I was 23 years old when I got married. My husband and I met when I was 20, just two months shy of my 21st birthday at a club in New York City. He was with his friends and I was with my girls when one of his boys accidentally knocked the drink out of my girlfriend's hand as we tried making our way around the crowded club. The music vibrated off the walls. Groups of guys huddled around tables full of bottles of champagne and the women danced together in circles giving the side eye to any guy who tried to infiltrate their strategically planned barrier. What happened next is debatable because he swears I initiated the conversation, but I am more than positive it was him. Either way, our paths crossed that night, we've been together ever since.
When we decided we wanted to get married, my family and friends said I was too young. I was still in college pursuing my undergrad degree, working full-time and living at home with mom and dad. Aside from a phone bill, car note and car insurance I didn't have any real financial responsibilities. Everything from the roof over my head, to food and credit card bills was taken care of by my parents. I didn't realize with marriage came a long list of responsibilities I just wasn't prepared for. I was young, foolish and in love.
Everyone warns you that marriage isn't easy, but when you're in the romantic stage of love that's the farthest thing from your mind. You're not thinking about how he calls his mother two to three times a day to "check in" which at the time you think is cute, but will make you turn into a raging lunatic reminiscent of the Exorcist foaming at the mouth and head spinning five years down the road. Or how your ambitious go-getter attitude and dedicated work ethic he initially found attractive turns into resentment and jealousy later on; or how opening a joint bank account turns into the Spanish Inquisition whenever you spend or withdraw money. There are so many things that factor into a marriage, many of which I had no clue about until I was in the throes of it.
All relationships undergo periods of change and adjustment, marriage is no different. Two people, who were once strangers come together and attempt to build one life together. That is one hell of a feat. What I failed to realize is when we get married we bring all of our experiences (both good and bad), beliefs, and attitudes along with us. We also bring along the experiences of those closest to us. What we witness in our families and our friendships sometimes influences our choices and judgments. So when we find ourselves in similar situations we tend to use those experiences as references, which is not always a good thing.
Many of us expect our partners to never change when in reality we should want them to change, to grow, to see things differently, and to have experiences that have both a personal and spiritual impact. And because we are always changing and constantly in a state of growth there is no guarantee that the person we fell in love with will be the same person 10 years later.
In fact, it's highly likely they won't be and the Universe ensures that we adapt and grow by making sure we fall in love with the most incompatible person in the entire world. You know what they said about opposites attracting? There's some truth to that. It is often the person we have the least in common with who we fall for. Yet, they are the perfect person to push us to our limits and force us out of our comfort zone requiring us to adjust and grow.
However, when we fall in love, we refuse to acknowledge these incompatibilities. We choose to overlook our partner's flaws and instead convince ourselves of how great they are in spite of them. Many couples believe that romantic love lasts forever. It doesn't. When the courting phase is over and real life kicks in so do the additional pressures of life like finances and compromising. Romantic love is something that requires work, every single day. Once couples come to this realization, many believe there's something wrong with their partner. But what is happening is they've taken off their rose colored lenses and are finally seeing their partner for who they really are. So instead of seeing the similarities that exist between the two, some couples begin focusing only on the differences and their partner's flaws.
Not knowing how to navigate through this stage of love some couples will try to change their partner back into the person they thought they were, or punish them for not being that way, or both. For years my husband and I struggled through this phase. Often with one of us pulling away and withdrawing, needing space while the other needily chased and grappled for affection feeling emotionally deserted. In our own way we were trying to establish our autonomy inside the relationship, but were destroying the love connection in the process.
We've been together for 18 years and married for 15 and what I know for sure is that marriage is hard work. In a sense we have grown up together. We have seen each other at our worst, have said the meanest, vilest things to one another, but have also bared witness to each other's growth from selfish individual to selfless partner. I've watched him fight for his life as a cancer survivor and he has been my greatest supporter and motivator as I pursue my writing dreams. It has been a long journey for the both of us yet we still have so much further to go.
There is no fool proof way to ensure a long happy marriage and what works for one couple may not necessarily work for all. However, what I can say is that couples have to be open to change and growth.Couples have to enter marriage knowing and understanding that no one remains the same. We have to be prepared for change, for the tough times that are sure to come, and understand that sometimes those difficult times will be harder than we've ever imagined them to be. Many couples don't know what to do when those hard times come or how to move past the hard times when everything is good again. It's one of the reasons so many marriages fail. It is all a learning process. The more we grow the more we learn and if we remain open and committed we can better navigate through those difficulties. How we choose to deal with them can either end a marriage or make it stronger. The choice is ours.