Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Portrait of a Marriage in its First Year

Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true 
But you and I know what this world can do 
So let's make our steps clear that the other may see 
And I'll wait for you 
If I should fall behind
Wait for me
-- Bruce Springsteen

The first rule of blogging is, don't blog about your marriage (or your job). If you value what you have and don't want permanent damage to settle in, just. don't. write. about. your. marriage. Not in  real, serious terms anyway. Certainly not to complain about your spouse, and definitely not to air your crap all over the place.

But I'm going to write about my marriage anyway.

At least a little bit, because it's been a year now since we took this plunge, and my mind and heart have been deeply immersed in this milestone, looking back over the last year, meditating on what I can do better, and wondering about all that lies ahead for us.

As far as first years go, it's been pretty damn challenging. I generally think the first year of marriage is so very hard because even if you've been living together, it's nonetheless a huge adjustment (worse without the co-habitation). There's all  these expectations, all this personal wondering about what now?, that amid the fun of being a newlywed lies considerable disappointment and very sudden, very stark instances where you realize that marriage can be brutal.

Our most brutal challenge this first year was, of course, the premature birth of our son. There are details about that time and how my husband and I dealt with it that are seared in me. I remember us crying together when he first took me to see our boy; us holding tight to each other, right before and after my operation, whispering reassurances that we would all be o.k., and that there was no one else in the world we each could imagine going through such a thing with except each other. I remember hearing him tell people that I was strong and amazing throughout the ordeal, words that meant so much because in the middle of all that happened, I couldn't believe he'd noticed anything special about me. From hearing his heartbeat for the first time the day before we married to this very moment, our sweet boy has strengthened our bond and commitment to each other.

Then, there have been the times where one of us has looked at the other - in the dead of night while the baby wails, or after a long Saturday of negotiating and arguing with M - and said, "this sucks." Because sometimes, it has sucked. The drudgery of the day-to-day is inescapable, and just as there have been sweet, uneventful days, there have been days where we've barely had a conversation, the mind-numbing exhaustion too deep for us to do more than the absolute essentials and then pass out. Those are the days where I've felt it most essential to connect to him somehow, and I typically get moody and introspective and wonder, what is marriage, anyway? It's then that I've reminded myself that we can't let the grind excuse a lack of affection. We usually catch ourselves and stop, have a moment for ourselves, then pick back up where we each were. I know he's as aware of this, and that we can each acknowledge it and at times joke about it is good, but even so, I don't want to let the current madness in our lives ever be an excuse to create distance between us.

But distance is sometimes unavoidable. You live with someone day in and day out and share so many intimacies, that when hurt happens, what then? For me, I know I grow a bit distant. If I've learned something pretty clearly about myself this last year, is that I do, in the face of hurt, take a step back and seal myself off some. A protective move, I know, but it seems essential somehow, like I must step away and into myself to force a stop to whatever's happening and to give myself a chance to get past my initial rush of emotions. I've developed an awareness about this and think about it a great deal. It's not something I want or believe will ever grow too big and impenetrable between us, but it's there. I know it. It can happen with the minor, annoying stuff that touch a nerve, or the big things. As it is, there have been a couple of things this past year that have caused problems, and in trying to work through them, I've had no choice but to face the feelings it's brought up in me and how I've tried to deal with it all.

And of these feelings, I've realized more than ever the role that shock, which fuels a great deal of my anger and obsessiveness, plays in it. If I feel I've been utterly blindsided by something, if I discover something I'd just never truly considered (which is saying a lot for someone who devotes way too much energy on preparing for as many scenarios possible), it's then that I flip my shit. And it's happened this last year, and my husband has seen me flip my shit, and - whether he ultimately understands how I feel or not, and whether he agrees with me or not - I make no excuses for my feelings. There's no room here for me to fake the depth of my feelings, be they positive or negative. He will argue that I go from fine to not at all fine without warning, and that then I can drag out my questioning and arguing for days, which I don't necessarily disagree with. But as I've told him, I've learned to not just react and say the first things I feel, because they will always be terrible and un-erasable, and so I need time to process things and really get at the heart of what I feel, which I then do just bring up seemingly out of nowhere, and from there, more stuff always comes up. We have yet to find a middle ground between my need to process before speaking and the way I continue processing and his need for me to speak up from when I first feel upset so that the issue can be swiftly dealt with, once and for all.

Anyway, this year there was mainly one thing that has caused me a lot of pain, that caught me off guard and filled my head with new worries, and, given that from time to time I still feel the sudden sting of that hurt, and that doubt lingers around the topic, it's clear to me that the fears this planted in me will loom in one way or another into the foreseeable future. Then there's been (again, out of nowhere) family stuff that has been extremely eye-opening and has left me full of a lot of worry and a fair dose of wariness moving forward.

Thinking about these things, I understand that this is how it is. This is marriage. If I've taken some things way harder than others, or than I or my husband would like, it's due mainly to how incredibly off guard both things caught me. I'm so not good with that what hellish way left field did this shit come from feeling, ever. And yet, what better ground to test all I believe about marriage and the commitment it entails? All those tropes about marriage being hard work, about it requiring facing a lot of unpleasant and painful shit, about having to have ugly, uncomfortable conversations if you want to get past things, is true. And I am no more exempt from that than anybody. I don't yet really know if these problems of the first year are actually resolved (well, the family one is not for sure, but the other one), if fighting was merely about the feelings caused by the issue, or if the fighting made it an issue no more. That remains to be discovered in the second or third or fourth year. For me, ultimately, the shit that sets me off and makes me feel scared and worried is all stuff that I fear will get in the way of this being a good, honest, close, real marriage, because I know that I will just permanently move out of a place of trust and openness and just close up, shut off my emotions and lock up into myself. And the only thing worse than being that way is having to live with me when I'm that way.

This is just a slice of the last year. The majority has been the push and pull of the every day, of starting to define who we each are as wife and husband and as parents: learning to understand each other better, settling on routines and chores, creating new habits and traditions. I've gained more insight into myself and my own needs. I've experienced many a-ha moments, where suddenly I get a new perspective on something - or where I finally understand my own reactions and can try a new approach to things. There have been the pleasant surprises when something's not turned out how I feared it would, or when he has responded in a way that makes me realize anew how right we are for each other. That's been an awesome gift of this last year: seeing over and over again how we value the same things and have the same priorities and put a lot of effort into being good to and for each other.

More than any of this, though, is the way my love for him has deepened this last year. I am more in love now, and the disagreements and ways he's annoyed me or flat-out pissed me off have just served to bolster my feelings for him. There is who he is: good-natured and solid and intelligent and dorky and silly - and who he has been in our marriage: devoted and giving and dependable and enthusiastic. I have loved him for baring so much at crucial moments, for being my source of strength when I just didn't have it in me, for backing me up and placing me/us first, for working hard at this and putting in genuine effort, for saying yes more than no, for cheering me on every day in Jeopardy! even as I kick his ass, for being a father to M, for letting himself be opened and transformed by Santiago, for accepting my whims and weaknesses and tolerating me when I'm insufferable, for wanting me and telling me I'm beautiful and meaning it, for his good moods and ability to not punish me for my bad ones, for his affection, for valuing our lunch dates, for doing chores I hate doing and not berating me for being more lax than him about housework, for seeing the best in me, for saying (and meaning!) those magic words: "you are right", for truly believing we are a team and treating our marriage as such. He told me on our anniversary that I make him a better person, and the feeling couldn't be more mutual. From here, the life we're building only looks beautiful and raw and immense. It is more than anything I could have wanted.

And so, as I finish ruminating and look ahead to year two, I do believe that, yes, I'll keep the husband around. It can only get more exciting from here.

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Posted by Tere @ 7/24/2013   | |


  • Blogger Rick posted at 7/24/2013 8:14 PM  
    Love, love, love that tune you opened with. It should be required listening for all newlyweds.

    Congrats on getting the first year behind you. It's sort of like making it through a challenging Monday, I think.

    Be well!

  • Blogger Tere posted at 7/25/2013 8:54 AM  
    Rick, that was one of the first songs he (a huge Bruce fan) said made him think of us. We ended up incorporating it into our wedding ceremony.

    Thanks for your good wishes!
  • Blogger Freckle Face Girl posted at 7/28/2013 7:26 PM  
    I admire your realistic yet romantic view of marriage. The dynamics of relationships are never simple, but make life so captivating. You seem perfect for each other and up to the challenge of life.
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