Hitting our stride

My husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary of marriage in Paris this May.

Paris at sunset.  Photo by Jeremy Wance.
Paris at sunset. Photo by Jeremy Wance.

I usually let him lay low as far as this blog is concerned.  He’s the kind of guy who has plenty of opinions, but is also content to let me play the public internet persona…though his tidbits of wisdom still sneak in from time to time.

I wanted to write about marriage from a personal point of view, though, not because my husband and I are above the vulnerabilities of any other couple (and believe me it’s scary out there), but because especially when we’re feeling vulnerable I think it’s important to share our joys with one another, too.  I wanted to share what we’ve learned in a short period of time, which is enough to tell any newlyweds that it gets better, much better than you could imagine.

Many moons ago, we weren’t really the types who saw ourselves getting married, and I remember wondering even as I said the words, “I do,” how anyone in their right mind could promise forever and eternity, especially someone like me who had only lived twenty-six years up until that point.

But I’ve come to believe that marriage is a lot like faith–we promise impossible things, not because we’re capable of them, but because we believe that through practicing faith, we grow to be faithful.  We believe that our faithfulness, our devotion, and our love mean more to marriage than our abilities, our faults, or our failures.  I believe that a healthy marriage, like a healthy faith, relies on grace, mercy, and love.

At the top of a minaret in Cairo, Egypt.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
At the top of a minaret in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I haven’t always had that kind of faith.  

The first few years we were married, things were kind of rough, and our relationship teetered because of imbalances in careers, contentment, and expectations.  We weren’t very graceful with one another most of the time.  We were just trying to hold things together so they wouldn’t fall apart.

Over the years, we’ve learned that it’s not so much about holding things together, as practicing trust, compassion, and understanding.  It’s a bit of a slight of hand–when things feel like pushing a boulder uphill, it’s usually the pushing that’s not helping.  But when things look effortless, there’s a lot of building, trusting, and caring that’s going on behind the scenes.

A few years ago I remember sitting in a classroom in China, where my Chinese teacher outlined marriage patterns in their culture.  She drew a little chart where she demonstrated that men with Ph.Ds marry women with masters degrees, men with masters marry women with bachelors, and men with bachelors marry women with a high school education.  She pointed out that my position as a female doctor would be very lonely in their society, where men are still threatened by women’s academic success and earning power.

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Crowds at night. Photo by Evan Schneider.

As I walked home that day, threading the e-bikes and seas of people, I realized how much I had taken my husband’s undying support for my academic goals for granted.  He’s never once begrudged me my success or my dreams, in fact, he’s always there right behind me, supporting and encouraging me (it’s not like the man is an underachiever, though, I mean the man has two masters).  The point is, when I wasn’t looking my husband was investing in not just me, but our marriage, silently and without fanfare, but in one of the most meaningful ways.

I’ve found someone with whom I share a passion for travel, for service, and for justice.  And I’ve grown as I’ve let this person shape me, too, with his love for China, his passion for learning, and his commitment to community.  My goal these days is to outdo my husband in my respect for him and in trusting his love for me, to rejoice with him as he excels in his new job, and to challenge him to achieve his goals as well.

Lately I’ve been so filled with gratitude that I enjoy spending time with this guy just as much, if not more than we were first met.  It’s a thrilling thing to be–and I know this is cheesy–falling in love with your husband more and more everyday.  But it’s also a sobering thing to choose that love and commitment day after day especially at the moments when it would be easier to say something prideful, spiteful, or just walk away.

In front of the dragon's neck rice terraces, Guangxi, China. Photo by Kelly Raffety.
In front of the dragon’s neck rice terraces, Guangxi, China. Photo by Kelly Raffety.

I guess that’s how one promises forever, one day at a time, until ten, twenty, thirty years have passed before you know it.

For now, I’m satisfied with five.  I feel like we’re finally hitting our stride, and I’m in for the long haul.

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