I’m not resentful–and I was SO TERRIFIED of being resentful. Regretful? Of course. Planning a wedding away from my mother and sister and best friend is so hard. But I can feel that sadness, be wistful for the life I won’t live, and fully embrace the one that I will. And for me, talking about that with David often, and having him validate those feelings, has been huge for me.

      APW has talked often, in posts and comments, about grieving for the path not taken. In fact, APW is the place that introduced me to that idea, put a name to the immense things I was feeling, and gave me permission to feel that way. So, thanks again Team Practical.

      • http://prettypicturesbydanielle.tumblr.com/ Danielle

        Aww. HUG.

      • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

        Kelly, you just told me something I really needed today. That part about not being resentful because you’ve taken ownership of your part of the choice-that was solid gold, and so wise. In the future, when I’m worried about feeling resentful about a choice I make with Erik, I’ll remember what you wrote!

      • http://ahobbitatheart.blogspot.com/ rachel

        Regretful, not resentful. Good perspective. I am also an East Coast transplant to the frozen tundra of Minnesota. I miss my family terribly even though I have lived here six years now, especially since I have a baby who rarely gets to see his grandparents and aunts. While we aren’t tied down to MN, it is also the only place we have found work, so I think we will be here for the long haul. While I still grieve for my beloved Maryland, I am also enjoying building a brand new life here- there is a great deal to love about Minnesota (which I NEVER thought I would say).

        • http://againstthegrain2013.blogspot.com/ Skittle

          I grieve on a daily basis for Maryland, and I’m only on the outskirts of Philadelphia. At least I have the option to drive down and visit when the yearning gets to be too much. I can’t imagine being so far away from my roots. We discussed last week about marriage being brave, and just letting go enough to love someone being brave, but there is a bravery here, too.

          • Karen Clayton

            I grieved for California when I was living abroad the third time – my mother died during that time and I jetted back and forth from Japan to California trying to help during her illness while keeping my young family going – so I know what it’s like to really miss a place, family and friends, to be heartsick about it even, to feel pulled in different directions. Having said that, I’ve never lived in a place I didn’t come to love on a deep level. I have such a deep affection for Japan and England, and all the other places I’ve lived in the U.S. When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, I couldn’t watch the news without crying.

          • kayakgirl73

            I miss Maryland too and I’m just across the River in Virginia.

        • Aimee

          I’m in the northwestern-most reaches of Washington state for grad school and miss my home turf of MN desperately. That frozen tundra is the shape of someone’s heart…

      • CBaker

        Please, please, please write a post about your moving experience. Moving away from your community is HARD. I thought it would be easy, and that was not reality. I would love to hear what you did to cope.

  • ambi

    Thank you for this really touching (and really really informative!) post. Before I go into anything else, I want to ask you (beg you) to please consider speaking to young girls and women about financial/career decisions, just like what you shared with us in this post. Whether it is speaking to a local high school, college, church group, etc., I think you have so much knowledge and wisdom that you really need to share with more young women. Please!

    Second, I love your point about being the money manager, partially because you were more comfortable spending. My parents always struggled and had conflict over money, and I just realized that part of the problem was that my dad is much more comfortable spending, but my mom was the money manager in the home. So he would spend, without having a really clear idea of the family budget and finances, and it would make her crazy and really angry. I think it makes so much sense to have the “spender” in the family manage the finances.

    Thank you for talking so openly about career/family trade-offs and some regrets that you have had. For all we talk on this blog about making individual choices that are right for you, and supporting each woman’s choice without judgment, I think it is really important to also acknowledge that we all make choices that we regret somewhat in hindsight. When we get into a place of defending our choices and trying to justify our decisions, we sometimes forget that it is really natural and healthy and very much okay to feel like some of those choices may have been mistakes or bad decisions (not that yours were). You know, I think we are much more likely to forgive ourselves for personal-life choices and decisions that didn’t work out (all those terrible ex-boyfriends led me to where I am today and allowed me to love and appreciate the great man I have now, for example), but when it comes to career and financial decisions, we tend not to look at it the same way (we always regret the investment that lost our savings rather than viewing it as a learning experience, or at least I know I think in these terms). Thank you so much for providing a different perspective. In your post, it really came across that all of your previous adventures, struggles, decisions, and even mistakes brough you to the place you are today, made you the wise and confident woman you are now, and helped shape your entire family relationship into what you enjoy and cherish.

    Finally, I really appreciated that you talk about where you are now and worries over retirement. I think that as young people, and young couples, we kind of view financial struggle as an issue earlier in the marraige, until you become more successful and comfortable. It is really interesting to think about the fact that people in our parents’ and grandparents’ generation are still struggling with financial issues too.

    And one last note – those photos are beautiful. And not just the earliest ones; I found it unbelievably touching to see the progression of marraige, the life events and aging and ease between the two of you. Your words were incredible, but there is also something really special that you get just from looking at those pictures.

    Wonderful post! Thank you!!!!

    • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

      Agree whole-heartedly about the pictures. Such a deeply moving visual progression.

    • Karen Clayton

      To all the lovely comments about resentment and regret: There is a difference between regret and resentment, and I have to honestly say sometimes that line got blurred for me. But I have observed that resentment is corrosive in a relationship, so while it might have popped up for me now and then, it is never a place I wanted to linger for very long. I might add that I like to talk things out, and Stephen’s eyes cross when he thinks I’m flogging a dead horse. However, we seem to have worked it out over the years, and especially lately. Marriage is a lifelong process and I’m not sure you ever get to a place of pure bliss that lasts forever. But, from what I’ve seen in even older couples now in their 80′s, if you hang in there, there is a sweetness which stems from having gone the distance with the person who is not only your spouse, your beloved, but also your best friend, the companion on your pilgrimage to life’s end.

      • meg

        “Marriage is a lifelong process and I’m not sure you ever get to a place of pure bliss that lasts forever. But, from what I’ve seen in even older couples now in their 80′s, if you hang in there, there is a sweetness which stems from having gone the distance with the person who is not only your spouse, your beloved, but also your best friend, the companion on your pilgrimage to life’s end.”

        I think this is so great, and missing from so much of the current dialoge about marriage. I’m lucky, in that my parents are just two years away from *their* fortieth, and everyone else in my family is or was long and happily married… so I have a lot of women giving me advice quietly. And the advice is always things like, “Good days and bad days? Try good YEARS and bad YEARS!” and “If you don’t want to murder them some of the time, you’re probably not doing it right.” So knowing all of that can exist, and you can still make it to forty or fifty years happy, and glad you stuck it out, is so helpful. Because then when you really want to kill them RIGHT NOW, or you can’t figure out how to get out of the state of awfulness you’re in, you know you’re still doing something right. And then you take a deep breath, maybe call a therapist or your mom or your friend, and keep on going. And for me (though obviously not always for everyone) that’s always been worth it.

        • Maddie

          This and Karen’s comment above are some of the wisest pieces of advice I’ve ever gleaned from APW (and I know they’ve been said before, so it just endears the message to my heart even more to hear it again).

          I just want to make sure everyone is listening. :)

        • AliceMay

          I was fascinated, and inspired, by advice along similar lines given in the book ’30 Lessons for Living’, which came out of interviews with 1500 Americans over the age of 65. On the chapter on marriage, two of the most striking things which came up repeatedly were that almost without exception, every married couple said that there came a point in their marriage when they came incredibly close to calling it quits. But that also without exception, none regretted making that choice to persevere. Although I agree (and the book also supports this) that there are cases for ending a marriage, I found this knowledge from those who have gone the long haul to be empowering. Just as striking, however, was the explanation many of them gave for the motivation behind their perseverence. Often cited was a belief in the objective goodness of marriage, which they often contrasted to the subjective view of the goodness of marriage more often presented today. That is, for them, marriage was a good thing in and of itself, regardless of whether at any given moment it was bringing the personal satisfaction (and therefore they had reason to persevere even when it didn’t), In contrast. in much contemporary discourse, it is presented as something which is good because (and therefore only when) it bring me happiness, and thus gives us little reason to continue with it at times when it doesn’t. Clearly this argument is more complex than this summary, but I found the observation compelling.

          http://www.amazon.com/30-Lessons-Living-Advice-Americans/dp/1594630844/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1312684025&sr=1-1

          The marriage section of the project can be found here:
          http://legacyproject.human.cornell.edu/category/love-and-marriage/

      • MDBethann

        I find the discussion about regret interesting because while it is all something we feel at some point in our lives, what we don’t know is whether or not the “path not taken” would have actually been better than the one we did take or gotten us to a different place. Frankly, the path not taken could be a lot worse than the one you took; you just don’t know and can’t know because you didn’t take it. But I think we often romanticize the “other path” – just look at the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side.”

        A wonderful post Karen – thank you!

  • http://corrieanne.com/ Corrie Anne

    What a beautiful story. I have a feeling my husband and I will be following a similar path, and I love the way you described it. And I love that you still like each other. It was a really tough decision for me to give up a career I loved teaching in the Dominican Republic to move to the US (where my husband has a MUCH more financially lucrative job). But I am hoping the next move is going to be a plus for this partner’s career. Man, I loved reading this! Thank you for sharing.

  • CarMar

    best post ever.

  • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

    Karen thanks so much for sharing this with us! It is soooo wonderful to look at married life from a longer range view–your story is such an excellent reminder that a tough patch can be just that, a small period of time where things are really tight in a whole lifetime together. Thanks SO much for sharing.

  • Emily Rae

    Thank you for sharing. I appreciate you sharing your regrets and your thankfulness. Many of our decisions in life mean leaving behind or walking away from something that on some level were good, or at least not bad. I really appreciate your honesty.

  • Holly

    Thank you so much for sharing Karen! Your story and your pictures are so beautiful.

  • Jessica

    Thank you so much for sharing your stories, Karen! I’ve been grappling with the idea of either leaving my job entirely or trying to work part-time when the time comes for us to have kids. It’s a really scary prospect for me, but it’s so encouraging to hear about the experiences of someone older and wiser!

  • http://www.whitneyhuynh.com Whitney Huynh

    Beautiful :)

  • http://www.glutenfreetravelette.com/ Adina | Gluten Free Travelette

    Thank you for such a wonderful and honest post! It’s comforting to see a sucessful journey of a marriage through thick and thin financial times and making tough career choices to support each other.

  • http://www.jasmineephotography.com Jasmine E.

    A very nice story. Very comforting to know that marriage is definitely a wonderful journey to be traveled together.

  • http://txtingmrdarcy.wordpress.com Txtingmrdarcy

    This is really beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Karen. Congratulations to you on many happy years together. :)

    My husband and I are in the same place financially- things are tight, but I’m the one who spends the money and handles the finances since we merged our accounts. It’s been a tricky transition, but I’m sure it will get easier.

  • Emily Rae

    I am really taking your advice to heart, Karen. I want you to know that! I’m currently in legal limbo in my new country and cannot work. Selfishly I love it, but I KNOW it’s not good, for either my future or my present (I am not very disciplined, and have turned into the proverbial lazy stay-at-homer.) I also worry sometimes about what would happen if something were to happen to my marriage or partner, how I would take care of myself. We are also facing challenges with the future of our money, as today 22% job cuts were implemented at my partner’s workplace. Keeping the potential for future opportunities more open has become more important than ever.

  • Ashley/ Ailee

    Wow, thank you so very much for writing and sharing this! All of the posts in the For Richer or Poorer category have been so relevant and meant so much to normalizing my experience and not feeling like I’m DOING ALL THE THINGS WRONG. Growing up we were upper middle class, and then my parents started a business in 2006- and then right when profits were starting to generate in a serious way, 2008 happened, and my parents lost the business, their house, and declared bankruptcy. Seeing my mother (who is the breadwinner and wasn’t too thrilled about the risk involved with starting a business) get a second job and do whatever it takes while still maintaing the strong, best friends relationship that she and my father have has given me a personal perspective on a marriage (20 years this September) that has gone through extreme highs and lows financially.

    I also fall in the moving around/moving in category: I moved from LA county to Berkeley for college, then to DC for a semester exchange, then back to CA, then to NYC to work for a nonprofit with my FH (who moved from California to Las Vegas to NYC ).

    Working at the nonprofit plunged us into a level of poverty I hadn’t experienced before (a $200/wk stipend pre-tax) that with our student loans- that were supposed to be deferred while we worked there then SURPRISE! weren’t- and my high medical bills from being diagnosed with severe endomtriosis and needing to have an ovary removed RIGHT when I technically graduated and was therefore without coverage- meant that we were really feeling the strain. It got so bad that I developed some pretty debilitating mental health issues, and the Doctor at the clinic prescribed me somthing that made me scarily exhausted and gain about 40 pounds. So basically let’s add depression, anxiety, and add on heap of old fashioned severe insecurity. (My mother was a model for several years, and was 115lbs when she was SEVEN MONTHS pregnant with me).

    I left the nonprofit after realizing it wasn’t okay to be miserable and have an organization tell you that you should be for the “greater good”, and after landing a job that had actual benefits and an actual salary I was elated. And then miserable, all over again. As blessed as I felt to finally have gotten out of the hell of obvious poverty, I seriously hated my job. It was Meg’s posts about her experience being an Administrative Assistant that made me buck up and deal with it until I could find something better ( as my FH, who had put his heart and soul into the kids we were working with, was fired after an organization sponsor claimed to have seen him at a restaurant having a beer with lunch in his volunteer uniform. Other workers at the nonprofit showed up at schools drunk, high, had sex in teacher’s classrooms, and remained, but when someone with a checkbook called in, he was out with no questions asked). APW also helped me see that we BOTH ultimately deserved better, and that life wasn’t over yet.

    It was hard, as it was his dream to move to NY, and mine to do something of impact in the world, but I went through different periods of resentment, especially since I played (and continue to play to some extent) the role of breadwinner, money manager, house manager, and overall President of All The Things. Due to our personalities, interests, and skills, I will probably always be the breadwinner and always be the house/money manager. But pre-maritial counseling and communication has helped so much, and honestly all of the hardship has further cemeted how much I know that he is definitely the person I want to go through whatever life gives. Sorry this was all over the place- once I started typing it became kind of therapuetic. Yay for APW!!

  • http://www.armyamy.wordpress.com Army Amy*

    I loved reading about your experiences and soaking up your wisdom, but I Loved (capital L) looking at the pictures! Seeing y’all age, and grow, and change, and to know that you had life adventures and hard times, but that you still love each other. Sigh. So good!*

  • Lys

    I’m really grateful for this post. It contains the type of guidance I try to piece together from my parents and in-laws.

    There’s something consistent, though, about how these ultimately affluent role models mythologize their early-20s poverty. I know they want to reassure us, but my husband and I are in our mid- to late 20s now, and the world looks different. Graduating into a terrible recession, being chronically underemployed, depending on loans and assistance for grad school – are we already too old, or the system too broken, to financially recover and achieve what our parents did?

    • meg

      Well. I think things looked pretty similar in the 70′s, it was a bleak period. But look, I don’t have the opportunity to not honor those stories. Both of my grandmothers survived the Great Depression, and when the one that’s still alive says what we’re going through is NOTHING LIKE the Depression, I nod, because she’s right. It’s bad. But it’s not that bad, thanks to things like unemployment insurance and food stamps. It’s not 25% unemployment and bread lines. And if they could survive that, we’ll make it. But I think the point is sort of what Liz said yesterday. If it doesn’t get better (and one of my grandmothers was very poor for a long time after the depression) it’s ok too. Hard. But ok.

      • Lys

        I really didn’t mean that I don’t honor those stories or appreciate how privileged I am. The biggest difference between the late ’70s recession and today, though, is the staggering degree of income inequality. The United States has an outrageously poor Gini coefficient for such a rich country.

        If I truly believed the future would be better, I could accept “hardship” in our lifetime. In fact, I think that optimistic sacrifice is at the heart of the American mythology. But right now I don’t believe that. And I’m uncomfortable with just accepting, let alone valorizing, poverty. (Not saying that’s what APW is doing; it’s just a risk of rags-to-riches or even rags-to-not-rags stories.)

        • meg

          I think… speaking personally here… the message for me is always more about accepting hardship. I don’t think the message of this post is that, “Things are hard, and they will always get better” but more “Things will be harder and easier at various points, and you can survive them.” And that’s REALLY helpful for me. I work a lot at ACCEPTING, and then changing the things I can’t tolerate. When I was really poor, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be not-poor… and somehow that was ok? David’s actually had to work really hard to get me to think about our finances as something that might improve, because I always think “where we are now is the best we’ll ever be, and there is a good chance it will get much worse.” And I just live that way. But I am NOT an optimist ;)

        • http://www.abuttercreamwedding.com Sara C.

          Right, it’s not about when you achieve a certain net worth that it all becomes better. It’s about the fact that it’s okay regardless. (And if it’s not money causing you trouble, then it will be something else. Life is cycles of ups and downs, regardless of what it happens to be spinning around at that moment.)

          What we can achieve, with a bit of grace, luck, and good karma, is a long marriage and a happy family. And that is worth far more than a pretty house. (And much harder to obtain.)

        • Lizzie

          Another big difference between the late 70s and today is that we are 30+ years further down the road to serious, game-changing environmental problems without a ton of policy or technology progress to compensate. I know this sounds WAY off topic, but it is always the first thing that comes to mind for me when I think about long-term financial planning (especially if you toss in the context of 20th century American mythologies…): how meaningful is this investment going to be in the course of my life and certainly the lives of any children we have?

          I am pretty sure that game looks different from when my parents were playing it, but whatever the rules are, it still helps to be resourceful. From that point of view, I think this post is lovely for the same reasons Meg pointed to — circumstances change, some things will come easier than others, and having someone to figure it all out with is complicated, but it can also make it easier and more worth it.

          • meg

            True about the environment… but they had nuclear holocaust to worry about in a way that we don’t (I don’t know about all APW readers, but I’m old enough to remember the oppressive feeling of growing up under that threat…). So I think signs of doom always loom, no?

          • Lizzie

            The nuclear threat hasn’t gone anywhere! It’s just more diverse and less well-publicized! But yes, you’re right, I think there will always be horsemen of the apocalypse in one form or another, and I’m not an optimist either :)

            But also, I really do think that there are real and potentially difficult lifestyle changes in housing, transportation, and food that we will need to make within our lifetimes (I think we’re just about the same age). I mean, on one level, why is that even surprising? Our grandparents and great-grandparents went through a lot of changes in theirs, just mostly in the other direction. On some days that scares me, and on other days it sounds like an interesting challenge. On almost every day, I remind my husband that part of the reason I married him is that he is very strong and good at carrying things and will make a good forager in a post-apocalyptic future, but I’m probably at least 90% kidding when I say that…

          • Lys

            One interesting challenge is figuring out what we should and shouldn’t accept with equanimity. Some things are beyond our control in the realm of luck or fate; other things are only beyond our control because they’re in somebody else’s self-interested control. When I think about systemic problems like poverty, environmental destruction, and war, I just hope my marriage will give me the strength and insight to do some good.

            Anyway, I’m happy we’re talking about this! Even if it’s kind of far afield from the original, moving post.

          • Lizzie

            Ha – it’s actually doesn’t seem that far to me. But maybe I have some mis-wired short circuit synapse in my brain between “long happy fulfilling marriage” and “societal descent into survivalist state”.

            In any case, I’m 100% on board with your statement about your marriage giving you strength and insight to fight for changes you want to see. That’s part of what my marriage is for me. I was a much angrier and more cynical person before I met my husband, and I could be pretty destructive (mostly self-destructive, but not exclusively). Now I feel like I need to account for that differently, and that having someone who reflects my anger and fears back at me let’s me understand them better and sort out which ones are important and which really aren’t. And it somehow makes the anger that I do feel entitled to feel more actionable and less hopeless.

            So cheers to Karen and Stephen, and here is hoping that we have stories of our own that are the same in spirit (if somewhat different in particulars) to share in 40 years!

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  • Liz

    Karen, thank you so much for this. I’m one of your daughter’s lucky brides. So first I would like to say thank you for her, she blessed our day in the most wonderful ways. I know for certain that without her it would not have been nearly as joyous and stress-free.

    Second, seriously thank you for sharing this wonderful story. As a child of divorce, it is so heartening and frankly, informative, to read a story like yours.

    And the pictures, they are so wonderful and the way the progression complements your lifelong tale. Oh, I just adore every bit.

  • Suzanna

    Like water on a shriveled-up plant, this post was! How beautifully written and presented. We can have so many worries and small panics as almost-married and newly-married women here on APW, and this was like a soothing balm. Thanks for sharing, Karen.

  • http://www.mywedding.com/queerhinduvintage/ Jenni

    Congratulations on your beautiful marriage! Thank you for sharing your triumphs and hardships over the years.

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  • Karen Clayton

    One thing about getting older is that the long view really becomes longer and longer. A lot of the things that are in the way when you are younger – hormones, insecurity, what the hell is wrong with your clueless husband, hoping you’ll live long enough to see your kids through to adulthood, are behind you. I can think back on the stories I heard about my great-grandparents (we’re talking civil war time) or before that even, which now seem to be part of the stream of life to me in a profound way. When you’re young, stories of the “olden” days can seem remote, not a part of life applicable to today. At least that was true for me. But I think people in every stage of history felt life was tenuous, insecure, ready to send them into rack and ruin. And it’s true, that happened to many. Think about all the wars waged throughout history and the good people who suffered and perished in their wake. Stephen’s father and uncles all served in World War ll and suffered afterwards for years as a result. Six million Jews perished during that time and hundreds of thousands of others. The plagues in Medieval Europe wiped out 25 % of the population of Europe.

    • Karen Clayton

      And I accidentally posted the above before I was done. What I had meant to add was that God, community, family, friends, our spouses, are what we can hold onto, what can give us that centering ground to stand on when we feel anxious about life, feel we’re slipping into a “survivalist” place of anxiety. For me, the little things help: birdsong, a steaming cup of tea, a little kid’s wry observations, helping a sick or older person, petting my cat, napping in the winter sun streaming through the window, being held by my husband. I think happiness is something we must consciously work on so we can keep hope alive. As long as we breathe, there can be hope if we foster it. (I think I’m sounding like Barack Obama here!) And in conclusion, I think every generation from time immemorial has suffered with the thought that circumstances may be working against them, that times might be too tough for them to be a success- whatever that means. Our ancestors were survivors. Many of us are descendants of the survivors of the plagues that wiped out 25 % of the population in Europe in the Middle Ages and which decimated over 90% of the population in the New World between 1492- 1520. That’s pretty sobering. Yet here we are. And I have loved this stream of comments so much. It’s been such a validating, lovely experience for me. I am full of gratitude for this PW community of such eloquent readers.

  • http://somethingshavehappened.blogspot.co.uk/ Siobhan

    I love this post. One thing I feel very lucky to have had is advice from my mother about this area. Her and my Dad hit 40 years together on Sunday and as I mentioned in a reply up there, when me and my fiance first got to live in the same country times were tough.

    Speaking to her and finding out how she and my Dad coped with some bad times (and how they made them feel less bad) helped me so much. She gave me the advice to not just sit in and mourn the lack of money but sometimes go out and do free stuff so we could remember we were a couple. As he is cautious with money, and I was cautious as my money was all we had, it was difficult advice to follow but so worthwhile.

    She also told me great stories of the times they made through and so has my friend Jane who got married at 19 to her husband who was 20 and had no money, lived in house-shares and now has the most gorgeous family, gentle marriage and amazing generosity.

    I think it is great to hear stories from those who have come through. It is humbling and eye-opening and so very comforting.

  • http://knockedupknockedout.com/ one soul

    This is such a wonderful example of partnership in marriage, financial and otherwise. Thank you so very much for writing in and sharing this with us.

  • http://www.natalieromano.com Natalie

    What a beautiful example of love and marriage. Congratulations and may you have many more happy years together.

  • Susan

    Thank you for sharing your story and the emotions that coursed through you while traveling the path you set. It has inspired me to sit down to write my story, because in the end that’s who we are and that’s what we leave behind us…our stories. I hope you have many more chapters that bring smiles to your lips. Warm regards, Susan