My grandparents were married for over 65 years, even though they were complete opposites in many ways. Grandpa was calm and composed; Grandma was strong-willed and outspoken. Grandpa was a dreamer; Grandma was a doer. Their marriage thrived despite their innate differences in personality, and survived through careers and career changes, the births of three children, the tragic loss of two of those children within six months of one another, opening and closing a business, and the multitude of smaller snags that every partnership encounters.
These days we always hear that relationships are no longer permanent, that “divorce is too easy.” Or that previous generations just stayed married forever because “that’s what people did back then.” But I believe my grandparents stayed together because they understood a key thing about marriage: “Some days,” Grandpa would say wisely, in his characteristically serene manner, “Love is a choice.”
Nobody gets married with the notion that it won’t last forever. Nobody includes “’til divorce do us part” in their vows. True, sometimes, divorce is absolutely the best option — because we all have deal-breakers, and there are some situations where escape becomes essential. But for the rest of us, we have to learn to expect, accept, and handle the rough patches. And by “rough,” I mean anything from minor (yet totally valid!) annoyances like your spouse’s intolerable, inhaling-the-drapes snoring to huge, hurtful mistakes and life-changing issues. In any marriage, there will inevitably be both.
Love truly is a choice, which is tricky, because initially it comes so easily. We fall in love, lalalalala — it just happens. Only sustaining it over the years doesn’t just happen. Love, and all its associated feelings, isn’t something that just slips around you like a coat and stays there. Life gets in the way. Marriage gets so tempered by stress that sometimes that initial rush seems long gone. Sometimes, irretrievably so.
But those are the times we choose to love, those weeks or months when we feel so far from where we started, when we couldn’t get enough of each other. Those are the times we grit our teeth and dig in our heels, even when calling it quits seems infinitely easier. We have to realize that conflict is not only necessary, but ultimately helpful, as long as we handle it. Treat a wound properly — no matter how deep or life-threatening — and it builds scar tissue and heals stronger than before. Ignore it, and infection will seep throughout the body like poison. Sometimes addressing an issue hurts worse than the issue itself, but like the wound, it has to hurt if it’s to heal. And it won’t hurt forever.
We chose our life partners for a reason. And we choose to love them through the rough parts because we keep that reason in mind. It’s OK to flounder, because that’s what couples do. It’s normal to second-guess when things go south. We feel safest unloading everything on our partners — showing each other the parts of ourselves we wouldn’t dare show anyone else, not just physically, but every vulnerability and shortcoming and fear. So it’s not always going to be pretty, but the ugliness is a part of intimacy, and intimacy keeps us strong.
Love is a choice, not a circumstance. And marriage is just a series of events that reminds us of that, over and over again. It’s not a long, romantic stretch of sunshine and roses; more like a meandering trail through terrain that is in turns rocky and steep, and breathtakingly beautiful, and it tests our limits. It should test our limits — because only when we’re faced with adversity do we truly appreciate the times when we aren’t.