Recently my marriage went through a glorious period where I was “newlywed” in love with my husband. We parented in synchronicity. We finished each other’s sentences. We were the Facebook couple others pretended to be. And in one fell swoop, it ended. We fought—a knock-down-drag-out fight, the sort reserved for reality shows and soap operas, minus the drink-throwing of course (we don’t waste beer and wine).
The fight was exhausting. We talked, we yelled (okay, I yelled; he winced and almost walked away) and we resolved little. I felt like a failure. I felt tired. I felt angry. I felt cheated. Where was my Prince Charming, the type I was sure all my friends had married? Why wasn’t my marriage as perfect as the others I’d seen on Facebook? The couples who stared into each other’s eyes or hugged by the beach while dolphins leapt behind them.
Later that night, I sent a text to a friend. I didn’t know what I was expecting—not much, honestly. No one I knew was very open about marriage, including the people who raised me. Marriage—like money and all other issues we keep mum about—seemed off-limits. Sure we would laugh about how our husbands made us crazy or how they didn’t do the dishes or compliment us enough, but no one really went into detail about it. We never shared the ugly, the real, the truth. To admit to having issues in your marriage seemed to be an admission of failure. This was how I felt as I rolled through the peaks and valleys.
My friend listened as I laid out the beginning, middle, and end of the fight. She asked questions and empathized. I felt awful bothering her with my problems. I was sure she deemed my marriage an epic failure, but then she shocked me by sharing things about her own marriage. To my surprise, it was not perfect. She told me how hard she and her husband worked to keep things together. She admitted to rough patches.
“I never knew,” I said stunned. “I thought it was just us.”
“No, I think most people have to work at it,” she responded.
I wondered why we didn’t talk about marriage except to joke or brag. Many of us admit that parenting is difficult, but why not marriage? I felt so much better when I realized that even the strong marriages aren’t always strong, and when they are, it often comes with work. I want to talk about marriage. I want to admit that it is hard. When you throw two people together and add money, a home, children, jobs, families and aging, things sometimes boil over. We need to confide in each other. We need to stop pretending because it only serves to hurt our relationships.
I grew up believing in the fairy tale—Prince Charming, lifelong love, romance, a white wedding with my happily-ever-after sure to follow. I loved that fantasy, but it wasn’t real. I’m ready to admit that now. What no one told me, what no one owned, was that marriage is work—a shit-ton of hard and intensive work. Marriage is not for the timid or the weak-willed. There are times of intense love and joy, and there are also times of sorrow and upset.
I wish someone had told me this so I could have prepared. Of course, there really is no way to prepare. You find your prince, you marry him, you build your family and home, and then you realize the white dress was a beautiful beginning to a journey that would not always be dreamy or perfect. And if our parents told us how hard parenting and marriage actually were, the human race would likely be extinct.
I realize now that marriage is filled with good and bad. I have ridden the rise and fall of the tides and will continue to. But I am no longer afraid to tell you about my marriage. It is a work in progress, like all of the important things in my life—my writing, my children, my attempts at aging gracefully. It is often not Facebook-friendly. If you ask, I will be honest because I don’t want to pretend anymore. My marriage is hard and worthwhile. I’m OK with that, and I’m OK with your marriage too—the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m here if you need to talk about marriage or any of the other things in life that are hard and require work and care—no judgment.