Every marriage has its ups and downs. You know how the wedding vows go. “For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, ’til death do us part.” Often times we deal with the richer or poorer aspect. You lose a job and you both have to adjust. Or she wants to start her own business and you are supportive. The sickness and health part of the deal is also fairly consistent, since as human beings we get sick, and our partner is there to take care of us, but it can also apply to major illnesses that we might not have prepared ourselves for, the ones that suddenly spring up and we deal with them. Because that’s what we do once we’ve entered into the contract of marriage, right? It’s right there in the vows. But the biggest one, and of course the one that’s also the most vague, is the one about for better or for worse. What does that really mean?
I got married 10 1/2 years ago, so I’m a little cloudy on exactly what was said during our wedding ceremony (please don’t kill me, honey), but I’m certain our vows were pretty much like the ones I outlined above. And I know we’ve definitely gone through the “for better or for worse” part. I also know there’s more of both to come, and I’m more than okay with that. I’m of the opinion that you should always go into anything you do with both eyes open, but if you happen to slip up and close one of them, once it’s open again you figure out where you are and where you’re going. You don’t bail just because it’s not what you thought it was going to be. Who knows? It might end up being better than you thought it would be.
Let me get this out of the way first: I come from a divorced home, and I myself have been divorced, so I know what it’s like when there is more “worse” than “better,” when people can’t reconcile themselves to those vows and there is no other recourse. I don’t judge either of those dissolutions because I know there were extenuating circumstances in both. I judge myself for that initial marriage in the first place. It was something that should never have happened, but the divorce itself was a righteous one. My parents’ relationship, too, was irreconcilable, and although that was sad for me at the time, and on some level I’ve never gotten over it, I know that it was best for both of them in the end.
I’ve never been the best at relationships, and for a long time I blamed my dad for that. I wouldn’t get too attached to people because I always worried they would leave me high and dry. So, being distant was a state of existence for me. In fact, my longest relationship before my first marriage was eight months. Indeed, even though I had gotten married, I hadn’t known how to let myself get close, so I stayed distant even then. It wasn’t until I met Heidi that I truly felt like I could let down most of those walls, and I knew ours would be a true marriage in every sense of the word. I knew there would be compromise and that we would both grow from it. What I hadn’t counted on were the ups and downs that come with being yoked to another person.
A yoke is a piece of equipment used to guide a beast of burden to a goal of some sort, controlled by its master, and when two beasts of burden are paired up to accomplish that task, the yoke keeps them both on the same path. In the Bible, God likens marriage to a yoke, keeping the two members of that marriage on the straight and narrow. The problem is that even though we are together, we are not the same. We are like those animals who won’t budge when the yoke is on them, preferring to fight against it as long as they possibly can. It is only when we can see the outcome of doing things together that we can focus and let the yoke lead us, not drag us, but lead us.
Obviously the wedding itself was one of those “better” times. We were just embarking on this major adventure with each other, and the sky was the limit, cloud 9, and all that jazz. Everything was fresh and exciting, and I’ll admit it was hard for me to imagine a time when it wasn’t like that. But that’s just the point. We need to enjoy that brand new time, but we need to also understand that it softens, it blurs at the edges, until it’s something worn and familiar. In fact, it can get so familiar that we take it for granted, that we can forget communication is the most important tool we have as a married couple. Then when something “worse” happens, we aren’t on the same page because we stopped turning pages ages ago.
Yes, I can see why those married couples who don’t take the time and energy to maintain that connection can drift apart in those “worse” times, at the exact times they need to be most open and most connected. And I’ll admit that it’s hard work to keep your head up in those “worse” times, when it seems like the weight of the world is on you, and you’re feeling like a solo instead of a duet. I know what it’s like because it happened to me.
Suffice it to say, when things started shrinking my world and making me anxious, I didn’t talk to Heidi about them. Instead, I internalized because that is my fallback position, and it always has been. It dragged me down so I was a shell of myself both mentally and emotionally. It didn’t take much to bring on a full-blown crying binge, and the more it happened the more I shut myself off from the one person who had promised to be there with me and for me “for better or for worse.” It had to take an almost bottoming out when I felt most hopeless for me to finally open up. When I did, I realized she was always there for me, always in my corner.
The amazing part of it all is that even in my gloomiest she was there for me, and even in her darkest times I am there for her. In the immortal words of Bono, “We’re one but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other. Carry each other. One.” It takes work, I’ll definitely admit, but that work is so worth it to maintain those connections, to keep up that give and take. So that, even nearly 11 years in, it’s second nature to talk about our feelings, to be there for each other, to never take each other for granted. And that’s all that we can ask.