Last Saturday was our 23rd anniversary. While it may seem that this fact and the title of this post are incongruous, they aren’t really. If you are lucky, like I have been, these marriages will all be with the same person. This is a concept I first heard attributed to the marriage therapist, Esther Perel. While I’m not sure I’m all in with her entire philosophy, this idea does ring true to me. It is inevitable that people will change, and carrying a marriage through these changes in one (relative) piece is a trick that many people fail to achieve and for good reason. Even when you do, I think it’s a feat, an effort, a gift of ebbing and flowing that is never entirely finished.
My first marriage was immature – full of wild ups and downs but infused with hope and naivety. My third marriage was incredibly painful – it felt out of control, and I was uncertain whether we would walk out together. I often felt lost in the valleys of it without perspective or support that could reach me. I remember sitting in our home that was almost completed, with my red master bedroom wall reflecting off the white cabinets that were waiting to be installed and wondering with all sincerity if I would ever sleep a night in this room or if it would all fly apart before we got to that point. We were mired in hurt and trauma that was eating us alive. I deeply missed my second marriage, with its years of peace, predictability and easiness.
To be honest, I still do, even though I know the victory that my current and fourth marriage is and has been. It isn’t as easy, but it is grown up. I am a woman in this relationship – an adult that makes adult decisions in a way that makes a concerted effort to respect those around me. However, it’s also new – we’re newlyweds in this place, and there are things that are still up in the air, not negotiated, unknown. It is disconcerting when I remember how easy it was 10, 15 years ago. But, while I remember that and feel nostalgic, I couldn’t go back there, not even if I tried. I’m not that woman anymore. That woman was naive, compartmentalized and not entirely honest with herself let alone her husband. It was soft there and so safe, but I couldn’t stay and grow. Had I known what I was walking into to get from there to here, I would have put my head in the sand and answered, “No, thank you!”
I can’t say because, blessedly, that is not how life works, and you don’t get a heads up or a preview of what is coming. While this fourth marriage isn’t what either of us expected and certainly not what we signed up for, I like to think that it is what we need. Things are not as peaceful here as that “happy, easy marriage,” but my soul is quiet, confident, *at peace* for the first time in all our years together. I know who lives in this place, most especially myself, but even my husband is a more transparent and understandable entity. He naturally prefers predictability and tradition and sameness, but that is not what lives in the house we dwell in together, and he stretches and grows and loves more because of this fact. I know I challenge him – I always have – but it comes in more profound ways at this point in our lives, in a way that requires the deep love cultivated over time to make palatable. Our immature beginning couldn’t have supported this.
I remember a moment when my youngest was a baby, and it was very hard. I saw an older couple walking down the road holding hands, and I wanted that, so very badly. Today I am able to find perspective in that moment because I realize that you see what you look at and, often, that’s what you lack. The truth was that I have had stability and security in all four phases of my marriage that I’m sure many people saw and longed for. I value those things but I don’t really notice them to be remarkable because, well, for me, they aren’t.
Perspective and insight are incredible gifts, but they are never, never free. We have been through a lot. But, we are still here, together, in the same space, after 23 years and four distinct stages of our marriage. I feel humbled to have lived with and learned from this man and our marriage. And, that, in itself, is worth celebrating. Here’s to many, many more!