This is What Marriage is Like Three Years After We Said “I Do”

man and woman embracing while looking at the ocean

I write this post from deep in the middle of the hardest time we have so far been through in our marriage. That may seem an odd time to choose to reflect on how our wedding might have shaped our marriage, and an unlikely position from which to reassure those newly considering the prospect of tying their lives together, but hear me out, because it’s not. I have never been more grateful for our marriage, and by extension, our wedding, than in the last year, so the timing feels ideal.

Our primary wedding day was a tidal wave of joy. It lifted us up to heights of emotional experience that I had not previously encountered, carried us along on the shoulders of our dear ones who had gathered with us from all around the world to show their support for our union, and left us washed up on the shores of married life, intangibly but inexorably changed. I am not a religious person, but our wedding ceremony was definitely a spiritual experience—we were blessed by the sheer overwhelming force of love surrounding us that day in a way that we had not, could not have expected. I know that a wedding does not feel this way for everyone, and why should it—our weddings are surely as individual as ourselves—but I am a sensitive person, and that state of rapture which marked the beginning of our marriage has served as a welcome template for countering distress on the most ordinary of our days since.

Popular wisdom tells us that the first year of marriage is the hardest. Based on our experience of the last three years, I beg to differ. Our first year of married life was magical. The first few months were a long, slow comedown from the transcendental high of our wedding day, and the rest an extended honeymoon in which we played at this novel game of being husband and wife. All felt new, all was delightful, still bathed in the afterglow of the intense emotion radiating out from the day on which it began.

Year number two felt rather different, as we bedded down into the mundane but gritty reality of our marriage. It was a year in which big decisions were made and future plans laid involving careers, joint finances and expanding our family. It certainly had challenges of its own, including moving house, and parental illness, but also felt full of possibility—the same possibility bred and realised on our wedding day. As we made our plans and coped with the derailments of those that life occasionally threw at us, I came to more fully understand that within this marriage, as on our wedding day, we can make anything happen. No small revelation, that one.

But it was this year that I really gained an appreciation for the saying, ‘begin as you mean to go on’ as it applied to our marriage, and became truly thankful for those no less distant feelings of bliss that could be called upon to lift me up again when life was seriously hammering me down.

Without that emotional safety net, it would have been all too easy to despair, or dismiss our third year of marriage as ‘that really shitty one in which things just didn’t happen for us’, instead of seeing it as the valuable fire that it was, forging us into braver, truer versions of ourselves. (Although, it really has been shitty.) In the last year, there has been impending unemployment, infertility, and geographical separation, among others. Contending with any one of those in a year would have been a big enough deal, so all of them at once? Trying times, let me tell you. It was without doubt the hardest year that we have been through in all our years together, but with the help of loving friends and family, we withstood it with grace and love, emerging strengthened, and almost as full of laughter as we were at the very beginning. A little more wary (and weary) perhaps, certainly more worn, but still as joyful as we were when we giddily wound our way home at the close of our wedding day.

So there it is: joy. Despite having endured our most difficult year, the primary emotion that comes to mind when I think of our marriage is still joy; the most common sound to echo round my heart in response, laughter. That near-spiritual bliss still exists in its most pure and unadulterated form. Because, as my beloved helpfully reminded me after a storm of tears following yet another disappointment, nothing has essentially changed since that first exhilarating day. Our external circumstances may look rather different, but at its heart our marriage is still just him and me—to be sure, him and me lifted up and carried along on the shoulders of our loved ones, who remain as supportive now as they were then—and for him and me, as wonderfully demonstrated on our wedding day, that joy runs deep. As it was at the beginning, so it is now, and so it shall hopefully be till the end—immeasurably joyous.

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  • We’re less than 5 months out at this point, and it’s exactly the idea of the joy, of being lifted up on the shoulders of our community that has made it all worth it so far. We had a bridal shower yesterday and I was overwhelmed by the support we felt by the eight members of our community who showed up with tea and fruit and champagne and homemade bagels, there just to celebrate and support our relationship. Pretty magical.

    And what a wonderful way to ring in 2012 on APW. Happy New Year, all!

  • I cannot think of two better words to kick off 2012 than how you ended your post – immeasurably joyous! (runner up = laughter) Cheers!

  • I needed to read this, this morning. Thank you for sharing it. I always think it is so fascinating to see the paths that others’ marriages take them through. Our first year was similar to your third year, I think, in that those huge, terrible things just happened to hit us then: double unemployment, deaths in the family and other family crises, etc. But, yes, our marriage is still joyous.

    Thank you for your words.

  • liz

    I’m excited for many more years of joy for you two. xo

  • LPC

    Down the road, post-divorce, serious relationship. There it is: joy. Untrammeled joy, unadulterated, rich. Much love to you Marchelle, to you and yours in the New Year.

  • Beautiful.

    You are so eloquent in describing how love can help us through a difficult time … and a reminder that our wedding is a time that we can gather a reserve of love and joy to help bring us through.

  • JT

    This post was beautifully written and an inspiring start to the APW new year.

    I loved this:
    “Our external circumstances may look rather different, but at its heart our marriage is still just him and me…”

    Words that I will try to keep in mind as my husband and I venture forth into an uncertain future. No matter the circumstances, our marriage will still be just him and me.

  • Class of 1980

    This weekend, I went to the grocery store an hour before it closed. Two store employees, both of them teenage boys, were walking behind me. One of them was pushing a big floor sweeper and the other was keeping him company. I overheard their conversation.

    The first boy was guesstimating that he would settle down and get married in his thirties. The second boy said “Don’t you think that’s a little late?” The first boy explained that he figured it was about right according to how long it would take to finish college and establish himself. I thought it was cool that he was planning ahead and envisioning his adult life so early.

    Then the first boy said he couldn’t wait for his 18th birthday. The other one said … “Everyone looks forward to their 18th birthday and then they look forward to their 21st birthday. What is there to look forward to after that?”

    The first one said “Nothing. I guess it’s all downhill from there!”

    I turned around at that point and quipped “You guys are making me want to kill myself.” They laughed and said “Oh, sorry about that.”

    I was joking of course, but what I really wanted to say was … “You could not be more mistaken. I can’t begin to tell you how many new beginnings there will be. There is always some new adventure or development to adjust to because life never ever stands still. Even the mundane times where you think you’re in a rut are an illusion because no situation lasts. You probably will not look back on this part of your life as the pinnacle, in spite of the fact that you can’t see anything to look forward to after age 21. Life will bring you both hardships and bliss that you can hardly imagine … all the way to the end. At 53, I am still creating my life … still asking myself what I want it to be … and still looking forward.”

    As Marchelle said, everything is full of possibility.

    • Marchelle

      Lady, you are wise.

      • Class of 1980

        Wise? Or just older? ;)

        Heck. My 75-year-old mother is looking forward to her next painting and WINNING the next art show. She’s gleefully telling stories about her husband and his buddies breaking down smack in the middle of the watery Everglades where cell phones don’t work. She’s feeling joy over her new iMac*. She didn’t get the memo about life being over at 21. She laughed a lot when she was young and she’s still laughing.

        *(I hate that she’s 1,000 times more computer-literate than me.)

        • Marchelle

          In my line of work I see a lot of people for whom age and wisdom don’t correlate. Judging by the sound of your mom, wisdom definitely runs in your family. ;)

          • Class of 1980

            Thank you. ;)

  • Thank you so much for this post. Thank you for being so brave and so honest and so fantastic. Everything you say rings so true (although our challenges were different, it has also been the hardest year of our marriage so far, and my thought process has been very similar).

    You are one of the most fabulous, smart, talented, and kind people I’ve ever met, and I truly admire you for how well you’ve been coping with everything. Happy anniversary, and thank you for being in my life, dear friend. May 2012 be YOUR year.

  • Thanks for sharing this. Your writing is so, so beautiful, and pure, and raw, and true. Just wanted to send you big hugs, we are almost 2 years in (if you count since the civil wedding) and we are struggling with infertility and trying to find THE job (which is so hard) so I feel you.
    May this year be full of success, joy, dreams come true and love. All the best to you both, from the heart.

  • I’m only just beginning to learn, in a deep-gut-truth way, that the hardest times allow for the biggest experiences of joy; marriage is not always easy, but it is always more than worth it. Wishing you more laughter in this fresh year.

  • This is so beautifully written.
    This is getting pasted up somewhere

    “the primary emotion that comes to mind when I think of our marriage is still joy; the most common sound to echo round my heart in response, laughter”
    Congratulations on your anniversary!

  • kara

    Did anyone else have a problem with this post not showing up on the main page?

    • meg

      Empty your cache. We re-launched the site over the holidays, chances are an old version of the site is cached for you.

    • pippip

      It’s not listed as a “newer post” link from the previous post (12/20 APW book link), either. I checked ffox, ie, & chrome (latter two have no cookies/history/cache of this site, as I only use ffox for nonwork browsing).

      I’m sure it’ll all work out soon :)

      EDIT: and it’s fixed, within the time that this comment editing window was still open. If that’s Super Runway’s doing, they’ve got some jackrabbit quick tech support.

      edit 2: I don’t know when comment editing was implemented (it’s been a couple months since my last comment [/lurker]), but I like it. yay for typo-catching.

  • When we got married three years ago, we were told that the first year of marriage doesn’t have to be the worst. And it wasn’t. But the past year and a half has seen a lot of difficult things thrown around in our world, we always sought the foundations of our relationship, which were exemplified and made public during our wedding. And these things maybe weren’t the Worst Things, but in slogging through it together continues to strengthen us and those foundations. And, as someone said to me once: you will never know true joy without experiencing pain. While it kind of is self-evident, I may have lost sight of that during the rotten hours. But looking back, particularly during this past month of healing, it has occurred to us that, as always, all shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

  • Marchelle

    Thank you, guys! You are too kind, really. May 2012 be OUR year, and may we all find untold joy in the everyday. xo

  • On the other side of the hard stuff? Is such ease and joy. Admittedly, we did all the hard stuff before the wedding (death, unemployment and family issues), but now that the darkness cleared, things are just so so good. And even when they are not (miscarriage, job issues, floods), it still feels easy compared to what came before. It is very much the silver lining that comes from facing the hard stuff together.

  • Granola

    Does anyone read Marchelle’s blog? I’ve been looking for a link to it and I can’t find one anywhere. After her lovely APW posts, I really want to her more from her….

    • meg

      She’d prefer not to have it linked to here for professional reasons, so please don’t link to it if you read it! Sorry about that you guys, but we need to respect contributor boundaries.

      • Granola

        Oh, ok, but is there another way she’s comfortable sharing it? Via email or something, or is it completely private? It’ll be a big disappointment for it to be referenced so much and then not be able to be shared at all.

        • Marchelle

          Hi Granola! My blog is not at all private, but I try to write there as-anonymously-as-possible and am a *leetle* bit paranoid, so absolutely forbade Meg on pain of death (or something) from linking to it anywhere on APW. However, I am *always* thrilled to get a new reader or two over at my little space, so please email me at and I’ll sort you out. (And sorry about the covert operation, but things can get a little sticky with my work!)

          • Granola

            Thank you so much! Heading to write my email now!

          • Class of 1980

            I’m paranoid too because our business is on the Internet. So, I hear ya.

        • meg

          And to be fair, we didn’t reference her blog at all :) Also, it’s on my blog roll so y’all can go figure it out!

  • “Begin as you mean to go on.”

    This is going up on the tack board above my writing desk, as well as in a card to my father, who loves to look for lessons.

    Hello, 2012 and thank you, Marchelle.

    • Ditto. Though maybe I should tattoo it to my hand so I don’t forget it. :)

      Happy happy, M. xx

    • Seriously, that’s going on my tattoo wish list. It might be even more rad than than the phrase I already have on my arm.

    • This was my favorite yoga teacher’s catch phrase. Perfect for all things, including marriage. Thanks for the sage advice, Marchelle! And by the way–the red polka dot bathing suit…ahem…adorable!

  • McPants

    YES. Oh, I so needed this today. I had a big setback yesterday that is going to seriously affect our baby family, but Marchelle’s writing reminded me that at the heart of this marriage are two strong people who are experts at making-it-work and howling with laughter in the midst of difficulty. Many many thanks to Marchelle, and I hope everyone’s 2012 is also immeasurably joyous.

  • This post is, in a nutshell, why I have no truck with the phrase “A wedding is just one day.” (As well as its unspoken counterpart of “And that is why you should spend no money on it.”) Yes, weddings take place as a brief and shining moment within (usually) a 24 hour span of time, but they can send such deep and valuable roots into a marriage that last far, far longer.

    Thank you for this post, Marchelle. May the joy last always!

  • “So there it is: joy. Despite having endured our most difficult year, the primary emotion that comes to mind when I think of our marriage is still joy; the most common sound to echo round my heart in response, laughter.”

    In our case, we had no first-year respite after the wedding. Our hardest year hit immediately following the wedding and reading your eloquent words was both bittersweet and immensely reassuring. While life often left me full of doubt and despair, my marriage kept me tethered to joy, love, and hope. Although really shitty things can always happen, the primary emotion of my marriage is and always will be joy. Our home-sound is laughter. We’ve held fast to our wedding-as-beginning for this new phase of life. It’s comforting to know that these beginnings still matter at the three-year point too (and thereafter.)

    Thank you for this thoughtful beginning for 2012. Wishing you easier joys and laughter in this new year.

  • Kate

    Just wanted to say I appreciated this post, and as others have said, it’s beautifully written. My husband and I are just about at the 1.5 year mark, but his military career had some unexpected surprises for us in 2011 that kept us living apart for all but about 6-7 weeks. That being said, we spent all of November together, and it was fantastic, and reminded me once more that I have no regrets, and that I’m blessed with such an amazing husband. If nothing else, I feel grateful that I’m still unable to take him for granted, and when we get to live together next, it will feel like a whole new honeymoon period.

    (Incidentally, I’ve also been telling a newly-engaged friend about APW recently, and the fact that I can come and read posts like these pretty much encapsulates why I’m such a huge fan! Thanks Meg, and today thanks Marchelle!)

  • Jo

    Beautiful. Wonderful that the joy can carry you through the hard.

  • Marchelle

    Dear APW website,

    I’m really sorry that I seem to have killed you today with this post. Please forgive me and let come back again sometime?

    Ever yours,

  • Thank you. We’re two years and two months in and so much of what you said I could’ve said. The first year was the expanding light from the star that burst into being at our wedding. And it’s been that expanding light that’s held us up and through everything that life has thrown at us this past year.

  • I missed this when it came out, but want to echo the “begin as you mean to go on” as a wonerful sentiment/action plan for marriage and just about anything else.

    Love you Marchelle. Love you.

  • As a fellow (soon to be) 3rd year “oldywed”, all I can say is that Marchelle is a wise, wise woman x