I'm not a marriage expert, but I have been married for over 14-years.
We've had ups and downs in our marriage. But I can honestly say that I'm emotionally closer to Andrea now more than ever.
When two individuals decide to combine lives, there not only will be marriage issues, but the baggage each of them brings into the marriage also plays a role.
And when you add kids to the mix, and the normal struggles in life, the problems can be exacerbated.
Every marriage has a unique story, and there are many different perspectives. I'm not trying to say that my view is the only perspective or that exceptions don't exist. But I'm interested in thinking about how to improve our own marriage, and I love thinking about this topic.
My Marriage Story
We got married when I was 21, and Andrea was 20. We were babies. We have been married for over 14 years and been together for 15-years.
The Spark of Love
I met Andrea at a local youth group, where we were both leaders. We started dating, and I immediately set out to make sure we were on the same page with what we were doing.
We dated for six months before getting engaged and were married six months after that. Most people find it shocking how quickly we got married, but it didn't seem like we were going too fast at the time. We loved each other and wanted to start building a life together.
I immediately was drawn to Andrea. She not only was drop-dead gorgeous (still is!), but I loved to hear her laugh and see her smile.
We were each other's first love.
Phases of Our Marriage
When we got married, neither of us knew what we wanted to do for a career. And honestly, we didn't know too much about ourselves at that stage. I had spent some time living outside of my parent's house, but Andrea was still living at home.
Three years after we got married, our first daughter was born. Our second daughter came around two years after that. We love our girls tremendously, and love doing things together.
We had agreed that we wanted Andrea to stay home so she could take care of the kids while they were young. Eventually, she ended up going to cosmetology school to become a cosmetologist. Andrea ended up starting her salon two years ago.
Struggling with Communication in Marriage
Going into marriage, we had this idea that marriage would be easy. We loved each other. What more does a couple need?
But quickly we realized that neither of us was great at communication. This caused strain throughout our marriage.
On top of that, our youngest daughter was colicky as a baby and had many food allergies (dairy, beef, etc.). Having a problematic child caused many sleepless nights for both of us.
As time went on, the communication issues expanded to larger problems. Emotional walls started building between us.
We would have intense arguments more often, and emotional intimacy started shrinking. A few years ago, it got to a spot where we were both miserable and not sure what to do about it.
Are we just not compatible? Could we save our marriage?
Fighting for Our Marriage
At this stage, many couples would and do call it quits. If we've been married this long and haven't figure out how to create a thriving marriage, what makes us think we can turn things around?
But I take the commitment I made to Andrea when we got married seriously. I wasn't about to call it quits unless I did everything in my power in trying to make our marriage work. On top of that, my parents got a nasty divorce when I was 11-years old, and I didn't want to put my kids through a divorce.
To be honest, I was shocked when I realized where our marriage was at. I had turned a blind eye to the emotional distance between us and internalized/ignored what was going on.
I wanted Andrea and myself to be happy. I wanted us to have a thriving marriage; not only for us but for the future of our family.
It was at this point that we started to turn things around.
Twitter Poll: Do easy marriages exist?
Earlier last month I posted a poll on Twitter. The question was: Do “easy” marriages exist?
Over 24-hours, 146 people voted. The final result came out to 68% “No” and 32% “Yes”.
When I first posted the poll, I thought that most people would end up choosing “No”. But as the comments came in, I started to wonder if my assumption on how people would vote was wrong.
Some of the comments were interesting. They ranged from people proclaiming their marriage partner is their best friend, and marriage is easy for them. Others said that if you can focus on communication and not take things too seriously, marriage can be reasonably easy. There were quite a few comments that mentioned that marriage always requires work.
From a general level, I think these are the takeaways from the comments:
- Respect is key
- Communication is a necessity
- Don't take things too personally
- Finding the right person is important
I think part of the different perspectives that came out of this poll was people's interpretation of what “easy” meant.
It seems like most people would agree that a great marriage requires work. And that is what I was trying to go for with this poll.
The Divorce Rate Proves That Most Marriages Aren't Easy
Back in the '80s, it was touted that half of the marriages end up in divorce, especially in the first 10-years of marriage.
These days, it seems people are not getting married as quickly, and the divorce rate is dropping. It appears this percentage is closer to 39% now. Part of that is people are wanting to be in a stronger financial position before tieing the not.
39% is still pretty depressing. Are all of these marriages not compatible? Are 61% of other marriages “thriving”?
I think the answer to both questions is “no”.
On a general level, I think most people are not happy. They are trying to find their spot in the world and working through their own personal issues. It makes sense to me that this would bleed into the divorce rate.
Difficult Marriages Do Not Equal Bad Marriages
If you go into marriage, thinking that everything is going to be naturally easy, you might be hoping for something that is not possible for most couples.
Don't get me wrong, certain personalities might make it easier to avoid specific marriage problems. But to think that just because you currently don't have any marriage problems now, that you will NEVER have any in the future, is ignoring the fact that difficulties will most likely pop-up eventually, especially after several decades.
There are two ways to look at marriage problems:
- We aren't compatible.
- Marriage problems can make a stronger marriage.
Both Andrea and I have two very different childhood experiences, both with their unique problems. We had no idea how a thriving marriage looked. On top of that, we have learned a ton about ourselves since we got married. We lived through our 20's together, had two kids, and moved multiple times.
Do we have things in common? Absolutely. But we are also two very different individuals. When we aren't communicating clearly with each other, it becomes easy to grow emotionally apart.
Individual View Point on Marriage
As the twitter poll was happening, I wondered if the people who were married that voted, if their partner would vote the same way they voted.
Because let's be honest. If communication isn't excellent in the marriage, one partner could think things are going great, and things are “easy”, when the other partner feels the exact opposite.
This could be based on the dynamics of the marriage. For example: if one partner is more outspoken and aggressive, the other person might not feel like their voice is heard. And yet the more controlling party thinks everything is great.
In my opinion, this is why communication is vital. Otherwise, you could be building your marriage on a foundation of chopsticks.
I know not every marriage works the same way, but it was interesting to hear about the closeness some couples share in their marriage.
I think this is a great point, because the more you can connect with your partner on a sincere, honest, and intimate level, the “easier” the marriage partnership becomes.
But part of me kept on coming back to how marriage is more than just living with your best friend. I've had many great friends in my life, but none of them compared to my marriage. I connect with my wife on a deeper, and yet different level, than I have with most of my best friends.
With that said, I do think it is essential to learn to have fun with your partner. The more you can laugh and enjoy life together will only make your marriage bond stronger.
You can have a best friend and not be 100% honest with them. But that doesn't work with marriage.
Growing With Your Partner
Especially over a long period, the person you were when you got married is going to change. And your partner will also probably change. This could include changing perspectives, attitudes, desires, and interests.
And I'm not trying to make this out to be a bad thing. But it can change the dynamics of your marriage. What you thought was easy, could end up becoming difficult as time goes on.
All this means is that you have to actively work on things to make sure you are on the same page. The way you are connecting and close to your partner could very well change as time goes on.
That's why I think being honest and transparent is part of what makes a thriving marriage. When people start to be fake or someone they are not, this can quickly grow into massive marriage problems.
Respect and Commitment
Having and developing respect for your partner can help create a solid marriage foundation. When you start to lose respect for your spouse, this can cause poisonous perspectives. You start not to give them the benefit of the doubt and wonder about the person you married.
Marriage commitment is about doing what you can to create a thriving marriage. I'm not advocating that divorce is never the right option, and physical/mental abuse should not be tolerated. But there are going to be times that your spouse will let you down. Maybe it is a harsh response, or doing something that you find annoying. If you are going to run at any sign of trouble, your marriage most likely won't last.
Some issues/problems are incredibly hard to work through (like infidelity, abuse, etc.). But outside of those biggies are a myriad of other marriage problems that could pop up. Most of them are trivial until they start stacking on top of each other. And I think a good chunk of them are at least somewhat related to communication issues.
Think about the reasons you married this person in the first place. Sure, they might have changed since then. But I bet you can still see the same person if you look closely enough. This might be all you need to reinvigorate your desire to work on your marriage relationship.
Small Wounds Can Lead to Massive Marriage Issues
It's hard to address problems when both parties always internalize pain in the marriage. Or their frustration comes out as harsh words or not listening.
Small things will come up. If you let these minor infractions build on top of each other, this can easily lead to resentment or lack of respect when ignored.
Sometimes when I'm feeling stressed for whatever reason, I can quickly become defensive. I don't hear what Andrea is saying, and my anxiety gets the best of me.
My anxiety has caused massive issues in our relationship. I'm seeking medical help to see if that would be a good option and also reading books on how to manage my anxiety. I might even end up seeing a counselor.
I'm not trying to blame my outbursts or harsh words on mental illness, but if you have struggled with anxiety, it can turn you into a person that is much more critical and defensive. When I'm not under the weight of my anxiety, I'm a pretty goofy/fun guy. I like to make people laugh, and there is nothing I love more than seeing Andrea smile.
I'm learning that each of us has different versions of ourselves. The more you can live as the best version of you, the easier marriage becomes. But you don't want to be someone you are not either.
Effort + Intimacy Will Equal Progress
I know there are going to be marriages that will not work. As painful as divorce is, sometimes it is the best option.
But I do think most people who get a divorce, outside of physical/mental abuse, end up giving up too early. Chances are the issues they brought into this relationship will carry to the next. They might find someone who is a better fit for them, but they will still have to face their internal demons one way or the other.
And if you can figure out how to fill your marriage with respect, intimacy, fun, and laughter, these marriage hardships are going to make your marriage stronger. Not only that, you will grow as a person.
I hope that my girls would see our marriage and personal struggles and see how we overcame them. We didn't give up even when times were tough.
Andrea is the woman I would choose to be with if I had a do-over. But I'm not going to rest on this statement. I want to do everything to create a peaceful and joyful home, where we make happy memories with each other and our girls. And there isn't another woman I would rather grow old with.
But this is not going to be easy for us. We have to tackle our individual issues, alongside our marriage communication problems if we want to create the life we want.