Quite often people will ask, “How’s married life treating you?” and I want to say, “It’s hard!” But to avoid further questions I just respond, “Great!” Having recently gotten married, I think people expect me to gush about the “bliss” and the romance. The truth is, while it’s joyful, and a wonderful thing, married life is pretty hard so far. I think in our lead-up to marriage we even romanticized the hard parts. “I know we’ll have struggles and hurt each other at times, but our love will pull us through,” I would say to Sarah in a moment of heartfelt love for her. But when it comes down to the everyday living, each with our own schedules, there is struggle.
Sarah and I are still working out our communication styles. At times our responses to each another are not what the other expects. We both have to work on the way we listen and discern what the other is hoping to hear from us. Are they seeking a solution to their problem or do they just need their partner to empathize? Do they need the other to back them up or are they hoping to be challenged? The great thing about marriage is that each day we get to come home to a friend and confidant with whom we can fully be vulnerable and ourselves. At times, when I share something with Sarah and she doesn’t respond the way I need her to, I’ll say, “I just need you to empathize with me now,” or “I just need you to affirm me.” Being able to openly state what we need is part of continuously learning how to love each other.
During the last part of August, Sarah ran a weeklong program for some incoming freshmen at the college she works at. For seven days straight, she was gone; many nights, she didn’t get home until after midnight. I was working on some writing and a little bit of schoolwork for the upcoming year, but I found that when I barely see Sarah, I feel unmotivated. Sarah has literally become a life-source for me. As God gives life and sustains me spiritually, Sarah becomes a manifestation of God for me. She encourages me, affirms me in who I am, and challenges me to grow into a better and more loving person.
Marriage has its blissful moments. When Sarah and I really connect deeply, it’s pure joy. But, as individuals with our own schedules, patterns of tiredness, and emotional rhythms, we’re not always in the same state. At times, I want to stay up chatting with Sarah and she just wants to go to bed. At other times I’m feeling exhausted and she wants to go out for a walk with me. The occasional dissonance does not mean our marriage lacks foundation or joy. We are still very much a dependable life source for each other. It’s just that love is hard work.
My priest friend who presided at our wedding Mass once told me that he asked a couple married 64 years for the secret to their many years of marriage. “There’s no secret,” they told him. “Marriage is hard, hard work.”
During our marriage preparation weekend, we were reminded over and over that love is a choice. Love is not all about emotions or good feelings or even sacrifice. And love does not just work itself out, solving any problems you may have. Love means choosing to work hard for the welfare of the relationship, the other, the self, and even the community. Love means deep reflection on these things. True love might encourage Sarah and me to separate briefly after an argument so we can reflect on our own. True love has also encouraged us to kindle our relationship through once-a-week date nights. True love has been a life source for my companionship with Sarah.
I actually responded to some family friends the other day who asked me the “How’s married life?” question with “It’s tough!” It threw them for a loop. But I didn’t respond that way to be negative or sour about marriage. I told them it’s tough because I don’t want people to see marriage as the ultimate problem solver or as overly romanticized. My marriage to Sarah is hard work every day. I have to learn each day how to love her. We have to learn each other’s needs and how to depend on the other. We also have to learn about our flaws. But all this gives us life and great joy. Sarah is indeed my best friend, my challenger, my lover, and my life source.