The Hard Stuff

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.

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  • A whole fucking tub of B&J does it for me.

    But seriously? YES.

  • caitlin

    ” Because sometimes, what we need the most, is to hear that it’s normal, other people have been through it, other people have survived.”

    This could be the tag line for APW.


      I already exactly-ed this, but I have to say it “out loud” too!

      I feel like this quote is the whole reason APW exists, the reason I read it so regularly, the reason I send a constant stream of links to my future husband, the reason I send it off to every newly engaged woman I know. It is so healthy and affirming and awesome to hear from real, smart, sassy women that THIS (whatever your THIS is) is normal. And, if your THIS happens to be something crummy, it is entirely possible that you’ll make it through to the graduate side. Thank you.

  • Rachel

    I’m afraid this will sound small in comparison to what is expressed in that email, but as an engaged person I’ll come out and say that being engaged is hard. I’m not talking about wedding planning, which is a whole different kind of hard. I’m talking about all of the mental shifts that happen, whether you want them or not and whether you expect them or not, when two people declare themselves “engaged”. My fiance and I talked through marriage extensively for 3 months (and before that, occasionally but seriously for 5 years) before telling the world that we were engaged. But what I couldn’t have anticipated is that being engaged is different, and it’s hard. It’s hard to be brave, especially in the face of so many cultural narratives telling us how we’re supposed to feel every step of the way.

    During premarital counseling, I have realized that there are so many broken relationships in my family. Divorce, alcoholism, drugs, abuse, arrests, an affair, early deaths. Lately I’ve had so many doubts– can someone like me even function within the context of marriage, having grown up with few stable marriages around me?

    Then, yesterday, our photographer sent us the proofs from our engagement session. Those pictures have reminded me of all the reasons we are getting married. It’s not just the love on our faces in the photos, although that really gets me, but it’s the reminder that being together makes me feel stronger, more beautiful, braver, more empowered to face life because I’m marrying a man who will wake up every morning, even when we hate each other, and say, “This is worth it. We are stronger together.”

    • that is awesome, rachel. :)

    • Michele

      The other day I was talking with some friends about marriage and divorce, specifically in the context of the wildly misleading ‘If you get married, you have a 50% chance of getting divorced!’ meme. I did some mental math and realized that EVERY SINGLE member of my immediate-ish family has been divorced at least once. Mother, father, grandparents on both sides (sometimes more than once, which has resulted in me having A LOT of grandparents, because I count all of my step-grandparents), and all of my aunts and uncles.

      Every one of them!

      And I gave thanks for the fact that I have always – ALWAYS – been the black sheep of my family. But in the best way possible, really. More like the lone white sheep, actually. Ha!

      • Danielle

        Yes to being a lone white sheep. Love it!

    • meg

      Heck yeah, being engaged is hard.

      • Vanessa

        I think just being in a real, grown up relationship is hard. Relationships take work, and sometimes make you wonder why you’re even trying. Whether it be a relationship with your mother, your father-in-law, sister, and of course boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/fiance, I think there’s always a “rough patch” that you need to work through. Adding that intimate/physical layer with your partner just makes things that much more complicated/confusing/intense. Sometimes we all need to stop and remind ourselves of the “Why”.

        • liz


        • Kim

          When himself and I were doing long-distance, I remember a particular conversation with my mother where I was talking about him and the distance and the toll it was taking on me. At one point, she said, “Relationships are hard.” Period. In that moment that I think I grew up a little bit, because at that moment only one thing ran through my mind, and I blurted out, “YES!! I know!”

          Thanks, Mommy.

    • Jo

      Amen to wondering if you’ve got marriage in you, when your relatives and ancestors seem to have struggled mightily to accomplish one or two lifelong marriages. I did a lot of that wondering/worrying, in our first 4.5 years together before we got engaged, and all throughout our engagement. And then, on our wedding day, I arrived at the altar with my man, and the look in his eyes and the feeling in my heart told me that we were both “in it” 120%, and that that would be enough. Suddenly, the histories of marriages past were just that, and the present moment opened up to a beautiful future that was truly ours. So, you can do it, and I wish you a moment equal to mine (though obviously also uniquely yours) in helping you lay that foundation between the two of you.

    • Absolutely relationships are hard. When you are choosing to love someone for who they are, not for what they can do for you, or in relation to any ideals or expectations you had beforehand, that selfish little demon inside will revolt. Being selfless in the most intimate of human relationships is the most difficult because it is daily and it makes us stop thinking of ourselves as we do all the other minutes of our lives.
      I think we are deceived in thinking that one person will be easy to love, that person makes me feel good so I’ll love them for that. What happens when the other person stops making me feel good? Do I love him anyway? For the man I first fell in love with? How about finally realizing that person’s one job is not to make you happy and fulfill every want, need, and desire you have. That changed my perspective completely when I began to view him in a way that I was simply loving him for who he is and not expecting him to be my everything. Believing those things is a fast track to hurt and disapointment. Taking those expectations off of that person will allow them to love you the way they always wanted, without the weight on their shoulders.

      It really is better when we let go and allow each other to just “be”.

      • Faith, Do you mind if I plagiarise that for our wedding reading?? With a few edits of course. It says it all perfectly :)

        • Seriously? Go for it! That is just awesome! Many blessings for your marriage!

      • Cassandra

        Oh goodness. How well you put that! These are such wise words that I think many of us need to take to heart (especially me and especially today). I often think some of the worst problems couples have relate to some of these expectations. While there are things I can and should expect from my partner, for him to be my everything, or for me to be his, is nothing short of unrealistic. Love your comment!

        • Rachel

          Wow. I just got a chance to read all of the responses to my post from a few days ago, and I really grateful for your words. I don’t have that many people I talk to face to face or by phone who understand my position– not because they aren’t sympathetic or don’t try, but because they are in a different place than I am right now regarding marriage.

          I really wish I knew all of you in person.

  • Erin

    wow. I needed this. Right now, at this exact moment. Makes me feel a little better about my fury over my husband’s fixation on my turn signal use. A little bit giggly, actually. Thanks!
    “…although he is the biggest bastard in the world right now, he hasn’t always been and won’t always be…”

  • Anna

    Um…YES!!! Thank you for this post – it came at the perfect time.

  • Kee

    I love the email writer. Seriously. Because when people write “planning a wedding is HARD”, I also have the urge to scream “shut up, because hard is when you find out that your husband is cheating on you, or when he finds out that you are cheating on him, when you two are just miserable and trying to figure out if you’ll be better off alone, when you realize that you actually don’t want to have sex with your partner, like ever, or if you should just stay in the marriage for the kids sake.” And unfortunately, most of all married couples will be dealing with some of these issues eventually.

    I know, we don’t like to talk about things like that here, in our wedding planning pink cloud, where it’s all about love and unity and common values. We prefer to complain about how difficult it is when a family member criticize our choice of music for the ceremony, and this is SO HARD and OMG WEDDINGS ARE REALLY DIFFICULT but luckily we get through it because we love each other, the important thing is to get married and it’s all happy happy in the end.

    It’s not happy happy in the end. We, the engaged wedding planners haven’t even started to deal with the difficult stuff yet…

    • Rachel (not the mean one who verbally assaulted you!)

      Baby bride here (married less than a month) wants to know about this stuff. Meg, is it possible to expand this topic and have longtime wives (or maybe not longtime but wives that have struggled enormously) talk about what they went through and, more importantly, how they’re handling/have handle it, and whether they would change how they handled it or keep everythign the same? What did these very wise women learn, gain, and lose from that struggle?

      I’m a planner and a know-er. I like to know the worst that things can be so I can prepare for it. I can say that our marriage is going to be sunshine and daises and horsies all the time, but that’sreally just a very easy lie to tell. I know it’s going to be hard, and I want to hear from other women who are willing to expose their pain like our lovely emailer did so I can learn from their wisdom.

      • Anna

        Rachel, when I got engaged my mom gave me a book called Why I’m Still Married, that contains just that sort of story from lots of brilliant women writers.

  • I’m a little baby bride and I thank the author of this email for being real with it.

    My parents split when I was 11 and they fought a lot, plus my dad was never home. So seeing their marriage and hearing their fights, I always assumed that happily married people didn’t fight like that. I thought happily married people dealt with their conflicts at the dinner table and settled disagreements with civility. Each side presented and rebutted and in the end- resolution.

    But damn am I wrong. Through planning this wedding (because yes, it has been hard for me) and moving and losing jobs and getting new jobs, we have been fighting a lot more. And it scared me because we weren’t solving problems over supper like I thought we would, we were shouting from bedrooms, slamming doors, and sleeping on couches. And I thought of my parents and it scared the crap of out me.

    And this is why I love my fiance. When I told him my supper conflict theory and how our marriage is going to fail, he didn’t laugh or tell me I was crazy. He listened and understood my fears. So now when we fight, I feel better about it because I know the fighting will end and we’ll be okay.

    • liz

      not to worry, angie, love. i’ve heard it’s not healthy to be civilized and sipping iced tea while you argue through gritted teeth.

      it’s healthy to scream each others ears off once in awhile. i’m a STRONG supporter of having parameters to fighting- but not expressing emotion is NOT one of those.

      • aMANDOVER

        My FH & I have a serious point of contention when it comes to fighting – we essentially fight about fighting. Except we don’t because he doesn’t believe in fighting. He’s English, you see, and comes from a rather even-tempered family. Whereas I come from an enormous group of opinionated Irish-American performers who have to shout just to be heard. And while I know that there’s a point at which it does become cyclical and hurtful, he sees my need to fume and vent as childish and disdainful. And also I think it scares him a little. The other night, I brought it up to his visiting also-British friend, who didn’t seem to think expressing anger was that bad, and FH got rather uncomfortable.
        So, I guess we need to do some summer pre-marital reading soon…

    • meg

      You should read some of the studies on it, which are FASCINATING. Basically, different couples fight different amounts, and it has zero to do with how happy they are. What does matter is *how* you fight, and you can actually learn to fight better, which is rad (and proven to improve your marriage).

      • Do you have reading suggestions, Meg? I’ve read The Good Marriage by Judith Wallerstein, which I thought was helpful, but if you have any other recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

        • Jocelyn

          I know I’m not Meg, but I just read “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” by John Gottman, and I’d highly recommend it. It’s seriously awesome, and it talks about what Meg just commented on.

          • Mindy

            I have also recently read a good one: “fighting for your marriage: positive steps for preventing divorce and preserving a lasting love” by Howard Markman and others. I was skeptical at first (parcially because of the writing style of the book) but this book has really helped my FH and I fight more constructively instead of destructively. I highly recommend it to anyone in any stage of the getting married/being married process.

      • Vanessa

        Ohhh you dont happen to know of any specific studies do ya Meg? That was a big issue in the beginning of our relationship. If I did/said something that pissed him off/upset/insulted him, he would just try to come up with the ugliest possible thing to say to me to just break me down. ‘Cause if I was hurting worse than he was, mission accomplished. We have done a lot of work trying to realize the weight of what we say to each other- our fights arent so much stabs and brutal attacks anymore as they are just venting to one another. There’s still work to be done, but I feel good about our progress and where we’re headed.

        • liz

          there are two books i really liked- For Men Only and For Women Only by the Feldhahns. he read the men one and post-it-noted it with things he liked, disagreed with, thought were pertinent, etc. and then passed it on to me. then we did the same with the women one. IGNORE the taglines and book jackets you read- they seem to say that the books are about “figuring out the opposite sex” in a “men are from mars” kind of way, a concept which always really irks me. i didn’t find this to be the case.

          there is a smidge of gender-classification in them, which was hard at first. but we were able to say, “thats not true for us,” and move on. and the authors very clearly repeatedly state that they generalize, based on their research. as in “the majority of men say this…”

          as far as fighting in general, we set ground rules. because there are some things that have lasting effects for josh, that don’t have lasting effects for me. for example, i can NOT under any circumstances insinuate that he’s dumb. you could call me a moron all day long, and i won’t mind. i’m pretty secure in my intelligence. but for him, it’s a big deal. so i never even insinuate with the tone of my voice that he’s too slow to catch onto what i’m saying. setting parameters has been very very very very healthy for us. very.

          • Meg P

            I just wanted to “Exactly” what you said about parameters Liz. After our first real fight there were so many misunderstandings that we decided to sit down and sort through them all with an email bouncing back and forth about our arguing styles. Putting it down in black and white really helped us to realise that the point wasn’t to hurt each other. I had to learn to assume a good intention and he had to learn to give me more time. For us it was the beginning of the end of *pointless* fighting.

        • liz

          oh, and duh. i meant to say- what you said about “venting to one another” is so true! i found our whole relationship changed when we agreed to change our perspective of fights from “who can hurt the other more” (a self-protective reflex) to viewing fights as a means to making our relationship better. (this requires so much trust that the other person has the same perspective) if we’re fighting about something, it’s because one of us is being bugged by something. which (so far) has been fixable. airing those grievances is a far different from “i’m hurt so i’m going to hurt you back.”

      • I’ve been with my fiance for 7 years and will be married to him in just four weeks. Our relationship actually started off more rocky than sunshine and rainbows (it was a weird time and I was just coming out of a very serious relationship) and has only gotten stronger over the years. The funny thing is…that we fight more now than we did back then because I think we feel secure enough to really let our feelings show because we know it won’t destroy what we’ve built, but rather bring us closer. I full anticipate hard times ahead (you can’t fully appreciate the good without the bad) and I really believe that as long as two people can maintain mutual respect and the ability to give the other person the benefit of the doubt that marriages can work. My parents have been together for over 30 years and still paw at each other like teenagers…..I’ve seen it work.

      • kyley

        You can listen to a story about this research here:

        It’s a WONDERFUL episode of This American Life, the Public Radio show.

        • meg

          Yup! This is one of the (many) places I heard (literally) this research, it’s totally a must listen.

    • peanut

      I heard a thing on NPR a while ago about how it’s not so much about the intensity or frequency of arguments, but the way that couples fight that determines their longevity. Like, “healthy” couples would say stuff like “I HATE IT WHEN YOU DONT PUT THE DISHES IN THE DISHWASHER!!!”, and “unhealthy” couples would say “YOU ARE USELESS AND LAZY. I knew I shouldn’t have married someone who didn’t finish college!” or something. My parents are intense intense fighters – think breaking dishes, slamming doors, ripping stuff – and they have been happily married for 30+ years :)

      • meg


        Both totally angry, but one is factual and the other is snide and underhanded and judging. Apparently another trick is to decelerate a fight (before you reaccelerate) because if you don’t let your heart beat drop a little, you won’t stop seeing red, on a very physical level.

      • Banana

        Also in Blink by Malcom Gladwell is a whole chapter about a study done by analyzing fights (more like semi-non-issue arguments) couples have. It doesn’t offer a lot in terms of how-to, but I thought it was interesting and certainly made me think about the way my Boy and I have at it.

  • I thank the emailer and Meg’s mama for being so honest. Because yes, marriage is hard. Not all of the time but there are moments in my happy marriage when I wonder what the hell I was thinking (as I am certain he does too). There are moments when I have to retreat and think about my vows and picture our grinning faces and the grinning faces at our wedding before I understand that the feeling of I AM GOING TO RIP HIS HEAD OFF will pass. So baby brides, go forth and plan weddings that you can look back to and remember why the hell you did it in the first place.

    • I agree! I hesitate to comment here much because I feel like a downer most of the time. By the time our wedding arrived I was so fed up with weddings, him, family and everything that I don’t even have that to hold onto. I wish I had felt that amazing sense of love and support and all that I keep hearing about, but I just didn’t. It was just one more thing to get over and done with.

      I remember having a huge fight on our honeymoon about how we should just go home and have the wedding annulled because, obviously, it was a big mistake. We didn’t. And hopefully it’s not a mistake. But goodness knows it sometimes feels like it. So instead I hold onto all of your wonderful stories and hope that I’ll find my own eventually.

  • Thank you for this post. It is always helpful to be reminded that even though marriage is awesome, it is also HARD.

    There was an article in the Washington Post magazine this weekend ( about marriage, and one thing that I read that struck me as very interesting, and helpful to keep in mind when my wife and I fight is that marriage researchers (how funny that such people exist) have found that those couples that stay together and those that split both fight about the same amount (and about the same things). I have been thinking about that this week, because I am one of those conflict-averse people who tends to view fighting as a sign that something is wrong and it is helpful to me to start thinking about it as a normal thing that happens. Handling conflict well is still a thing to work on of course, but having a fight is not a sign that things are broken or even heading in the wrong direction – and that’s a relief. Takes a little pressure off.

    • liz

      meg, can we hire some marriage researchers for apw??

      and pay them in- i don’t know- cookies and poems, i guess.

      • meg

        We SHOULD. Yeah, as I mentioned above, how you fight matters. You can listen to tapes of couples, and the researchers can tell you the good stuff and the bad stuff (and if the couple made it). Good stuff.

        • I will write a poem to pay them in.

        • Oh, jeez. I would volunteer to be your expert. I have such a wide variety of marital experiences in my circle that I could probably get a representative sample together; at least a case study or two.

          • meg

            Done. You’re it. And I think Amanda will write you a poem, which is lucky for you.

      • Helen

        Is it cookies? If it is, I would like to volunteer!

        • liz

          helen, you can volunteer to make me cookies aaaanytime…

    • Mary

      Ah, I loved that article, particularly because John Gottman is my HERO. I read his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and it was really insightful (I keep meaning to reread it). There’s so much of it that I even found applicable to other (non-marriage) relationships. I highly, highly recommend it.

      • One that worked really well for me in terms of learning to listen better was Feeling Better Together by David Burns.

        • Mary

          I’ll have to check that one out, thanks! :)

      • Mandy

        For our first wedding anniversary in July, I’m giving us the book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” by John Gottman. I’ve skimmed through it, read some professional feedback on it and think it would be a good book to read together.

        • Liz

          i sense the dawn of the apw book club.

        • I’m all for working through books like this together, but if I were a guy, I would hate this as a present. Really, seriously hate it. As in, “doesn’t she know me at all?” hate it. Relationship-building books are wonderful to experience together, but they stink as “gifts.”

          Case in point: Mother’s Day fell a few weeks after my second son was born. My ex gave me a bathroom scale. I don’t think there was anything particularly malicious about it. We needed a scale, he got one and stuck a bow on it. Yet, even if I get alzheimer’s someday, I will always remember that I received a bathroom scale for Mother’s Day one year, and I will hold it up as one more thing that pushed me over the edge.

          So, um, please don’t give your guy a self-help book as a gift for a special ocassion. Not cool.

          • meg

            Ha. Point.

          • Rizubunny

            I totally agree with this. I was at the bookstore one day, pretty early on in our relationship (maybe within the first year?) and I saw a book on relationships and I thought “ooh, exciting, we can look through this and deal with any issues that we might not have thought about!” So I bought it and brought it home and was all excited…and she was like “um, ok, that’s nice.” She finally told me last year (we’ve been together nearly five years now) that she was completely confused about why I bought it – because she thought everything was fine (which it was).

            Obviously it depends on how you and your partner approach things like this – but I would say, avoid it as a present unless you know they are into the proactive self-help approach, and even if they are, be super, super clear about *why* you’re getting it, and if there’s nothing wrong, make sure they know that.

          • Tessa

            Haha, my man actually did this :P He gave me a book about understanding men for my most recent birthday. I was pretty upset and confused, but in the end I realized he meant well. You see, I love reading books about relationships and psychology and such, and he knew that, so he decided the perfect birthday present would be one of these books. Not exactly the best thing to give your s.o.! I was offended and was totally thinking “Does he even know me at all??” ha! So yeah, moral of the story: don’t give books like that to your special person even if you know they are genuinely interested in those things.

    • I find this *fascinating* because I too came from a home where any type of verbalized conflict meant doom. It has been a long process for me to realize that I can assert myself, that disagreements don’t equal divorce, and that it is healthy to talk about things, and to do it before it becomes criticism or contempt. That silence and agreeing to keep the peace can be equally bad.

      I love these studies, and I love the reminder that it isn’t all happy-roses-rainbows-puppies-unicorns after the wedding, that this is just the first step on a lifestyle. It’s sort of like our idea of a “diet” meaning starve-for-months-and-then-eat-cheeseburgers vs. a life choice of eating healthily and exercising to be healthy. Weddings, if done right, are the training course for marriage: we have to communicate, deal with families, and struggle through sh*tty stressful situations.

  • liz

    i think that’s part of it, isn’t it? the whole point of marriage isn’t to be la-la-la happy all the time. it’s to join together to make one another better people. and yes- living with someone who, at times, is the most annoying and thoughtless being on the PLANET (and who gets to see me when I’M the most annoying, thoughtless being) refines you into being a better person. being able to love someone through that- that makes you a really tremendous person.

    that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger…? cliche. but what doesn’t totally break you or your relationship, will both make you a better (more patient, compassionate, etc etc) person, and your relationship stronger and more intimate.

    after nearly 4 years with josh, we’ve been through some SHIT. the BIG SHIT kind of stuff, i can tell ya that. and all of that- and yes, even those petty fights- have made me better as a person, and us better as a couple.

    • Liz, I really like this: “the whole point of marriage isn’t to be la-la-la happy all the time. it’s to join together to make one another better people” It reminds me of the wisest things our very wise premarital counselor said to us was, “Your spouse is meant to be your mirror. They will show you the wonderful things about yourself, how you are beautiful and unique in ways you can’t imagine or felt you couldn’t lay claim to. They will also show you the ugly, deep things that you need to attack within yourself. When that happens, attack those things and not each other.”

      • aMANDOVER

        Oooh – “Attack those things and not each other.”
        I might have to frame that.

  • Noelle

    I think the whole process from start to finish is hard! We’re getting married in two months and already a host of other huge things have occurred. I put my house on the market and moved myself, my 16 year old son and my 2 dogs into his house. I just found a new job and will be starting that next week. Along with getting tours of the new high school…being concerned that my son will feel “at home”, and planning this wedding, I’m feeling extremely overwhelmed! The tension felt in the home from time to time has been palpable, but luckily, my fiance is a “glass 1/2 full” type of person which is one of a zillion reasons why I’m marrying the man. I’ve been through one marriage already, which collapsed horribly and am going into this 2nd marriage with the rose colored glasses OFF! I’m ready for the good and the bad, and like commenter Rachel said “we are stronger together” rings so true. I truly feel that we are a strong force side by side and that we can weather the storms and come out the other side stronger and more connected.

  • Michele

    I will never forget the feeling I had when my best friend told me she and her husband were divorcing after 7 years of marriage. My best friend who is a Marriage and Family Therapist, by the way. This was a couple I’d idealized – somewhat unfairly (being a therapist doesn’t make her a saint) – and imagined that I would someday model my own marriage after.

    And in the midst of my shock, I said it outloud: “If you guys can’t make it, no one can,” and piled on a whole new level of guilt and sense of failure for her, as if by virtue of her vocation she was somehow responsible for the marital success of all her loved ones. I’ll never regret that, by the way. Shoulda kept my mouth shut.

    Sometimes I wonder how couples get there – people who were once so in love, who couldn’t imagine that they would ever feel otherwise – and how they missed the signs. If there WERE signs. And then I wonder if there are signs I’m supposed to be watching for right now – something I might be able to catch today that will enable our marriage to survive all of the tomorrows. Because today? I can not wrap my head around my marriage not sustaining through the years. I have no doubt that there will be days, weeks, months, and yes – even years – that challenge it, but I’m also confident that our marriage will survive – committed to MAKING it survive.

    But I know my friend, and I know that 9 years ago when she got married, she felt the same way, and I just want to know: How do couples get from THERE to HERE?

    • liz

      i would LOVE a continuation of this line of conversation.

      i’ve only been close-close-close to a handful of divorces among my friends, so i only have a few thoughts on it.

    • meg

      That is a very good question. There have been so many divorces among our friends (lots of people married very young, for starters, which statistically does NOT help). And I really have no idea… it’s sort of cloaked in mystery….

      What’s clearer is the people who just chose not to save it when they got to that point.

      • Erin

        As a lighthearted aside, on our honeymoon we ended up on a tour with a group of marriage and family planners-in-training (none of whom were married). They were, at first, horrified that we had not cohabitated before our wedding (long-distance engagement), predicting all sorts of dire consequences for our marriage, but were relieved to learn that we were over 25 and “[our] brains are now fully developed.” Hehe.

        Funny, but still pretty true.

      • Maddie

        This scares the sh*t out of me. We married young. We’re high school sweethearts. We didn’t even take a break in college (we went to school in different states, which I think counts as time apart to grow as people). I can’t ignore the voice that says “No, we’re different because we know what it takes” but at the same time the statistics regarding young marriage are very frightening. I like to think that we have a great support system in our friends and family. That they kind of *need* our relationship as much as we do, if that makes sense. But I also come from a family where I can only count aunts and uncles among the relatives who haven’t gotten divorced. My mother is three times divorced and my father doesn’t believe in marriage, so despite our support system, it’s a bit of the blind leading the blind.

        APW has therefore been such a great source of inspiration and support for me in my baby relationship. We recently have been dealing with some considerable stress (we adopted a special needs dog who poops, literally, 8 times a day and keeps us up all night. We love her to pieces, and are kind of using all of our love energy on her without much left for each other). So right in the middle of my freak out about how if a dog can cause this much stress in our lives, what will children do, blah blah blah freakout freakout overexaggerate, I read both your posts on creating a marriage roadmap and about “good years and bad years.” They forced me to take a look at WHY my husband and I were doing the things we were doing, how we were both working towards our mutual marriage goals (we’re so prepared for kids now. when they poop, you get to stay indoors) and at the same time I’m okay accepting that we don’t have to be lovely to each other all the time (as long as we’re not being mean).

        I feel like there’s more to say about being in your early twenties and married that I can’t really reflect accurately in this post, but regardless this conversation we’re having here is great and so needed.

        • Erin

          I have several friends who married their high school sweethearts right out of college. They are awesome examples of good marriages, so the statistics only tell part of the truth.

          • Something else to keep in mind: for every 75% of marriages that end in such-and-such a [negative] way, that means that 25% of marriages end in this other [positive] way. Sometimes statistics are presented in such a negative light and I don’t know that that does us a whole lot of good — why not look on the bright side of things?

        • Mary

          Ah, those statistics scare me too. We are also high school sweethearts, going to college in different states (New Hampshire and Massachusetts, respectively, so semi-long-distance), and are getting married in December a few weeks after we graduate. I’m not particularly worried about us, but I hate how those statistics create a general negative attitude towards young marriage (and by extension, *my* marriage).

          I try to tell myself that case studies can’t be generalized to statistics, or vice versa. Plus, my feeling is that that statistic might be driven up by teenagers who get pregnant and get married “for the sake of the baby.” Which, as I’ve heard, is never a good idea.

        • My parents started dating when my mom was 13 and my dad was 15. They got married right out of college and just celebrated their 43 wedding anniversary. Even better, they still like each other! They are definitely marriage inspiration for me. Just wanted to give you a positive example, Maddie. Marrying young does have it’s challenges, and some of those marriages end in divorce, there are success stories too. Focus on those – because that’s the marriage you two want to have!

          • My brother married his HS sweetheart when she was 19 and he was 20. They celebrated their 19th anniversary in May.

            I fell in love with my fiance at first sight when I was 14 and he was 17. We dated for 1 1/2 years and broke up pretty much because it was weird for a college sophomore to be dating a high schooler who couldn’t even drive yet. The first time we saw each other again 20 years later, it was love at first sight again. We both agree that this is the easiest and most passionate relationship either of us have ever experienced — just like it was when we met the first time.

        • “I like to think that we have a great support system in our friends and family. That they kind of *need* our relationship as much as we do, if that makes sense.”

          Yes, Maddie, that makes sense! To me at least. That’s why the theme for our wedding is “It takes a village to raise a marriage.” But the problem is that I, too, am witnessing many marital problems among the couples around me. Namely, the marriages of the 2 closest women in my life: my mom and my sister. And it’s frustrating that the lives of our loved ones (their “mistakes”, their challenges, their tragedies), can put such fear and doubt into my head about getting married later this month.

          I’m realizing that it’s super difficult to be both THERE for my mom and sister while also LEARNING from them, *without* becoming as panicked about my relationship as they are about theirs. It’s sort of a fear through osmosis thing. How do I remain removed from their problems, yet support them fully? How can I learn from what’s happening to them without giving up on the institution of marriage? How can I be cautious yet still be brave?

          Keeping the delicate balance is totally kicking my ass.

          • That is EXACTLY where I am. My mom is divorced, my oldest sister is divorced, my next older sister is working her way through a separation, my younger sister is doing well in her relationship through lots of hard work, and my younger sister broke off her engagement last year and is raising her son alone.

            Balance = scary! Fear through osmosis is the best way I could never have thought of to describe it! :)

        • Marina

          Yes. We first got together when I was 16, and I actually tried to break up with him several times because I was worried that we were in a serious relationship too young. But each time, we talked about it and kept coming around to “Why fix what ain’t broken?” If we were happy together, why break up because sometime in the future we might be unhappy? So… yeah, here we are, 9 years later and married for almost a year. (Possibly TMI, but I never EVER thought I’d marry the first guy I had sex with. Go figure.)

          But the statistics do bug me. Statistically we are not a very promising marriage–got together young, cohabitated before marriage, interfaith, his parents divorced. The thing is, I don’t want to IGNORE the statistics. I want to take them as valuable indicators, and keep an eye out for the problems they tend to cause. I want to talk about the issues that tend to come up in interfaith marriages BEFORE they’re an issue for us, you know? I want to know what’s likely to become problems for us and proactively set up ways we can talk about it.

          • Class of 1980

            For what it’s worth, thanks to Facebook I was able to track down a bunch of girls I went to church with who all got married at ages 19, 20, 21, and 22. Only one got a divorce. The rest have been married for around 30 years!!! Shocking.

            They represent a microcosm of my age group. I don’t know what the statistics are for the kids I went to high school with, only the church group. Their lives are foreign to me. I didn’t settle down anywhere near that young and when I did my marriage didn’t last. The difference is that all those couples were definitely mature despite their youth and they all married compatible people.

          • Kat

            Exactly Marina!
            I was a bit older (18 and had left home for Uni, (Ha, I thought ’16 that is young’ when I read your post, but typing 18 here makes me realise it’s not really much older at all)) but was also worried about him being my first serious relationship and us being too young. A few times I was worried that we hadn’t had enough relationship experience or something. But what are you supposed to do? It’s not like you can break up and see other people, just for the experience (well that’s not something I could do anyway). We got married after being together for nearly seven years, but we’d been talking about marriage for about six of them.
            The stats freak me out a bit too – there’s lots of separation and divorce on his side (and a bit on mine too), but then I realise I can’t base my life on the relationship difficulties of his family and I’m thankful he’s really the black sheep of his family!

        • meg

          Hey Maddie-
          How can I say this without it sounding strange as hell. But, um, take heart. Most of the people we knew who married young (I didn’t say *met* young by the way, I said married young – like 19) got married for the wrong reasons. That was the problem, and while I think it was a product of their youth, THAT was what broke them up, not their ages. Or, another way to say it: At most of these weddings everyone knew there was a divorce coming, or in the good cases that there was a 50% chance of divorce in the next five years. I mean, everyone, including their parents.

          So, marrying young is a whole complicated subject of discussion (that I would never take on, can you imagine the comments? Shudder), but I doubt you guys are facing any of the problems our now divorced friends were facing.


          • Maddie

            Thanks Meg. :) And sorry, I definitely didn’t take anything personal from your post above. This is definitely more of a general airing of anxieties that have built up over the years of living in the Never Never Land that is NYC.

            And after reading your response I realized that I am actually the judgiest one of them all when it comes to people getting married at my age. When I see my peers getting married just because of the desire to be married, or friends who get serially engaged, or even just the ones who don’t wait as long to tie the knot as we did (as if we’re the example that everyone must follow lest they suffer instant failure) I just jump right on my high horse over here and say to myself, “tsk tsk they’re jumping into this awfully early.”

            Well hello there Kettle! My name is Pot. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

            P.S. Said dog from the above post is now resting her 10lb head on my forearm making it impossible to type. Did I mention how much we love her?

        • liz

          my parents went to kindergarten together. they got married at 21, after dating for 3 months (both of them never having had real relationships before that point).

          they just celebrated their 27th anniversary, and still grope each other like teenagers (gag me with a spoon).

          i think there is a HUGE difference between flying blind, and making an adult decision- no matter the age. and then backing that decision with the hard work (which you’re already doing) to lay a good foundation.

    • Chelsea

      I think one of the reasons for all the mystery is that there’s this perfectionist urge in us (or at least me) that makes us not want to admit that anything is wrong until everything is. Especially for newlyweds, there’s a pressure to always be 100% happy and perfectly in love, and no one really talks about the hard stuff. Then the little fights take on so much scary significance, because aren’t you supposed to be in a constant state of bliss? And if you’re fighting, does that mean that you’ve made a huge mistake? The result of this is that when we do see marriages dissolve, it’s that much more of a shock, because all along they’ve been pretending everything is perfect.

      In other words, I think it’s a great idea to open a discussion of the fact that sometimes everything’s not perfect, but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or your marrage.

      • Erin

        On the other hand, a lot of my married friends told me over and over again during our engagement that the FIRST year is really, really hard, and then it gets better (at least for a while). It took a lot of pressure off for me, even though I was convinced that we’d be FINE, thanks very much, and happy and smiley and grateful to be living in the same state at last.

        Well, turns out we fight over silly things, and get angry at each other, and I’m still adjusting to living so intimately with another person. I’m usually surprised the things that get me FURIOUS, and the things that don’t. But still, the honesty of my friends while still being so young in their marriages, coupled with the great examples I have of good marriages in my family reinforces the power of the promises we made to each other, and the underlying love that tingles like Spider Sense when I’m blinded by my rage.

        • Vanessa

          Soo… maybe a silly little nascent (fetal?)-bride question, but why DOES everyone say the first year is so hard? Or, why IS it so hard? And have people who lived together before found it just as hard, or is it more adjusting to living with a new person?

          Thank you for this post, by the way! Thank you thank you thank you!

          • liz

            i think it’s what you said- adjusting to living with one another. i know, at least, that’s what i was warned when people found out we weren’t living together.

            i think also that maybe you need to get used to communication sometimes- as in making rules about how to fight, as mentioned above. and learning that not all of your unvoiced expectations will be met, which is why you need to voice them. (“wait, this isn’t what i thought marriage would be like….”) if you go into marriage sorting this stuff out, you may not have a rough first year. josh and i are about 10 months in, and we’ve had an awesome first year so far- and i think it’s primarily because we sorted the above before marrying.

          • Michele

            I think there’s an element of ‘old wives tale’ going on in regards to the sentiment that the first year of marriage is very difficult, having to do with exactly what Liz said about adjusting to living together.

            Historically, when it was more common for couples to live apart, not collaborate on anything financially, and maybe not even engage in sex prior to marriage, I’d say HELL YES, the first year of marriage was hard. That’s a whole lot of change immediately following “I do.” You move in with someone, start sleeping with them, start sharing money with them, and most importantly – allow them to see you at your physical and emotional worst and vice versa, because there’s no hiding the bags under your eyes, or the baggage in your proverbial closet when you live together. So yeah, I think that’s what many people are referencing when they talk about the first year of marriage being hard.

            But times have changed, and it’s increasingly common for couples to sort out all or a lot of that stuff before any vows are exchanged.

            I offer up the same explanation for that OTHER old wives tale: “If you put a nickel in a jar for every time you have sex in the first year of your marriage, and take one out for every time you have sex after the first year you’ll never run out of nickels.”

          • meg

            I’m curious about this too…. I’ve heard it a lot from readers, sO I think there is some truth to it. It was not at all true for us, so it makes me scratch my head. I would love to understand it better.

          • Erin

            I wonder (being only married for 3 months), if the “hard” doesn’t just mean “fight like cats and dogs” and “beat yourself bloody learning communication skills”, but also that gravitational weight of being responsible to and for another person in a way you weren’t before.

            Meg and others have spoken often on this site about the transformational effect a wedding/marriage has on a relationship, even when the partners have already been seriously committed to each other, and sometimes even shared a home/puppies/children. We didn’t live together before the wedding, but the hard stuff hasn’t been dealing with freedom of bodily functions or arguing over combining finances — those are things I just know have to happen. The hard stuff so far has been being a nurse/cook/housekeeper/errand runner/bread winner when my new husband threw out his back and was stuck in bed for three weeks — things I would have certainly done generously as his girlfriend or fiancee, but have added significance now that I’m his wife.

            I’ve started thinking about the beginning of my marriage as a transformational metamorphosis, and the first year as the whole chrysalis/emergence experience, beautiful but painful. I think the “hard” has a lot to do with the work of staying true to and yet evolving your authentic selves after a startling transformation. But few people go to the trouble to elaborate that when they issue their warnings.

          • peanut

            I am curious about that as well…I mean, we’ve been living together for a year and a half, got legally married 6 months ago, and are getting emotionally married in 3 months – so when is the “year of hardness” supposed to start? Frankly it really wasn’t that tough adjusting to living together …

          • I wonder if part of it is that you really are in it for real once you’re married. You can’t have a huge fight or bad day and say to yourself that you can leave if you want to. Not that you can easily just leave a long term cohabitation. But divorce is often a lot more complicated, and messy. I’ve done both, and for me divorce was a lot more difficult. Which is not to say that you want to leave. It can be a comforting safety net though, and scary once it’s gone.

            Another reason may be that we’re more likely to place different expectations on the other person, or the relationship we’re married. To think that someone should behave a certain, or do certain things way you’re married now. Or we place expectations on ourselves that we find are unrealistic, or it causes us to realize things about ourselves we don’t want to face.

            This can cause an “I’m mad at you because our relationship has caused me to learn something about myself that I’m uncomfortable with, I don’t want to face, and scares me. If not for you, I wouldn’t have to face this, so I’m angry at you” sort of situation. is this fair? No. Does it happen? Yeah. But if we recognize it, we grow as a person, and a couple.

          • Vanessa

            Another Vanessa here, and I have to say I have NO IDEA why people say the first year of marriage is the hardest. But Michele did a very good job trying to explain it.

            Being that a month from today is our one year anniversary (yippie!!) I can say that this past year has probably been the easiest, most fun year of our entire 6 year relationship. We’ve still dealt with hardships and family deaths, but our baby family is doing swimmingly. People still ask me “So, how’s married life?” and they seem a bit surprised when I say “great!” and they kind of hang their head and say that there’s isnt all its cracked up to be. And that makes me sad. But these are also the same people that rush into marriage because they were knocked up, or pushing 30, or just thought they were dating long enough so why not? Yes some of these relationships can still work out, but if you arent in it for the right reasons to begin with, why do it? In the end you wont be happy if its something you dont really want. You have to really want something in order to be willing to make it work.

            I think on another post a commenter said it best, “dont expect that when you’re married-suddenly your husbands dirty socks on the floor wont bother you anymore”- because it totally will. I think if you enter into it with the right attitude, it really wont be that hard. But then again we lived together for 5 years before we were married. lol.

          • liz

            yes, another-vanessa!! people ask me about married life, and i’m like, “it’s great!” and then comes the, “just waits” and the “you’ll sees” which make me wonder, “weren’t you the same people who told me this year would suck? guess what. guess again.

          • Erin

            I feel a need to re-emphasize that just because the first year *may* be hard for some people doesn’t mean it’s a marriage killer. First years, hard years, hard weeks, pressures from outside your relationship happen throughout a marriage. This post, and a lot of stories in these comments continually emphasize that the way a couple handles their conflicts and whatever else life throws at them influences their ability to transcend their problems. And you can continually improve throughout your marriage.

            And, just because it’s *hard* doesn’t mean a marriage isn’t great, or that you can’t honestly also tell people that being married is awesome. Lots of things in life are hard, but lots of difficult things in life are also awesome :)

          • Kat

            I’m only 6 months into our first year of marriage – but it’s not hard for us. We have been living together for some time and eased into that by being flatmates with other people first, but our first year of living together with just the two of us was BLISS (I loved not having flatmates) and since we got married our daily lives have not changed at all. I think we’re actually happier and closer as we’ve made such a big commitment to each other, it pulls us together more.

            Maybe doing all the big changes at once would be hard (moving in, combining finances etc). I wonder if some people who have already done those things find it hard as they expect, deep down and maybe subconsciously, that things will change one they’re married. But you’re still the same person (well we are), the good things and the bad.

          • liz

            @kat- we did the shebang. after the wedding, i moved out of mom and dads, we moved in togther, combined financing, started having sex, yadda yadda. 10 months in, we’re doing awesome.

          • I blogged about this “the first year is so hard” business a little while ago, asking why so many people say that. We went from a long distance relationship (for 2 years) to living together, and we haven’t had any problems. One of the things my blog-friend Becky suggested was that it might be external things that cause it to be difficult: job loss, death in the family, stress from school or work, etc. And I think there is a lot of truth to that. It’s obviously going to be different from one couple to another, but the more I thought about it, the more her theory made sense to me.

            I’d love to see more discussion around this, though.

          • For me, it was the moving in together part, which happened 4.5 years before we got married. Two very stubborn, independent people with very specific ways of doing things around the house will make for quite a few disagreements as you learn to live together. : ) But more than that, I think it was the stress of all the changes – we graduated from college, moved away from all our friends and family, to a new state where we knew nobody, and I had no job and no money and nothing to do while he worked all day as I tried to find a job. So the first 3 months were rough. But definitely not a year, and there were specific reasons why.

            There are many things we still struggle with now that we are married, but I would say it is mostly things we just haven’t managed to work out from before, not things introduced by the marriage.

          • soto

            I’m part of that young, high school sweetheart, did long distance during college group… and yes the statistics scare me, but not as much as they should. This is probably due to the fact that the first year living together NEARLY KILLED our relationship and our individual identities too. It the biggest change I had ever done (and I moved away, had to sever family ties, been shit broke and eating hotdogs as protein), but nothing was as hard as living with my guy for the first year. Every second of everyday was a constant readjustment… that I literally had to remind myself was worth it in the end.

            We’re getting married next March, and I’m praying that the first year isn’t too hard…. because that first year living together was enough adjusting to last until AT LEAST kids.

      • Shelly

        Yes, exactly. I am SO thankful for honest posts like this, along with honesty from my friends who have already been married for several years. When they confide or complain about the reality of the every day, it doesn’t discourage me – it has been helping reset my expectations. Doesn’t mean it will be any less painful when bad times come, but hopefully I’ll be able to view them with more perspective.

    • Lor

      Well, I’ve been through divorce – it wasn’t fun. I could write on and on about “how you get from THERE to HERE” and it isn’t fun. A lot of people think when they get married they will never divorce, hey I even thought that. But then changes occured, in my ex husband and myself – and I felt that I couldn’t possibly live the rest of my life with him…I read a book by Dan Savage, The Commitment, Love Sex Marriage and my family – and there was one specific passage that said something like “just because a marriage ends in death doesn’t mean it was succesful”. And after I read that, something in me snapped – I could have stayed married to him – we could have never divorced, but it would not have been a happy life – for me, or him. This little comment was all over the place, so I apologize if it didn’t make sense!

      • Stephanie

        My parents are divorced. They both thought when they got married – partly because of their conservative Christian community – that they would never even consider getting divorced. You mentioned thinking you would never get divorced when you were first married. Do you think that starting a marriage with the conscious thought “divorce is an option, even though we’re so in love now we don’t think we’ll need to” would help more people to work continuously on their relationships instead of letting things slip by until each person is so set in their own ways (unkind, unloving ways) that divorce really is the only healthy choice?

      • meg

        Love that book, and agree. In our lives there have been marriages that needed to end, for sure. They were not “just going to work out” and everyone knew it. I think when that happens, you pray that people will have the bravery to do what they need to to. That’s a lot better then grinning and bearing something that just isn’t working… for the rest of your lives.

    • Rizubunny

      That scares me too – we had friends who had been together for 8+ years – not married, but together, and when they split last year it felt like the whole world just shuddered and twisted a little, because they seemed like the most solid couple. It really threw me for a loop for a few months, but on the bright side, some of the conversations that my partner and I had as a result were really, really amazing.

      What I do to deal with that “what if I get from love to hate” fear is to think of love as a choice. I’ve chosen to be with her, and it hasn’t always been easy for either of us, and we’ll likely have rough spots again. But I deliberately make a choice to be in this relationship, and to love even when everything feels really sh*tty. I know it sounds like a horrible cliche, but you can choose to love someone even if you don’t like them. And for me, I break it down into one second increments. Literally. Sometimes a minute is too long for love to be there, but I can do *anything* for one second. So, if I choose to love her every second, each second, then that’s all I have to do to get to the next second.

  • ddayporter

    this is so important to hear. I have to agree that having someone storming the comments with horrible stories would be a bit disheartening, but having it presented in this way is extremely helpful. it’s not that we don’t want to hear the bad stuff, it just goes down a lot easier surrounded by Meg’s smart commentary, makes it feel safer to discuss openly. if that makes sense. I am with Carrie on feeling a bit uncomfortable with fighting, but we are working on developing that talent to do it constructively. There have definitely been times when I’ve thought back to Meg’s mom’s advice, and put it all into perspective. This, this is not a bad year. This is a good frickin year, with bad moments. Because there probably will be bad years, and I want to be prepared for that.

  • Alia

    Thank you for posting this. My fiance and I just had a disastrous fight the other day that really shook me, and this story is so important for me to read right now. Yeah, things will be rough and we will fight and we will have our days or weeks or whatevers where we can’t stand each other. But overall, I cannot imagine my life without him, and I think it will help me to look at the reasons we’re agreeing to spend our lives together and to remember what we’re promising each other. So thanks.

  • Jen

    Yes! Thank you for sharing! I’m a baby bride, but I wanna know what I’m getting myself into! For me, my family is the super quiet kind where if we have a problem we don’t talk about it. Healthy, yes? So learning that fights are okay and that not being happy with someone all the time is ok is big thing for me. I remember when my dude and I were relatively early in our relationship and had some of our first disagreements. I would get all upset and cry and be like “Why are we fighting!? this is horrible!!! WAAAA!!” and he would say, “What!? We are having a discussion! It may be heated but this is NOT a fight!”. Aka I’m a wuss.
    It took me a while to get over and realize that we didn’t have to feel head over heels in love with each other all the time. That I can want to “rip off his fucking face” (ok, not to laugh, but who says that!? thats hilarious!) and love him at the same time. Might not feel like it, but its there.
    Thanks again!
    A bitty bride

    • Sometimes I think Josh and I are teaching each other how to fight- I know Meg and Liz have mentioned that in comments above. I’m actually quite fierce when I fight – my words can sting at times and he holds me accountable. He’s also a lot better at choosing his words, so he reminds me to do that. And since I lack a filter when I get angry, I kinda rub off on him and he’ll say what he’s really thinking. It’s kind of fun in way. Plus, we know we just need to get it out of us… and after that done.

      Except the three months when I blamed him for hating my new job, moving to Baltimore, blah blah blah…. yea that took a very long, hard time to get over.

  • Ann

    Can we agree that LIFE is hard, and not compare the relative hardness? I’m sure marriage is hard. Wedding planning is certainly hard, being engaged is hard…but do you remember also that dating is hard? Being single is hard? Breaking up is hard? Everything in the context of relationships – romantic or not – is hard.

    I am planning my wedding, and in the middle of an arms race of “____ is so hard” comments from close friends. For example: med school is so hard that I can’t come to your wedding. If this comes across as a snippy post, it’s because I don’t believe that different hardnesses can be compared. Is my friend’s med school hardness anything like the hardness of planning my wedding around mental illness? Does it matter?

    I say no and no. So while I’m really loving the posts and discussions about how hard marriage is, comparing the hardness of marriage to the hardness of wedding planning doesn’t help bring this community together. Worthwhile things are hard. If I am experiencing baby hardness right now, which will grow into full-fledged mama bear hardness in my marriage, what I most need is encouragement to be prepared – not a reminder that my baby bear is nothing compared to what is to come.

    • liz

      ann, i didn’t read the post that way. i think we’d all agree wedding planning is hard- but very often, we’re surrounded by brides who are all, “my invitations have the wrong font! wedding planning is so HAAARD.” and that’s when you’d like to say, “mmm. honey. brace yourself.”

    • I agree with Liz, and I don’t think that the post was meant to encourage a debate about relative hard-ness. That said, I don’t think that such commenytary drives the community apart, either. Maybe, it opens it up to a new dimension.

      As a newly-married who has had a REALLY f***in hard nine months of marriage, I often hesitate to talk about how difficult it has been with other newly marrieds, both in real life and in the blogworld. Mostly, its because I don’t want to feel like a failure. A bad newly-married who doesn’t feel the rush of love and partnership that she thought she would. A wife who feels pretty let down by her partner some days. And who feels like she isn’t all that as a partner herself. And who fears that marriage may be more than she is cut out for.

      So, as one who has been afraid to discuss my kind of hard-ness out of fear and shame, I’m really happy that Meg shared this today. Thanks, Meg.

      • Marisa-Andrea

        @ Jessica, but that’s real and sort of the point. Talk about weddings CAN be cloaked in roses, rainbows and sunshine so much that the various realities of marriage can be swept under the rug or overlooked. I wonder how many of us out there feel the same way you did as a newly married person. It’s not something we, as a collective, really discuss.

      • Thanks for saying this. I think it’s really important to admit to things being rough, without others causing us to feel like a failure. It’s how relationships go. They’re hard. Props to you!

    • meg

      Again, I know this never goes over well, and I keep on publishing more of it, but she was using humor there.

      • Maddie

        I blame the internet. I’ve started using emoticons for this very reason. “I’m saying something funny that can be misconstrued as judgy! But look, I’m winking at you, so now you know that I was just kidding!” Oy.

        I like the funny. It’s a little Lenny Bruce meets weddings.

        • Class of 1980

          We NEED emoticons! ;)

    • FK

      I hear you, Ann! I actually had the same reaction, although quickly told myself, “Self, she’s not talking about you, personally; she’s engaging in hyperbole.” Yeah, written humor is so easily misinterpreted, and I got a little defensive, but definitely it’s good to have open discussions about the realities of relationships and marriage. Not married yet, so we’ll see, but I’ve been in a relationship with my fiance for over 8 years and living together for 7. I do think having made the engagement commitment has changed things somewhat and I’m sure actually getting married will change things somewhat too. It IS scarier to plunge in with no bet-hedging. But I also think that we’ve already worked through a lot of shit and gotten through some really hard moments, which gives me a lot of confidence. But thanks for your point, Ann, and good luck with everything!

  • Mary

    Looking back, I can count on one hand the number of times my parents ever fought in my presence. (I am extraordinarily lucky.) I look at them, still giddily all over each other, and I look at our baby relationship and I wonder, “How the hell are we going to do that?” For me, now is a particularly appropriate time for this post. We just moved in with each other for the summer and already struggling with housework, in-laws, money, wedding planning. I have this sinking feeling (confirmed by the refreshing honesty in this post) that our current problems are only a whisper of all the shit to come.

    I was talking with my grandmother last week about marriage and she gave me a nugget of advice that I’ve been thinking about lately. (She and my grandfather were married from age 19 until he died when I was 6. Never has she dated another man, and she still gets that wistful twinkle in her eye when she talks about him. Like I said, I am extraordinarily lucky to have such examples in my family.) She told me that when things were particularly bad for them, they went on a marriage retreat in which the instructor told them to think of a moment in which you looked at the other person with a feeling of awe and admiration and they didn’t even know it at the time. Any moment, be it exceptional or everyday, in which their positive qualities were perceptually salient to you. (For her, the moment had been when my mother was a baby and my grandfather played catch for an hour with a small neighborhood boy that he didn’t even know.)

    I look at my fiance, and I recall moments like that, and suddenly, the struggle is really, really worthwhile.

    • This brings a tear to my eye. I love this comment.

    • Rachel (not the mean one who verbally assaulted you!)


    • I also love this comment. What a wonderful way to refocus.

    • bex11

      I too am a bit concerned with fighting as it relates to the contexts in which my fiance and I were both raised. I have to really, really work at recalling fights between my parents, especially ones where they actually yelled at eachother, shed tears etc. without the input from kids (I remember lots of fighting between myself and one parent or the other where yelling was involved :) ). My parents are very happy together. While I feel they are a great example of a healthy, happy marriage, it’s hard to try to reconcile fighting within my present relationship as healthy when I never saw that modeled growing up. On the other hand, my fiance’s parents relationship was/is very volatile and from what he’s told me, their fights both with eachother and with him were NASTY (screaming, swearing, name-calling, below the belt shit with even some physical violence). He has deep emotional scars from those fights and growing up in that environment. While my fiance doesn’t fight NASTY, he certainly is a lot more comfortable with arguments & fighting than I am.

      How do you establish acceptable boundaries/rules for fights with such polar opposite points of reference? How do I not emotionally implode when (as I’m sure we will) we have a fight in front of our kids? *gulp*

      • liz

        i’m no fighting expert. but you just described my husband and i, in reverse. while my parents didn’t have earth-shattering fights, my family is VERY vocal and loud and yell-y. we’re big and italian and we’ll scream at each other, and then forget about the fight in a few seconds, and end up kissing and hugging.

        my husband is from a family where fighting was a no-no. he has difficulty raising an issue, because he feels it needs to be BIG deal to be brought up. so when i start “discussing” things, he’s afraid they’re much bigger deal than they are.

        for us, it was a matter of explaining our perspectives of fighting- how we perceive each other’s tone of voice, intentions, words, etc. i found is inability to discuss issues to be indifference, and his indifference to mean that he didn’t care about me. it can all be so easily convoluted and misunderstood. he pereceived my yelling to mean that i hated his guts and this fight would end us. when in actuality, i was yelling not only because i was used to it, but because i wanted to incite SOME sort of emotional response from him- see that he really cared.

        our fights are so much healthier now because we take care to correctly represent what is actually happening. when i catch myself yelling, i can pause and explain, “i’m only yelling because i’m frustrated, i still love you.” and i trust that when he has an issue, he’ll bring it up to me, even if it goes against his grain to do so.

        it’s also helpful to remind one another. it’s like safe words for fighting almost, ha. when one of us gets carried away and forgets what we’ve agreed to, we can nudge each other. “hey- you promised me you wouldn’t talk to me with that tone of voice,” or “josh, remember when you told me you’d bring things up when they bothered you? that’s all i’m doing now.”

        • meg

          SAFE WORDS! H*ll yes.

          Also, I have fussed at my parents for not fighting in front of us. My mom was like, “Well I didn’t want to upset you.” And I was like, “Well now I have all these unrealistic standards.” Though, I’ve gotten over those. Now I can have a good yell with no worries :)

      • liz

        also, it’s very healthy for kids to see their parents fight- for a lot of the reasons mentioned by commentors already. when you don’t see your parents fight, you don’t learn how to handle fights yourself. healthy anger, argument, and then conflict resolution is GOOD for kids. even if you mess up and have a bad, nasty, unhealthy fight- it will show them how to handle having a bad fight, too. (just make sure that if the fight happens in front of them, the apology/reconciliation does too)

        • bex11

          Thanks for the input Liz, it’s very helpful. We’ve lived together for 3.5 years and it’s really been this year, since we’ve been engaged that I’ve started to adjust my expectations around arguments. I agree that it is actually beneficial for kids to see fights, arguements etc. And if I’m honest with myself, previous relationships of mine would have really benefited from me being comfortable (or at least more comfortable) with conflict.

        • I am going to quibble with this slightly (only slightly). It is very healthy for children to see their parents disagree in a healthy and respectful manner (no screaming tantrumy fights, no name calling, always, always follow the Fair Fighting Rules), listen to one another, apologize and make up. This teaches children that all relationships will face conflict and how to resolve the conflict in a constructive and loving way.

          It is never healthy for a child to watch their children have unproductive nasty fights. Never.

          • *parents*

          • liz

            i don’t think it’s ideal for kids to see the nasty ones. just as its not so great for the nasty ones to even happen in the first place. but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for it when it happens- learning to deal with sucky, bad situations is a part of life. as is learning to apologize when you eff up. and learning that mom and dad aren’t perfect.

            i think kids can be shown that bounce-back and recovery is possible.

            but youre damn right that i’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure those nasty fights don’t happen.

          • I agree to an extent, but my own experiences in this regard says that bad fighting is never okay, particularly in front of children. Children react — sometimes the stress manifests itself in unexpected physical ways — to bad fighting they see in their homes.

          • meg

            I’m serious. I wish my parents had fought in front of us more. And in retrospect, my mom says it was probably a mistake that they didn’t. Healthy fight, natch, but fight.

          • meg

            David’s parents *did* fight (squabble, at least) in front of him, and he had a much healthier attitude about fighting than I did, for a long while.

        • Mary

          “just make sure that if the fight happens in front of them, the apology/reconciliation does too”

          YES. I think this is key. While my parents didn’t yell often, whenever they did, afterwards they would always come to my sister and I to apologize for behaving that way and to clear things up. They recognized that a huge fight between parents is not isolated: it ripples throughout the rest of the family unit. Getting that explanation, I think, is what taught me that fighting is normal and allowed me to be comfortable with it.

          My fiance’s family, on the other hand, screams and swears at each other and never apologizes (his parents divorced when we were in high school). I’ve seen them go from a screaming match to calmly eating dinner in the span of two minutes. Needless to say, my fiance is very uncomfortable with conflict and if I even snap at him, he backs off like a frightened puppy. I’ve learned that when we get into fights, it’s important for me to reassure that I still love him, even though I find him completely annoying at that moment.

          • I come from a family where I saw my parents yell at each other, call names, or freeze each other out, but never never apologize. (Surprisingly, my parents are together still and have what I think is a pretty happy marriage.) But yeah, needless to say I grew up terrified of grown-up conflict because I never saw how it got resolved. It wasn’t until I started dating Jason, who has the healthiest view of conflict EVER (Seriously, the man will stop in the middle of a fight to say, “I can’t wait for how much closer we’re going to feel after we resolve this issue!”) that I learned I could fight with someone without going for blood or feeling like it’s the end of the world. We’ve made a pact that when/if we fight in front of our kids (be it the civil disagreements or the blow-ups [because you often don’t know which it’s going to be when the fight starts]), we will also make sure we try to resolve the argument and apologize to each other in front of the kids. (And probably apologize to the kids themselves if it’s a nasty fight.)

          • Vanessa S. (the one who’s not another-Vanessa)

            Sharon, your comment so perfectly hit home for me. My parents fought in exactly the same way, and it has taken quite a while to come around to believing that my world/relationship isn’t going to end if my fiance and I fight and being able to speak the hell up. Also, we are totally stealing your pact – fabulous!

        • I think we’re saying the same thing. By all means, argue and make up. But only if you’re using “I” statements and not if it’s all the time, and not if you’re being mean to one another (“YOU DID THIS OR THAT! YOU’RE JUST LIKE …”).

    • ML

      And I thought I was going to get through one APW post this week without the weepies. A beautiful tip and story from your grandmama, thank you. Sounds like her man was a special guy.

      • Mary

        Aw, sorry for giving you the weepies! My grandma’s awesome. I had been worried that she would feel uncomfortable about the fiance and I moving in together for the summer, but she told me that we’d been patient long enough (long distance for three years) and that when she married my grandfather and woke up next to him for the first time, she remembered thinking to herself, “This is what being married is like!? If I had known it would be this great, I would have done this years ago!”

        Makes me want to go out and get married rightthisminute. :D

    • Jesslulu

      Wow, Mary. Just wow. This is a story I will carry with me.

    • My mom has often said to my sisters and I that they showed us what NOT to do in a marriage. My parents have had some pretty intense fights over the years. A lot of which we got to witness. They have had a lifetime of struggling with the same issues, and growing from them, but it has shown me that the problems you go into the marriage with, will continue to be worked through for the duration of the marriage. Sometimes my siblings and I shake our heads and wonder how my parents have stayed married for 30+ years, fighting for it during and after a separation.
      Some of their fights were nasty, I think that was good for us to see. That they are not perfect, we are not perfect, the person we will marry will not be perfect, but you can still love each other and stay commited to each other. The way they fight and how they relate to one another has also tipped me off to inherited problems I am going to have in my marriage. Such as, horrible communication, a family trait:) I know I have to work much harder to improve that area in my own relationship, and it will continue to be an area where I need to grow with my man.
      I love my parents’ steadfast example to us.

  • J

    I’m just going to throw this out there – surrounded around the ‘being engaged is hard’ bit. You all can tell me if I am nuts for having thought this-

    A few months back my fiance & I had a bit of a rough patch. He was stressed so I became stressed, then as a result of issues in my past I worried that I would be abandoned (hello jumping to the wrong conclusion) and so I pulled back – etc etc etc. Which led me to truly freak the “F” out & resolve to identify and fix every issue in our relationship with an insane sense of urgency – all of this needed to be rectified BEFORE our wedding. Or else we were going to enter into this life long commitment broken.

    We made it (naturally, not forced) to the other side of our issues and are now doing great – happy & rapidly nearing our wedding. Not all of our issues are resolved – but for now (and probably because we’re in a good place) I’m ok with that.

    Have any of you felt this panic to ‘fix in all’ before the wedding?

    • liz


      i felt like, “crap, if we can’t make it now, we’re gonna SUCK at marriage.”

      but, in tandem with what’s being said in this great post, i found we fought more right before the wedding than we do now. i’m sure we’ll hit another patch again. but that pressure to make sure everything was perfect before i married this guy just caused more fighting.

    • Liz A

      J, speaking as another engaged person, rough patches can be scary. And make me wonder about what they mean for the future. But Meg’s mom and the generous author of this email make me feel like it’s ok.

      We recently had a bad rough weekend and I freaked out, left the house at 7am, and spent the rest of the day thinking about if I really wanted to go ahead with this. But after we finally hashed it out and he listened to my concerns and while he didn’t immediately agree with my assesment of the situation (I’m a known over-reactor and hyperbolic arguer. He’s the most pragmatic S.O.B. I’ve ever met…ahhh opposites attract) he checked his behavior after. And I reevaluated my assesment and acknowledged my overreaction.

      Things have improved. In small and big ways that show me that we can do this. Because that’s what wer’e doing afterall: committing to get through the small and big shit. Together.



      I’m totally in this place right this minute. My instinct is to try to fix absolutely everything before we say those vows… and we only have 10 days to go! Ahh! As someone said in an earlier post, “when will the f*ing zen get here?!?!” Cause right now I’m just a grumbly bear at everyone, especially at him – the poor guy just keeps giving me these bewildered looks when I collapse over dumb stuff.

      This post was really good at reminding me that we’ve spent a long time working on us and we will continue to spend a long time working on us and that’s ok. I’m still going to growl a bit though.

    • Marina

      About 6 months before we got married, we had a horrible terrible fight. I got out of bed at midnight because I couldn’t stand lying next to him, and went and sat in the middle of the living room and sobbed. I asked myself, what if this never changes? What if the thing that’s making me so furious and hurt continues to happen for the next 60 years? Would I regret getting married?

      And the answer was no. Bone-deep, heart-felt, I still wanted to be married to him. I didn’t need to fix it. I mean, it’s something we’ve been working on since then, and will probably continue to workout, so I don’t want to be all la la la suck it up, but… I think part of what marriage is about for me is committing to our problems as well as to our strengths. And making that conscious decision that this problem is big, but it’s not big enough to overwhelm the strengths.

    • Arachna

      Yes, yes, yes!

  • Jennifer

    You know, I was reading through the first sentence feeling mighty pissy, because I apparently still haven’t recovered from yesterday’s meltdown, and wanted to scream because damnit, putting this wedding together is stressful enough as far as basic logistics, without worrying about how it is going to reflect our values as a couple, and we’ve got plenty of bigger, messier stuff to sort through right now without worrying about the wedding, and I’ve been feeling really crappy because I have not been a fun person to be with the past week.

    And then the rest of the post was about the big messy stuff. And I actually find it very reassuring to read about how hard marriage is. Because that means that maybe it’s okay that I spent a good chunk of yesterday crying about stuff and then being annoyed when my fiance got home from work, that a rough patch does not mean we are completely incompatible and should not be getting married.

  • Molly

    I wonder a lot about what commenter Michele brought up about once-very-happy divorced couples. I don’t have very many divorced examples in my family, but I do have examples of happy couples that argue (and oh man, can my parents argue! My siblings and I were sent to Nana’s for a summer so they could argue it out for months in counseling. I learned this later on in life and it’s something that really gives me a sense of hope in our hard times). On the other side, my MIL is twice-divorced, while my FIL is happily in his second marriage.

    Our families relationships had a significant impact on my relationship with my husband (he wanted to date for 7 years before we got married, because that’s how long his father dated his stepmother and he saw that as a good predictor.) At first, that line of thinking annoyed me – we’re different than our parents. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is what will make our marriage strong. We look to those around us and see their successes and mistakes. Then we see how we can make those experiences work for US and make US happier in OUR relationship (we did not wait for 7 years, because that would have been too long for us).

    I think that having a healthy marriage is about paying attention and communication. If we are fighting (and we don’t often have “fights” which involve raised voices/crying/leaving the room), we’ve both learned to listen to what the other person is saying, but also what WE are saying. Our fights end quickly, not because the issue is resolved, but because the issue has been uncovered. And then the real work can begin (mostly, figuring out how we can change ourselves/accommodate each other).

    Like everyone said, ALL adult relationships are hard (as are most things that come with being an adult). However, I think being married makes things *bigger*. It makes the stakes higher (sometimes I think “Holy crap – this is what I’ve got to work with until I die?!” & I’m sure he thinks the same about me). But with higher stakes come greater rewards. I think for some couples who divorce, maybe their perceived reward is just not enough to make them work through the hard stuff?

    • Lethe

      I think the comment about couples not only listening to each other when fighting, but listening to THEMSELVES, is very wise. A lot of conflicts in relationships between well-meaning people might not even be about the way we relate to each other, but the extent to which we misunderstand ourselves: if I haven’t figured out / admitted to myself the true nature of the problem in my own head, how is my partner supposed to address it in a constructive way?

      And in that vein, I think people who commit to each other at a young age aren’t doomed to divorce due to not having taken time to “know themselves” – you can still learn about yourself and grow up in a relationship, and in fact you HAVE TO learn to do that eventually, because there’s no end point in life where you stop growing and changing. The bigger problem for young marrieds might just be that some people (even very well-intentioned, loving people) end up using their relationships as a crutch to NOT have to go through that painful but important growing/knowing yourself process. And a relationship can’t survive that way over the long term.

      • Liz

        I think the “listening to yourself” factor is huge. I know it’s been a major journey for me. I am lucky enough to have a partner who called me on the fact that I often take offense to something he is doing or refuse to do some certain activity on the basis that “I just don’t want to,” without actually examining the reasons for my refusal. I have since come to realize that I have been contributing to a fair amount of strife in our relationship by not acknowledging how I feel about certain things deep down. If I actually am honest with myself, then I can be honest with my partner, which goes a long way towards a healthy relationship. The humility it takes to admit that I was wrong, or that I have some deep complex feeling or fear about something that I have been hiding from myself and him, has only made me and our relationship stronger, despite how difficult it is to admit my own faults.

      • Lisa

        I wish I could EXACTLY this more!

    • Marina

      “Our fights end quickly, not because the issue is resolved, but because the issue has been uncovered.”

      Yes yes yes a million times yes. Once we know what the issue is, we can work on it TOGETHER. It changes from a tug of war into a project.

  • Class of 1980

    I had one of those amicable divorces. We didn’t fight a lot in the marriage and we didn’t fight during the divorce. We are still friends.

    I am older than most of you and have lived and observed a lot. Here’s what I think . . . usually, the marriages that don’t survive, already had the seeds of destruction in them from the beginning.

    One seed of destruction in my marriage was that we didn’t fully comprehend that some of our difficulties were because we never naturally bonded as lovers from the beginning. It was really a friend marrying a friend and nothing more. Another seed of destruction was that our separate outlooks on life were diametrically opposed. They still are.

    When you find someone’s social, political, and lifestyle views downright repugnant, it’s a safe bet that marriage is going to make those views even more distressing to you. Marriage requires mutual admiration and mutual goals.

    And the phrase “marriage is hard” really isn’t universally true. I know plenty of couples who are just so darn compatible that the “difficult” times in their marriages would seem like a walk in the park to others.

    The way your marriage plays out, and the way you experience it, has everything in the world to do with your own mental health, your partner’s mental health, how your separate personalities mesh, how you pay attention to and fulfill each others needs, how you handle disagreements, how easy it is for you to talk honestly, how much you trust each other, whether you both want the same things out of life, whether you like and admire each other, and even financial security.

    Some marriages will be more stormy because of the personalities involved, but the two will have so much going for them that it will be worth it.

    If you asked divorcees, most can look backward with the 20/20 vision of hindsight and see the seeds of destruction that were present before their wedding day. Some will have been blind to it at the time; others will have seen the seeds without really understanding what they were seeing. I was the latter.

    My own parents unwittingly provided quite a lesson on marriage. My mother is the most easy-going person you can imagine. My father has borderline personality disorder. After 22 miserable years of marriage, they divorced and both have been remarried for over 20 years.

    My mother got remarried to an easy going man with a similar outlook on life and compatible beliefs. They also share several passionate hobbies. There is zero difficulty in their marriage. Lot’s of joy and happiness. Any difficult times in their lives come from problems outside their marriage, like health issues or relatives. The marriage is not a source of trouble. My mother will tell you that compatibility is the main key to a happy marriage.

    My father still has an afflicted personality. He married a happy woman who used to be joyful, but now lives in constant fear of provoking his anger. Their marriage is characterized by short periods of peace, inevitably followed by stormy outbursts by my father complete with shouting and threats. His wife must walk on eggshells to quiet the storm and prevent the next one. The only glue that holds their marriage together is that there is a 23-year age difference and although she has a great job, she’s put so much time into the marriage that she wants to insure her inheritance from my dad.

    The atmosphere of both marriages were predictable to us children.

    Two people enter marriage carrying seeds that they plant together. What will sprout in your mutual garden?

    • liz

      the destructive nature of friendship-based-marriages has come up so often on apw. it really makes one think.

    • Thanks for the perspective. I think it’s a good point that there are those marriages that weren’t happy, that couldn’t really be fixed by one or the other. I think that’s a different kind than what was referred to earlier as so-happy-what-happened, or as what Meg mentioned when one or both people just gives up.

      It’s hard on everyone when marriages dissolve, even if it’s for the best, because it can cause us to question our relationships. (Which can ultimately cause growth). It is amazing how much of a ripple effect on a community a relationship can have, whether it be a happy marriage, an honest marriage with patches of hardness, an abusive marriage, an amicable divorce, a horribly rending divorce, or anything involved therein. And this isn’t to cause guilt for anyone who has divorced, but just as our happy weddings can cause joy in our communities, other things have effects also.

      • I think a lot of this guessing comes from watching someone else’s relationship from the outside. The things that are missing from a relationship are things that those of us in the situation hold very closely to our vest. We want and need our family and friends to support that relationship and to believe that we have made a wise and loving choice. I did not ever — not until I was ready to admit the problem and move on — tell anyone how truly unhappy I was in my relationship or why. To say it out loud, to write, was to think it, and that meant giving up, admitting failure, mistake and defeat. Did I really just “give up” and not try? No. I did try many things, including all sorts of counseling, attempts to improve our sex life, get us out on the town, vacations, hobbies that never became shared hobbies. I tried, but I did not talk about it with friends or family. It was too scary and too sad and too painful.

        My ex’s family was shocked. Our friends were shocked. Only my family guessed. All this is to say that what looks like “someone just gave up” to an outsider may be something else completely.

        • Class of 1980

          Can’t believe I didn’t reply to this yesterday. I also didn’t tell anyone about how freaked out I was before the wedding, or about the issues in our relationship. Why would I? They were too private and a lot of it would have felt like a betrayal of him.

          And YES, everyone was totally shocked when I announced the divorce. Not one person was prepared for it. Even then, I didn’t tell a lot of people the reasons why – only a select few.

          • Class of 1980

            Damn, I need to make another comment. Until I read this, I had entirely forgotten something.

            When I got divorced, I felt strongly that the reasons were much too private to talk about unless it was someone extremely close. It felt unfair to him to discuss our issues with most other people. And uncomfortable to me.

            I actually made a VOW that I would never ask anyone why they got a divorce.

            If other divorcees are as silent as I was, that explains the surprise and confusion everyone around them experiences.

    • Michele

      “And the phrase “marriage is hard” really isn’t universally true. I know plenty of couples who are just so darn compatible that the “difficult” times in their marriages would seem like a walk in the park to others.”

      This is refreshing to hear. Much like some people develop something of a complex around how and how much they fight with their partner, or how marriage is so much harder than they ever expected it to be, I sometimes struggle with developing a complex around how much we DON’T fight, and how (so far), marriage has actually been significantly easier than I expected it to be.

      I come from the school of thought that conflict can be good, that it forces us to face our fears, work through our issues and grow, and so I don’t typically shy away from it. But there is – and always has been – very little conflict in my relationship with my husband. I kid you not, we didn’t have even the slightest hint of an argument until nearly TWO YEARS after we started dating. For a long time, I thought that we weren’t ready for marriage because our relationship had never been “tested,” because we hadn’t endured any trials and tribulations together and come out stronger on the other side. I wondered if we were both closet avoiders, destined to bottle our feelings and explode all over one another at some point in the distant future.

      Having been together for five years, and married for one, (such a very, very long time, you know.) I’ve come to realize that maybe all of this is OK. Maybe it’s not that we’re conflict free, or conflict avoiders, but that we’re simply compatible in such a way that conflict doesn’t FEEL like conflict.

      Actually, this reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books: “Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness. What fell to her lot was not the burden but the unbearable lightness of being”

      • Margaret

        Wow, I “exactlied” this, but I just had to add: yes, yes yes! And: it’s nice to know we aren’t the only “weird” ones. ;-)

      • TNM

        Same. Though I think in our case it is a combination of both a bit of WASP-style repression, and the fact that we have similar outlooks on many – though not all! – of the big things (money, politics, religion, etc.). Personally, I have been trying to work on the repression side, without trying to manufacture conflict just because, as you say, you feel like a marriage *should* involve a certain level of “healthy” fighting. I think that some relationships (at least at some times) simply have less conflict than others. Doesn’t make either type any better or worse.

        Also, insofar as you are a conflict-hater married to another conflict-hater, I am beginning to learn that sometimes fighting actually makes the conflict worse. That is, we both become more distressed at the “fighting” than the actual disagreement. Which is not to say that I think partners should not express disagreement. But that if both of you hate shouting or drama, – heck, don’t do it… Nothing wrong with a slightly strained convo over the supper table instead… as long as all the issues get hashed out :)

      • It makes me feel so much better to read your comment! We have a similar background (though the no fighting for the first couple of years may have been due to the fact we got together at 16), and about 95% of our arguments are caused by the fact we both get cranky when we’re tired… I was starting to think I was missing some hidden issues etc so it’s nice to know that’s (hopefully) not the case.

    • Wow… I never thought of it that way.

      What will you sprout in your mutual garden????

      I love that.

    • Margaret

      I agree with quite a lot of what you wrote. My mom has a pet theory that relationship dynamics don’t really change that much over the years. She and my father met when they were 13, and she claims they had the same dynamic (great at being teammates, but lots of clashing otherwise) from that point, through having 6 children, and all the way up until he passed away. Same thing goes for her relationships that followed.

      I’m not sure if I can have any theories yet, being young and newly married to the only man I ever seriously dated. However, I do identify very much with this:

      “There is zero difficulty in their marriage. Lot’s of joy and happiness. Any difficult times in their lives come from problems outside their marriage, like health issues or relatives”

      We’ve been together for 5 years, and so far (so far!) I have never really felt that the relationship was hard or took lots of work (nor have I ever wanted to–even jokingly–“rip his face off”). Our challenges have always come from outside the relationship.

      I am always half-afraid to admit this in public, because the few times I mention it, I get jumped on. People assume that we don’t communicate (we definitely do) and are repressing anger (I really don’t think this is the case)… they insist that *every* good couple fights/hates each other at times. OR they see me as bragging (I swear I’m not). Or else they say “wait and see,” or “you haven’t experienced hard times yet,” which bugs me most (considering that we have experienced long-distance for a year, grad school, not making much $$, the death of my father, and my mother’s just-recently-ended verbally abusive relationship).

      (Though I can readily say that yes, we have only been together 5 years, and yes, we don’t have children, and yes, maybe it will get much, much harder.)

      Anyway, I do think you might be onto something….

      • liz

        i haaaate the “wait and see”s.

        • Michele

          I totally ‘wait and see’d’ someone the other day without even meaning to. She was talking about the fact that she and her boyfriend of 6 months have sex multiple times a day, every single day, and that she couldn’t imagine that they’d slow down, because they just can’t get enough of each other.

          I was all, “oh, you’ll slow down. BELIEVE ME. You’ll slow down.”

          • Ha ha- that’s a different wait and see.

    • We should talk. Get together for coffee or tea, or something. Because your mother’s story (and yours) sound like a combo-platter of my first marriage and my relationship with my fiance. And I’m older, too. Been there. Done that. Moved on to peaceful compatability and passion. I like it much better here.

      • Class of 1980

        Sarah, I wish I was visiting San Francisco! Alas, I’m on the other side of the country.

        Just clicked on your blog and your story about the strife at the Pride Parade was hilarious. I can’t wait to read the rest of your blog! ;)

        • Virtual coffee, then! I see a lot of “uh-huh!” and “yes!” in our future.

          • Class of 1980


            I don’t mean to scare anyone; just make them think. I had a mini-breakdown during my divorce and ended up on tranquilizers, that I later found out were so addictive that people’s lives had been destroyed by them. I went off them cold turkey after two months and had the shakes to prove it.

            But look, I am alive and well and able to laugh at my mistakes. Joy is always waiting around for you to choose it.

    • meg

      Having observed way too many divorces for 30, and survived bad relationships of my own, I think this is totally true. Someone told me once, “Look at the first two weeks of your relationship, because fundamentally, that’s what you’ve got to work with,” and I think that’s about right.

      Also, to blend a couple of comments above, we don’t have a difficult relationship, and we just never have. Ever. In six years. And I’ve had difficult relationships, we both have, we know exactly what they are like. But that’s just not how our is – we have hard patches, but that’s because of life, not because of the relationship. BUT. We totally fight. The person above who said, “We fight, but we don’t yell or cry or throw things,” I was like, “Haaaaaa….” because I have already yelled, cried, and thrown something TODAY. No joke. And now I’m calmly sitting here typing and David is happily cooking dinner. Happy as can be.

      So, yes. The hardness of a relationship and the nature of it’s fights can be totally unrelated. One of the things that studies have shown is, as long as a couple is fine with the intensity/ frequency of their fights (and fights cleanly) things are ok. Fighting more or fighting less has zero relationship to probability of divorce.

  • Mel

    Wow, Class of 1980, thanks for this amazing comment – really great stuff in there. What makes me nervous is that, while I am in the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had with my fiance, I can identify all of the areas that are trouble points right now. Mostly I think, everybody has trouble points, right? You can’t have EVERYTHING in common with someone, right? But I get worried, like if we really run into trouble, what if I look back on this point in my engagement and wish I could ask myself “Why don’t you see the seeds of trouble which will only grow?” I have never had to trust someone this much. I have faith that we will work hard and make it work, and that we have similar values where it counts. But I do get doubts sometimes and it is so damn scary. I hope my seeds are good seeds!

    • Class of 1980

      No, you can’t expect 100% compatibility. What I had was 75% INcompatibility.

      You have to ask yourself this question . . . If our current incompatibilities are there for the rest of our lives, do we still both benefit enough from this relationship to stay together? If the answer is “YES” then by all means proceed.

      For me the answer was “NO”, because we were far more incompatible than compatible. We were SO incompatible that once I allowed myself to really acknowledge it, staying married would be like a death for me. No exaggeration.

      Don’t underestimate how much of a role denial can play. I focused on the 25% compatibility we had for a long time and downplayed the 75%. I kept telling myself that we were going to FIX the problems and then it would all be worth it. But we were never going to be able to fix them.

      My wakeup call was very sudden and very stark and traumatic. But that’s what happens when you’ve hidden the truth from yourself for such a long time. The truth hit me in one day. The day before, I thought we’d stay married forever. When the truth couldn’t be squelched any more, my whole world was destroyed.

      I sat down and wrote a list of why I wanted a divorce and covered SIX PAGES in five minutes flat. Then I looked at the list and thought about whether counseling could change any of it. In my case, our differences were too fundamental – no counseling or talking it to death was going to change anything.

      I also realized he had some mental illness issues that I’d never before understood were an actual illness. I’ve never had the guts to tell him; he is fragile. Even if he understood that he had an illness or two, I don’t think he’d be at all inclined to get help.

      Frankly, when I look back, I wonder if I was off my rocker to get married in the first place. But I was a mass of understanding and not understanding back then.

      • The more you write, the more I see my own former marriage. Denial. It’s not just a river in Egypt.

        • Class of 1980

          Ha ha ha ha ha ha! I think I had erroneous beliefs about the nature of life and love that contributed to that denial. I almost left the relationship in the first week because I thought I made a mistake. Then things calmed down and I stuck it out.

          Later on, I thought because I loved him as a human being and vice versa that I was supposed to marry him. Didn’t realize that it wasn’t the love of lovers/partners. And really, I didn’t even enjoy his company a lot of the time.

          Another wake up call that I stupidly didn’t see, was years into the relationship I felt the need to see a local psychic who had a reputation. I wanted someone to tell me that my life was going to get better and that it was worth sticking around. Helloooooo.

          He and I are friends now because of shared history and caring. But I don’t think we’d be friends if we met now.

          • liz

            but 1980, don’t you know love conquers all??


            i was in many a craptastic relationship because i thought just caring for a person would override everything else.

          • Holy crap. I think you might be my doppleganger.

    • ddayporter

      it is really tough to figure out which things are just minor now but will explode later, and which are minor and will stay minor. Meg had a post a whiiile ago, can’t remember when, about how there are certain arguments you are marrying along with your partner. if there’s something you fundamentally disagree about and argue about now, it’s not going to go away after marriage. and you have to decide if you’re ok with having that argument for the rest of your life. or there might be personality ticks that get on your nerves, and those have the potential to magnify over the years. time/maturity might soften those edges but they might not, and you just have to decide if it’s worth it to you, to take this person whether or not they stop doing X. probably why it’s better to get married when you’re older because the chances are better that the person you are when you get married won’t change dramatically as you get older, because you’ve already been through those “finding yourself” years. That’s all theory of course because I didn’t wait till I was older, I don’t think 26 counts as older. And I definitely have moments where I’m struck by that question, “what if we grow apart? we seem well aligned now but what if our life goals just SHIFT?” I guess you just have to keep evaluating your perspective.

      I also want to say that I definitely agree with Class of 1980, at least in many cases that is true. The most intimate exposure I have with divorce is my parents, but they divorced when I was 2, so I never was “in it” with them as a conscious person. But hearing from both of them now, it’s clear to me that they never should have gotten married, and if either of them had been paying attention, and really thought about the consequences, they would have recognized it. Yes mom, he was serious when he was talking about you being his “little woman,” he really was that chauvinist. Obviously dad, marrying this girl just to spite her father is a Bad Idea. So yes for some, the seeds are there from the beginning. I think many of the rest of us do struggle a bit with knowing which seeds are bad seeds and which look ugly but will grow into delicious little veggies.

    • Michele

      I think there’s a big difference between commonality and compatibility. :)

  • Class of 1980

    Just realized I needed to add something to my long-ass comment. I was having panic attacks before my wedding (years ago) and I went out and bought a book on brides getting cold feet and how “normal” it was.

    Well, if you have cold feet because the wedding itself makes you nervous, that’s nothing to worry about. But if you have cold feet because you are worried that the problems you see in your relationship will still be there after the wedding and you’re wondering if you can live with them forever if they never resolve, then you might be in trouble.

    Unfortunately, the book didn’t clarify that and I started thinking my fears were “normal”. Like I said earlier, I saw the seeds of destruction, but wasn’t sure how much weight to give them.

    Also …

    The statistic that 50% of all marriages end in divorce is NOT TRUE.

    Turn to Google and look it up for yourselves. The divorce rate is very much tied to socioeconomic level. College grads have a divorce rate in the twenty-something percents. And even as divorce rates climb as you go further down the socioeconomic ladder, in order to get to the 50% divorce rate, you have to follow the couples for decades.

    • Class of 1980

      Recently, I read a study on divorce statistics according to specific differences the couple had. They had all sorts of interesting statistics. One applied to me.

      They said a nonsmoker and smoker getting married resulted in something like an 80% divorce rate. Yeah, that was one more “seed” for us. I didn’t smoke and he was a CHAIN smoker. I didn’t want to live with it and mistakenly thought that quitting was easy. I had no idea. Back then, I had no particular sensitivity to smoke except the smell. After years of living with a chain smoker, I developed an acute sensitivity to smoke.

      The study said that two smokers getting married to each other was fine, as was two nonsmokers getting married. ;)

      • liz

        thats AMAZING. if you remember where you saw it, i think that’d be an interesting read!

        • I am currently reading a fascinating book, “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage,” by Tara Parker-Pope, that goes into a lot of these statistics, which are fascinating. A couple of interesting thing she also notes in the first chapter are that (a) that 50% statistic was always bogus because of the way in which it is generated — a strict comparison of # of legal marriages versus # of divorces in a year and (b) that today’s marriages appear to be safer/stronger than marriages in past decades. People are waiting longer to get married — both as a matter of age (those who marry later, say mid-to-late 20s and older) and as a matter of the length of the relationship (marrying after you’ve been together for several years) — so that the maturity of the individuals and of the relationship are beginning to weed out more of the early divorces that we saw in the decades between 1950 and 1990.

        • Class of 1980

          Saw it somewhere online. I read so much it’s hard to say where it was. ;)

          I also think maturity plays a role. Lack of maturity can destroy a marriage that is otherwise compatible, but maturity won’t save a marriage that’s not compatible.

          • liz

            totally. a big part of marriage is getting over your own selfishness- which requires a HECK of a lot of maturity.

    • meg

      Can I quote you on this? I’ve been asked to do a post on cold feet, and that was what I was going to say more or less, and you said it so well. EG, being nervous about the wedding or the nature or marriage is fine. If you’re seriously scared you’re marrying the wrong person, it might be time to slow things down. I get those emails, and there is often one full page of justifications of why this is the right thing to do. THAT is when I feel freaked out. When you start justifying things to yourself, I think that is the biggest red flag of all.

      • Class of 1980

        By all means, quote me. If my experiences help one person on the planet to sidestep a bad marriage, then those experiences were not in vain. ;)

        • Class of 1980

          Another thing . . . I was SO freaked out as my wedding approached, that I actually started a fight with him about our problems on the way to work one day. Ended up in a horrible screaming match where he said such awful things that I will never forget them. I went into work and burst into tears. He called me to apologize and said my words just hurt so much that he reacted with hostility.

          The sole reason for being so freaked out was that I kept thinking of the problems we had that had never resolved. I only had HOPE that they would resolve and I knew that if they didn’t get fixed, I would be miserable in the marriage. He wanted to ignore the problems.

          I read my words now and all I can think is “HOW DUMB COULD I BE?” ;)

      • Morgan

        I have to laugh – after my ex proposed, I end up in therapy due to the paralyzing panic attacks. I spent all 6 work-paid sessions explaining why it wasn’t HIM that was the problem, it was his FAMILY. Or the stress of planning a wedding. Or whatever my justification at the time was. The therapist, sadly, suggested anxiety medications instead of dumping him. Yeah. No. You can justify it until the end of time, but when you finally realize you know what you need to do – call it off, the relief is amazing. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best decision I could have possibly made.

        Applies to serious doubts, not cold feet, obviously.

  • Great post! We’ve been together a long while now with our wedding about 90 or so days away and we’ve found an even nicer happy place, at least for us… The moment we got engaged, when it was just the two of us, it was really just our moment. It’s a nice thing to think about when things go sideways.

  • This was a great post. I can say as a quasi-baby bride, I think hearing this stuff in the haze and fairy dust of wedding planning is really, really important and serves as a reminder to make your ceremony even MORE meaningful, and – not a very romantic word – but sober, in the ‘I’ve got my eyes wide open as much as I possibly can at this moment and am going into this with as little illusions as is possible under the circumstances’ kinda way.

    Innyhooch, to Carrie and all the other book lovers out there. I have read and enjoyed both The Good Marriage and Seven Principles, but the end all be all of marriage books (and world peace, as far as I’m concerned) is Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch. I read this through twice – when I was single! Passionate Marriage is to married people what that pink Dr. Spock book is to parents.

  • Ok, does anyone else want to run home and have make up sex for no reason? Because I kinda do… haha!

    • liz

      bahahaha. angie, i just imagined you storming into the house and saying, “i hate your hair!” to start a fight so you could make up.

      i very clearly have a boring day at work today.

      • ddayporter

        *falls over laughing*

      • Liz- me too!

        • Brilliant, ladies.

          I will use that tonight. And it’s also his birthday. Lucky him! haha!

  • I’ve been meaning to write to you, Meg, to offer up a guest post on what it is like to be both a Marriage Dropout and a Wedding Undergraduate because it is a bizarre betwixt and between place — one where I often feel like a fraud (who do I think I am planning my happily ever after when I walked away from a long marriage?) and where I spend a lot of time watching for signs of the apocalypse that aren’t there.

    Marriages fail for myriad reasons. Although I try not to mention my own blog elsewhere (I’m not peddling anything), I recently wrote a post about the three pillars of marital love — eros, philia, and agape — that discussed at length my parents’ divorce, and its impact on us, their children. Based on my own failed marriage, my parents’ failed marriage, and my fiance’s failed marriage, I firmly believe that a great marriage requires all three types of love. We cannot allow ourselves to let the romance and the lust die by telling ourselves that we’ve moved on, or that such things are temporary. Relationships need work — they need good, and respectful, communication; they need romance; they need friendship; and, yes, they need regular hot sex. Of course, at different times, some of these things will take a backseat to others, but if you are fundamentally missing one of these elements, the relationship is going to find itself suffering.

    Imagine that you hit a rough patch: job loss, infertility, illness, a child’s illness or worse. Now imagine if what you really, really needed was to feel cherished and beautiful. Now imagine that your partner, while capable of being a good friend, was not capable of eros (the sexy part). That had never been part of your relationship, or had disappeared long, long ago and was not capable of being reignited. Where do you go? Inward. You retreat because at a time of great need, this person was not able to meet your needs. When you retreat inward, you are no longer able to meet your partner’s needs, either. Slowly, over time, you sink deeper and deeper into your separate lives and separate selves, until one day, one of you realizes just how lonely you are. You are married, but the marriage has become more isolating than it would be to be single.

    I know. I’ve watched my parents marriage fail on the eve of their 35th anniversary. I lived through my own failed marriage, with two young children. Our friends and neighbors, and my ex’s family, were all surprised. My family was not. Apparently, only the people who knew me the best of all saw through my gritted-teeth smile. Even my mom told me that I did a good job pretending. Let me be clear. This was not an abusive relationship. Nobody had to run to a shelter to escape. I have two beautiful children, who are now two of the happiest children I know. We had an ugly separation and divorce. My ex did not want it; I did.

    This was more than just poor communication. Yes, you absolutely must learn how to fight constructively and maintain respect for one another while you air your differences. But that in itself will not save a marriage where other essentials are absent. If you had them once, you may be able to recover them. I wasn’t able to find these feelings in the end because I had to convince myself that I felt them in the beginning — that is, they were never really present in our relationship; it was a gloss I put on to try to convince myself that this was a good match. And it probably was a “good” match, but it wasn’t a great one. It was not satisfying, fulfilling, nor particularly happy.

    • liz

      sarah, i’m so glad you commented!! why do you think you forced it to feel like a “good match”?

      • I was barely 21 when I married the first time. My then-fiance and I were both still in college. I knew that there was something missing from the beginning. We lacked … electricity. But we were good friends, and after two bad break ups with boys I loved very much (the first one being my fiance now), I was certain that marrying a friend was a good idea because I mistakenly believed from watching my parents that passion fades over time anyway, but friendship will always remain. What I was too young to understand is that the passion may come and go, but it also sustains a relationship over rough patches that strain a friendship to the breaking point.

        There were times during that engagement when I seriously considered calling off the wedding. I remember fighting with my then-fiance over the gift registry, to the point where I pulled him out of the department store and stood in the middle of the mall crying, telling him, “If we can’t do something as simple as register for things we want people to give us without fighting, something is wrong.” We settled down and finished registering, but I should have listened to my instincts. Arguing over every little thing was a hallmark of our relationship. Sniping. Nagging. Mocking one another unkindly. Behaviors of which I am ashamed to this day and that I do not tolerate from my children.

        So why did I go through with the wedding? For so many reasons, and none of them good.

        My parents were on a very tight budget at the time of my first wedding, and they had already invested substantial sums in deposits on the church, the reception venue, the band, the flowers, the cake, favors, decorations, wedding party attire and gifts, etc., etc.. My dress was bought and paid for; the rings were purchased. The wedding train was chugging along at a fast clip, and I was afraid to jump off the moving train.

        Calling off a wedding requires:

        – Losing money
        – Disappointing family and friends
        – Hurting someone you care about
        – Admitting that you made a mistake
        – Breaking one of life’s biggest promises

        It is no easy task, emotionally or financially. If I had been engaged when I was older, or perhaps at a time when I was not as vulnerable from past hurts that were still healing, maybe I would have had the nerve to call off my first wedding. But I didn’t. I got married to a nice young man, who sadly married someone who was not madly in love with him. And, because everyone desires to be desired and truly loved, when that is missing, it takes its toll, even if you start out as great friends.

        Once married, the weight of the promises and the difficulty of extracting myself from the situation, kept me in place. After one particularly bad fight early in the marriage, I went home to my parents’ house in the middle of the night. I was ready to leave, but my dad talked me into going back to our apartment and working things out. Feeling again the weight of the promise that I made and the fear of my family’s disappointment and disapproval if my marriage failed, I tried to make my marriage work. I really tried. There were times when I felt close to happy, enough to convince other people that I was happy, and almost enough to convince myself.

        In the end, we simply did not love each other enough. When life threw us lemons, we hurled the lemons at each other.

        • liz

          so many good things for me to read!

          above, dday mentioned how hard it is to know what is or isn’t a dealbreaker. i wonder if a huge part of it is being able to recognize when someone brings out your worst, rather than your best. (as you said about being ashamed of your behavior with him)

          • I think it’s more than just recognition; it’s also admission. It is no easy thing to say to yourself, “You think you like this person, but do you like YOURSELF when you’re with this person?” and admit that the answer is a resounding, “No.”

    • Class of 1980

      Sarah, I undertand completely.

      Yes, you CAN recover what you once had, but you CAN’T recover what you never had.

    • Marina

      Thank you SO much for writing this here. I for one would really, really love to read your Marriage Dropout/Wedding Undergraduate guest post.

    • meg

      Email me!

  • sparkleparty

    When my parents got engaged, my dad asked my mom “Do you want to ‘you know’?” And my mom answered, “Like, ‘you know’, ‘you know’?” and the rest is history. My parents are no longer together and after hearing this story I couldn’t get it out of my head. Of course it could be seen as innocent, or funny, or a reluctance to speak the words (fiance, husband, wedding), that I myself had trouble saying out loud at first. But the idea that a marriage could be based on so little communication makes me shudder. Perhaps things are different now. Marriage, especially here in Quebec, is a positive choice, and definitely not the default way to live together. I put a lot of thought into deciding to get married last summer, especially having grown up in a household where relationships and marriage were treated as a weakness after my parents broke up. But, as much as I want to know what the future holds, it is impossible to predict. I don’t want to live in fear of divorce, but I don’t want to deny that in 20-30 years it may be the only option for us. I can only hope that if that worst scenario happens, I won’t see it as a failure, but the result of a brave decision. The decision to live out the potential of a long and (mostly) happy marriage, including hard days and yes, years (we’ve already had 1 of 7), but also all the fulfillment and joy and sharing and dreaming and building that comes with it.

    • Class of 1980


      I never thought of my divorce as a “failure”. It was just a gigantic learning experience. The marriage only happened because we didn’t have enough knowlege.

      I don’t want to see people going into marriages terrified. You SHOULD expect it to last forever, even while you know the future is unknown and you can’t guarantee it.

      For a long time, remarriage was something I couldn’t deal with. I had to process what had happened. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would look for in a marriage partner the next time. Now, I am focusing on how my own personality would impact a marriage and thinking about what I can and can’t change about myself. We never stop maturing. I also plan to be totally honest with any future partner about our short comings and discuss how the other person feels about living with them . . . forever. ;)

      But I promise you that I will not enter another marriage without at least the “feeling” that it will go the distance. Nothing wrong with that feeling. It’s a sign that you’ve probably chosen well. If you’re going to plunge into marriage, might as well plunge all the way.

      • I never felt that “we’ll go the distance” feeling with my first marriage. In fact, if anything, I felt that my heart would be somewhat insulated in the event that it didn’t work out because we were really friends and not lovers. I did not visualize us as an elderly couple, holding hands while we puttered around. As our marriage wore on (it never really matured), I knew I did not want to retire with him. I didn’t want to be cooped up in a house all day and night every day with him. Our relationship was about milestones and goals, races to be run. It was not about how we traveled, but about getting to where we were going. We got there.

        You would believe that I would be soured on marriage, given my experiences, but I’m not. I believe in marriage. Correction. I believe in marriage between two people who are highly compatible, in love with one another, and who communicate well with one another. I do not believe that people should “stay together for the children.” Nonsense. My children are substantially happier, healthier and better adjusted now that they have two peaceful households compared to one tense, unhappy home.

        I am engaged again, but if my fiance were any other person, I would not be dating at all. Tony was my first boyfriend. We dated for 1 1/2 years in high school, and we both felt the loss over the years. But I was in the midst of my separation and divorce when we reconnected, and it hasn’t been easy. As wonderful as he is, my fiance could not heal me from my divorce. One night, he held my hand, told me he wasn’t ever going anywhere, but I needed a therapist to talk to — someone who could help me work on me.

        Although there was never any question that we both planned to be together forever, at first, we talked about simply living together. We knew what our commitment to one another meant, and neither of us was particularly eager to jump into a second marriage. Marriage was not high on our list of priorities.

        But I have children, and we both know that this is a real love. This is the most comfortable and passionate relationship either of us has ever been in. We argue every now and again, but we resolve it together and our arguments are never the bitter, nasty below-the-belt fights we both grew to loathe in our prior marriages. Our desire to be together for the rest of our lives is born out of the knowledge that we have tried to look elsewhere, but this is the one relationship that has always felt right for both of us. Even though we’re engaged, we’re not in a hurry, and we will have been together for years by the time the wedding rolls around.

        In the meantime, we’re doing a lot of work to make sure that we’re on solid ground. We’ve taken parenting classes, we read a lot of books about parenting, co-parenting, communication, and marriage. I still see a therapist on a regular basis to work on myself, and we’re going to be taking communication/relationship classes together as well.

        • Class of 1980

          Love your story. Yes, what you describe with your fiance is what a real marriage should be.

          Like you, I am NOT down on marriage AT ALL. Not one bit. Because I have seen too many real ones. My own grandparents had a real marriage. They are deceased, but their marriage is one that inspires me.

          My grandmother first saw my grandfather on the first day of high school. She said the instant she saw him, she knew he was going to be her husband. They courted for years, but didn’t actually get married until they were 24 because of the Depression. They weathered some very serious things in their marriage and overcame them because they had a good thing. I think they admired each other to the ends of their lives.

  • Exactly this.

    I’m gonna say it: wedding planning has not really been that hard for us. We have our worries and our speedbumps but really, it’s been pretty good. Far better than many others say it is. Being engaged hasn’t been hard.

    Marriage? Well, I’ve already said that we already view ourselves as “married”. It hasn’t been hard yet, but I am sure it will be.

    So yes.

    Exactly this.

  • The honesty that shines through in every APW post is why I joined this community. I’ve recently become a lot closer to one of my friends who was married about 3 years before me. What I love and treasure about our friendship is how honest we are about things. When I was freaking out about all of the little arguments my fiance and I were having before the wedding, I called her. And she told me about how her and her husband had a HUGE blowout (her words) the night before their wedding. And she is honest with me about how hard marraige is. And I’m honest with her. At our wedding when she gave a speech, she spoke about that honesty (without bringing up fighting with our respective husbands, of course) and it brought me to tears. Those are the kinds of friendships we need as we are figuring out what it means to be married, what it means to be a wife.
    APW is like that friendship. Honest to the core. I so appreciate that.

  • Well, y’all know I’m not married, but when I was engaged, my mother, who has been married to my father for 30+ years, told me that marriage was hard and you will fight, and the truth is, it’s like any longterm relationship. When I fight with my friends and have my moments of hating them even as I know they are still some of my favorite people, I rarely think I should just stop being friends with them. I don’t doubt our friendship when we get pissy at each other. My mother explained that she didn’t understand why we get that way when it’s our partners who make us feel that way.

    I think it helps that she and my dad started out as best friends in high school.

    And the hazard of following her advice and believing that the bad patches don’t mean the end also led me to stay with my ex for way longer than I should have… so I don’t know, but comparing relationships to friendships helps me sometimes.

    Another amazing post.

    • Class of 1980

      My personal feeling is that if a relationship feel “hard” all the damn time, it may be a compatibility problem.

      One caveat though . . . some people are just passionate and their arguments will be passionate when they disagree with their partner.

      If the relationship feels like a constant battle and the rewards are too few for happiness, then it will probably fail. However if the relationship feels easy, but the occasional arguments are passionate, then I don’t see a problem.

      • So, um, yeah. This.

        There is a difference between living in constant strife, where you feel chewed at (and chewed up) all the time, and the ocassional passionate disagreement that gets resolved.

        I spent the better part of a year after I left my marriage feeling hollow, shell-shocked. It’s like relationship PTSD. That is not to say that my fiance and I never argue, or don’t express our emotions. We do. It’s just very, very different. I don’t come away from an argument with my fiance feeling like we’re never done fighting; I don’t come away feeling less than or filled with putrification. We argue, we cool off, we discuss, we resolve, we make up, and then it’s over. Completely over. Nothing is getting shut away just to stop the conversation; we’re just actually done because it has been resolved.

        • Class of 1980

          And then there is the other kind of strife. The one where 24-hours-a-day you feel unloved, misunderstood, and that the person just basically doesn’t “get you” at all.

          It’s worse than a fight because you feel so alone, undermined, and unsupported. For God’s sake, don’t marry a person who doesn’t “get” who you are. And if you find yourself laughing your ass off at something, while they stand there looking dumbfounded, you can be sure they don’t “get” you.

          And if you find you can’t talk about minor things without misunderstanding each other all the time, and you’d swear one of you is speaking English and the other is speaking Swahili, you don’t “get” each other.

          Had a boyfriend like that after the divorce. We both had the good sense to recognize that the problem was a fundamental lack of connection/attraction and broke up. I don’t consider that a failure. I consider it a triumph of intellect. ;)

          • Yes! I think the verbal strife is a carryover from the internal conflict of feeling so alone and misunderstood.

      • meg

        Yeah. I read something on a blog in my early 20’s that stuck with me. It was that “if it’s really hard and really complicated? This is probably not the relationship for you. You’ll know it’s right when it gets simple.” I really kept that in mind, and I found it to be about a billion percent true. And I’ve been through my share of really hard… and there was usually a reason… um… we were not a good MATCH (oops).

        • Class of 1980

          Everyone needs that piece of advice in their twenties. Damn. It would have saved me a lot of useless effort. ;)

          • One of the big “keys” to fighting well is both people go into the disagreement/discussion with the mentality that resolution will be the end result. That both want the other person to be okay and to be heard and then at least work on beginning to resolve the situation.
            Another thing I have learned that is HUGE is to not keep bringing up things that have already been resolved and moved past. There is no reason to bring something that the other person is potentially sensitve about and rehash it, it will just cause more hurt and more arguing. And it is in no way loving to the other person.

        • Jen

          “if it’s really hard and really complicated? This is probably not the relationship for you. You’ll know it’s right when it gets simple.”

          Wow. I so needed to read this, after reading through this post and all these comments. Thank you.

        • Morgan

          Yes! Thank you. My relationship started with Dave at a VERY complicated time in my life, and despite the complications and stuff that followed, being with him has always been easy. I wish I would have read that a couple of years ago.

  • Liz

    I’m not engaged, or married, but as someone in a relationship that is ironing out a great number of kinks, I can say that the “it’s not about not fighting, it’s about fighting well” totally rings true for me. My partner and I have been on a long journey of figuring out how best to address our issues, how to try and talk about problems in the moment, etc. And it’s FREAKING TERRIFYING sometimes when we end up arguing every day about something new, and I keep having to force myself to acknowledge that this is how a relationship really gets built. Just because one of us has a new issue to talk about every day doesn’t mean that our relationship doesn’t work- it just means that there is something we haven’t addressed yet. This post and all of these comments are very reassuring to me. I think it’s a big insecurity that many of us have to get over: just because we have a fight or don’t see eye-to-eye with our partner on a certain subject doesn’t mean that things won’t work or that the relationship is over. It’s taken me a long effing time to realize that, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I think there’s a major factor with popular culture and this industry-driven image of the “perfect relationship” that drives us to think that if one little thing goes wrong, we might as well throw the towel in on the whole relationship. WTF is up with that?

  • Allison

    i exactly-ed about twenty things down the page but here’s an out-loud exactly! for this post and all the comments. i really needed to read michelle’s story today, so thanks.

    sometimes knowing that you aren’t the only one is the best medicine.

  • peanut

    love this post and discussion … I have to say, Meg, that that comment by your mother has stuck with me as well; in fact I mentioned it to my mother and she “exactly!”ed it! The thing is, I hear all this valuable advice from married couples, and appreciate it, but I find myself waiting for the “hard” parts and I am somewhat scared it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like, we had a fight yesterday, and I thought “OK, is *this* the beginning of the ‘hard part’?” And lately we haven’t been having sex as frequently and as passionately as before – and every night I think “OK, is THIS the hard part?” It is reassuring to hear comments like some of those above from couples who don’t have the dramatic “I hate you” hard parts, because then that means its ok to not have a hard part, and then maybe I’ll stop looking for a hard part – does that make sense?

    • Class of 1980

      There’s no reason to look for a hard part. It won’t do a thing for your marriage to look for trouble.

      Believe me, when there’s a real “hard” part, it will find you. You won’t have to go looking for it. ;)

    • meg

      You know when it’s a hard part TRUST ME. And for my parents, I don’t think it was ever their relationship, persay. It was the circumstances. And they were un-f*cking-misable.

    • liz

      i think the key is that we needn’t be discouraged if/when the hard parts come. it doesn’t make us weird or unhealthy or doomed if we don’t have “hard parts.” but when they hit, we don’t need to immediately wonder if it’s the end, scream, “DIVORCE” and head for the hills.

      i think what meg says is true- josh and i haven’t had hard parts this early on in our marriage, other than unemployment and unexpected pregnancy and other surrounding situations. i’m sure that there’s the possibility that one of these types of things may occur again, and we won’t be able to take it with the same cordiality and calm we’ve been lucky to have so far. who knows.

      • ddayporter

        umm I’m sorry, what? is this the first time you’ve sneaked this news into the comments or have I not been paying attention (maybe I should be reading your blog)? blogland is very strange, I don’t know you but I feel like I do, and I am ridiculously excited by this news. congrats!

        • liz

          aw, thanks!! and no, apw doesn’t have much room for baby-talk, so i guess it hasn’t come up before.

          i’ll just hang around til meg pops one out. then we can start ‘reclaiming mother’ or a ‘practical family’ or something, HA.

          • ddayporter

            I will look forward to that! in any case, you are in my reader now. :)

          • MEG P

            Massive congratulations! That’s such joyful news!!

  • I really appreciate reading posts like this. I find a lot of strength in knowing that other women are out there fighting the good fight and sometimes looking around asking “Am I some sort of chump for fighting so hard for this?”

    My(now) husband and I were mere weeks away from “beer-loping” when the shit hit the fan. I found myself totally shocked and heart broken. I called off the beer-lopment, hoped it was a pause and not a full stop, and we got some help. I found myself on the phone with his mother one night begging her to talk me into staying. “I need to talk to someone who loves him more than they love me. I need someone to argue his side.” She being a wise woman said “Dear, I can’t tell you not to leave. I have almost left before, several times. Its OK to wonder if you should leave once in a while. It forces you to look hard at all of it, sort it out all at once. Its what happens AFTER you think about leaving that matters. If you stay and if you marry you will have hard times. You will have times when you think men are stupid and weak and an utter waste of your time and effort. You will look at him and wonder what the hell you were thinking when you said yes. That is partnership. That is the part we don’t talk about as a cultre because its not happy and pretty but it is just like storms. Dark and scary sometimes but there just the same.” She recomended I think back to all the times we took the road together. When we decided to move in together, when we decided to get married (not the proposal but the very first baby talks about the future) when we decided to put me through school. Those are the times when we looked at everything we had going for us and we said “I choose you”.

    We don’t fight. We are very good communicators and we both hate to go to bed upset at one another. We do struggle. We get bent out of shape with one another and we stew over things. We don’t shout or say mean things. He pouts or avoids and I slam dishes around and huck laundry about, grumbling under my breath. Then, eventually, we find ourselves face to face saying what we are upset about or stressed by and can the other please help in the following way… It is sort of like kindergarden teachers fighting. Very civil and very concious about the language we choose. I think that came from the horrible time this winter. We almost lost it before it even got off the ground. We almost didn’t even have all of this to fight over. That doesn’t mean we won’t almost lose it again. It just means that we probably won’t lose it because we aren’t paying attention.

    I think the hard shitty times are like cleaning the bathroom. I think depending on how mindful you both are day to day the clean up may not be so bad. However, sometimes life is just chaos and you aren’t paying attention to wiping down the shower or counter every day and then it is a real mess when the time finally comes. The good part is when you are though the hard stuff, be it hours, weeks, months or years, things will feel better again. The bathroom will be clean again and nice. It will still remain an unpleasent memory but the work, the clean up will be worth it. If you do it together there will be something to feel a bit proud of. Even if the clean up means break up it will lead to different experiences and different bathrooms…maybe a bathroom of your own for a while. You’ll have to clean that up too from time to time.

    My point is that there is function in the difficult. It can serve to strengthen or to clarify. It doesn’t have to be fires of hell hard but if it is that’s fine too. I find it helpful to just let the difficult stuff be difficult, and not to worry too much if it looks like other people’s struggles. That said, I find a mountain of reassurance in knowing we are not alone in our bathroom cleaning duties no matter what the shit on TV would have me believe. Thanks Meg, Thanks Michelle and Thanks to all of you other reader/poster ladies for leaving the light on for me.


    • Kim

      Oh man, do I hate cleaning the bathroom.

  • Sarah Beth

    Wow. When I read this post at 9-something this morning, there were like 8 comments. When I got home at 12:00, there were 100+. I really can’t read them all, so I’ll just jump in.

    When we got engaged, I was 19, he was 18. Adults in the legal sense, and mature, but certainly young enough for my parents to totally lose it. And if the last three years have proven anything, we had a lot of growing to do. And while I don’t think getting engaged and eventually married is a mistake, I sort of wish we’d waited a little longer to get engaged. But that because the first year and a half of our engagement was absolute HELL.

    On the other hand, I’m glad we had made this commitment to each other before some of the biggest, hardest changes came to pass. Our engagement has been far rockier than our prior relationship. At times, I’m convinced that we’ve weathered things as engaged couple that would probably destroyed a very young married ‘us’. But instead of viewing the huge changes in each other’s psyches and beliefs as betrayal (“You’re not the person I married!”) we were able to step back and realize that we had both grown and changed, and it must mean something that we still loved each other.

    And we’ll still be young when we’re finally married. “Too young” according to statistics. And I have no more illusions that married life will be easy and blissful. It will be hard-earned, and therefore, well worth having.

  • Meg, this might be my new favourite APW post. I usually skim the comments (not that I don’t love reading them; I just don’t have time to read all 100+ comments everyday), but I had to read them all on this one. Lots of good insight today.

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  • Carreg

    Thanks for this thread (esp 1980’s and Sarah’s comments). I shall send my FH over to read it when he’s feeling strong.

    Slight tangent — has anyone else wondered whether the statistics on divorce mean that it simply doesn’t make sense to use the bloodcurdling bits of marriage vows, like ’til death do us part’ or ‘as long as we both shall live’? If one only has a 60% chance of making it, it seems almost like perjuring yourself from the beginning. Of course vows don’t necessarily include an ‘until’ at all.

    But 1980’s comment that if you’re going to plunge, you might as well plunge all the way, and also the stuff about marriages that are just friendships not working, makes me wonder if the bloodcurdling bit is actually really important. Maybe wanting to include something like that (I really do) is a good sign.

    • The divorce rate isn’t 60%, it’s closer to 40-50 percent for the general population, but even this statistic is not particularly accurate. I think I previously mentioned the book, “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage,” by Tara Parker-Pope, that examines the statistic and really breaks it down. You might want to check it out (or at least the first chapter, which gives a good overview).

      • Carreg

        Er, what I wrote was the reverse, but it’s still not accurate I guess. I’ll keep an eye out for that book.

    • Anna

      I really didn’t feel comfortable saying things like I “promise” or “forever” or any of that sort of stuff when we “beer-loped”. I won’t say it at the family wedding this fall either. It might be that I am a child of divorce (parents appeared happily married for 36 years) or maybe it is because I am a student of Buddhism and I feel too strongly that things are imperminent and not always ours to control. I just felt like I was setting myself up to fail if I used the always and forever talk. I felt more comfortable and more honest saying “I choose you. I choose to get up next to you every morning and offer you the best version of myself. I intend to be your partner in crime and your best friend, your love and your support, your candle on the water. I can’t wait to see how life unfolds before us…..” I went on from there but you get the point. I just felt like I didn’t want to make promises that I didn’t know for sure I could keep. Don’t misunderstand me. I love my husband and I intend to work hard everyday to build a happy looooooong life with him. I just know that sometimes the world gets turned upside down and I think things can be hard enough without loading the gun of disappointment twice. God forbid I ever find myself separated from G, I don’t want to look back on my vows and feel a sense of failure or like somehow I couldn’t follow through on my comittment or promise. Instead I stood next to him, and over pints of beer and cupcakes I stated my intentions and he stated his and that was all I could ever honestly ask for.

    • meg

      Ok, first, general statistics make no sense. Specifically, as a college educated, financially independent woman who married at almost 30, I have a 25% chance of divorce. Less if you add the fact that both sets of parents have been happily married for 35 years. But what does that mean, for me in particular? Not much. Our relationship is our relationship and we are responsable for it. It’s our choices that shape our lives – not statistics or luck or love. Our choices, and what we do with the hands we are dealt.

      So, beyond that, what do I think? I think that if you don’t go into marriage making a vow, if you don’t go in being 150% sure that you are marrying someone who is right for you, and that you will do what it takes… then… you probably need to take a bit more time to talk things over before you jump in. That said, I think you should discuss the hell out of divorce, and you should come to grips with the fact that divorce doesn’t always mean failing, and you can fail in a relationship without getting a divorce.

      In sum, I’m saying marriage is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and that if you’re not planning to put your partner in the ground or have them put you in the ground, you shouldn’t walk down the asile. But I’m also saying that if you’re not adult enough to come to terms with the complexities and realities of any life choice – or if you’re still dreamy eyed about marriage – you also should give yourself time before that asile walk.

    • meg

      Oh! Just re-read and wanted to comment on this, “bloodcurdling bits of marriage vows, like ’til death do us part’ or ‘as long as we both shall live’” To me those are not the bloodcurdling bits, they are the most beautiful most important bits. They are what makes getting married huge. They are the whole point.

  • rose

    this post really resonates with me. which is funny because i am not married yet. thing is, i have been with my guy for 9 years and we got engaged a few months ago. and everyone is always asking questions about our engagement as if his commitment to me is now all of the sudden different because he gave me this ring…which it is not (even if it is for most people who get engaged). and the WORST comments actually seem to come from married couples because they say things like, “we’ll you’ll see, when you get married your priorities shift” or “being married is SO different than dating or even being engaged”. this may not bother other people, but it REALLY FREAKING bothers me because we committed to each other a long time ago, and always knew we would stick together, through thick and thin…we’ve been making that commitment real for several years now. we also happened to combine finances, live together, have a dog, a mortgage, etc…so it offends me that people assume that i know nothing about compromises…bad periods…”dry spells”…whatever issues come with time and love…positivity and negativity.
    anyway…we recently happened to decide to “make it legal”, and involve our families and friends, which we are excited about. but for some reason people seem to want to “one up us”, as if they know more about relationships or commitment than we do simply because they had a wedding. its high and mighty and makes me not want to talk weddings, marriage or anything involving relationships with them!
    ok sorry…rant over. but thank you thank you for posting those comments – it is real, relatable and incredibly refreshing to read on a wedding website!