Pulling The Weeds: Why A Good Marriage Is All About Maintenance

by Clint Edwards
Originally Published: 
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I was texting an old friend, Mandey, when she casually wrote: “my new single mom, gig.” I was sitting next to my wife, Mel, on a plane. We were on the runway, waiting to take off, heading home after celebrating our 11 year anniversary aboard a Caribbean Cruise.

I quickly responded to Mandey, hopeful to get a response before the airline told us to turn off our phones.

“Wait… Single mom, gig? Did I miss something?”

Mandey replied, “Well, I guess. Mike and I have been divorced since May.”

It was November.

Mel was looking out the window. It was dark out. We were flying from Denver to Boise to pick up our kids.

“Apparently Mandey and Mike got divorced last May,” I said. “How did I miss that?”

Mel slightly opened her eyes, a little shocked, but clearly not blown away.

“That’s too bad,” Mel said. Then she went back to looking out the window.

Mandey was really more my friend than hers. We went to college together. I’d known her for about eight years. But what Mel didn’t know was that, during the early years of our marriage, I went to Mandey for advice. She already had two children when we met, and had been married for about five years. We were both older than average students, heading back to school and sharing many of the same struggles; only she was just a little bit ahead of me. And I must admit, her advice was always right on. She helped me understand what Mel was going through after the birth of our first son, and she helped me understand that so much of what I was struggling with (the long nights with a new child, the sleep deprived arguments between Mel and me) was normal.

“What happened?” I texted back. “Did you just drift apart? Or was it something more?”

There is something really frightening about finding out a marriage you looked up to didn’t last. I thought about how little I’d spoken with Mandey over the years. Most of our friendship had been through text message, Facebook Messenger and Facebook updates. But from my vantage point, everything seemed normal between her and Mike. I saw photos of them on trips, sharing in hobbies, playing with their children. She never mentioned any marital strife when we chatted online. Everything was surface level, and so I made the assumption that her marriage was still functioning like it always had. But I was wrong, and the fact that I couldn’t see it in them made me worried that I might not be able to see it in my own marriage.

The problem is, I think a lot about divorce. Not because I want one, but because I’d like to avoid one. My mother is on her third marriage, and my father died divorcing his third wife, and I can say firsthand how damaging a divorce can be on children. This is not to say that some parents don’t handle it well. But what I can say is that my parents didn’t. They fought about everything. They spoke poorly of each other. They used the children as bargaining chips. It was horrible.

But I suppose the scariest part about it is that I don’t fully understand my parents’ divorce. It happened when I was 9, so from my vantage point, it seems like a foggy mixed bag of bad decisions. I don’t remember seeing an actual trigger, but rather a bunch of little things (arguments and neglecting their marriage) that led to big things (infidelity), and eventually a divorce. Because of my parents and how much their divorce shaped my childhood, there is a part of me that waits for divorce to happen in my marriage, like it is some inevitable thing.

This is not to say that I don’t love Mel. I do. I love the hell out of her. I don’t ever want us to part. I just feel a heavy weight from the past, and seeing a couple that I felt confidence in fall apart, makes me terrified, particularly when I read what Mandey sent next.

“It has been happening for 16 years. It wasn’t an event; it was a process. I don’t think either of us really understood just how lonely or distant our marriage was…”

It was then that I was asked to put my phone on airplane mode.

I showed the text exchange to Mel.

She read it and I said, “This really scares me. It makes divorce sound like weeds taking over a garden. I wonder if this is what happened with my parents.”

Mel thought about what I said. She readjusted her seatbelt as the plane taxied to the runway.

“We just went on a cruise,” she said.

‘Yeah, I know,” I said. “I was there.”

“Before we went on the cruise I was really stressed out with school and the kids. But we went on a cruise and I feel a lot better.”

I thought about what she said for a moment. I felt the plane start to accelerate. We were taking off now. We were both sitting back in our seats, talking louder than usual because of the engines, but still trying to talk soft enough that our conversation stayed between us.

“We can’t go on vacation every time things get rough,” I said. “It’s not practical.”

In fact, this was the biggest vacation we’d ever been on. We’d been together for 11 years.

“I know that,” Mel said. “But it’s all about maintenance, I think.” She went on, telling me that if our marriage is a garden, we just need to keep pulling weeds. We need to take time out for each other. We need to make it a point to love each other. “Almost every day you send me a text that says, ‘I love you,’” she said. “My parents have never been divorced, so I don’t know what that looks like. But I have to assume that your parents didn’t do stuff like that.”

“So you’re saying it’s the little things?” I asked.

Mel shrugged. “Yes, I think so. I mean, you know I love you,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “And you know I love you.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Well…” she said. “I think that’s a really good thing.”

I didn’t feel 100 percent better. I was still worried about Mandey and Mike. I still wondered what I was missing when it came to my own marriage. But what I did feel was love for my wife. I felt a little more confident in the little things that seemed to be adding up to a whole.

I leaned in and gave Mel a kiss.

“See,” Mel said. “We just pulled some weeds.”

Clint Edwards

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