“Can you believe the worst year of our marriage is almost over?”

Oh, the romance of a one year anniversary. He said it in jest, harkening back to the adage that the first year of marriage is the hardest. But in truth, it hadn’t been easy. Two people, used to living life where, how, and with whom they pleased for almost thirty years, permanently joining forces after less than six months of courtship is not exactly RomCom charm. Comedic at times, Romantic at others, sure. But don’t forget the healthy dose of Drama and a side of Action thrown in for good measure.

Tomorrow we complete our second year of marital bliss, and I couldn’t be more proud of us. This year saw many of the kinks working themselves out, a comfortable understanding settling in, and kindness prevailing more often than not. Love makes more appearances than Drama, and when Drama does rear its fabulous head, we know how to take it in stride rather than marinate in it.

This year we added a third party to the mix, because, as previously noted, we like to take things slow. Our son has awakened parts of my heart I didn’t know were there, and brought my love for my husband to a ‘Hole Nutha Level.

Had you asked me a year ago if I would be willing to describe a less-than-perfect marriage of my own on the Internet, I would have simply, but confidently, answered, “No”.

This started to change when I met some lady friends for lunch several months ago. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years, and even when we lived in the same city, hadn’t spent much time together. One is from New York, the other Brazil. We have a big age gap, and basically, share little in common by way of background, upbringing, or culture. The past two years had seen each of us get married in vastly different places and circumstances, but I soon found that our experiences were more alike than different.

When we first sat down, we did the standard life catch-up. All three of us, when asked about marriage, talked about how wonderful it is. One of the women said it was like a dream come true, only better than her dreams. This went on for awhile, with each friend talking about how cool it was that we were married now, that we had found great men, and so forth. The conversation felt authentic; it was easy to see the love each had for her spouse.

Toward the end of our visit, I broke the thin layer of ice that had coated our conversation since the beginning. Somehow there came an opportunity to mention Jon’s “worst year of our marriage” joke. We laughed, and then, almost in a blink, things got real. I had unwittingly, but happily, opened the door for discussion about the other side of the ‘dream come true’.

Marriage can be hard, we all agreed.

I don’t always like my spouse…

We have struggled with this big thing, and that…

There have been times I wondered if I made a mistake, and felt so bad about it…

At first, my friends tiptoed across the ice, hesitantly glancing up to see if it was safe to proceed. These comments were far from complaints. There weren’t detailed accounts, cynicism, or blame. This wasn’t husband-bashing, or even self-bashing. These were simply admissions. Truth. Relief. It wasn’t until they were spoken, among trusted friends, that we were able to lend the needed support to one another.

These young’ns hadn’t yet had the hours upon hours of marriage talk with friends I had before getting married, where safe paths had been forged and imperfection in marriage claimed. Growing up in an area where many people are married young, I just happened to have more friends in that world than they did. I got the sense that it was rare for them to discuss these things openly.

We talked about how expectations are the killer. Expecting that happy couples don’t argue, that happy couples never wish they were alone, that happy couples never give the silent treatment or act immaturely, is foolish. It is a trap, made of TV, social media, movies, and love songs, building unrealistic expectations since 1901.

Reasonable people assume they must have found a bad one, or they are a bad one, or the combination must be bad, because sometimes things are bad. Sometimes, ‘sometimes’ is ‘a lot of times’. We rarely see that it is possible to love someone deeply, desire nothing other than to be with them always, but struggle really hard to get along with them some days. Or weeks.

The belief that a relationship is bad if bad conditions exist at times, is perpetuated by all of us telling each other that marriage is always a dream.

At the end of the conversation, one friend said, “People need to know this stuff prior to marriage. They need to know that it’s OK, it’s normal, and they can get through it. They need to know that just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it always will be.”

I agree. I once wrote a 16-page essay for my Sociology of Marriage class, with this thesis:  The reason for high divorce rates is couples entering marriage with unreasonable expectations of what a good marriage looks like.

Some of you reading think I am speaking a foreign language. There are those for whom marriage is always really great, even easy! I have met such people, but I meet them in the middle of meeting 25 (give or take) other couples for whom it is not.

In my early twenties, almost all of my closest friends were married, and since then many more have taken the leap. Throughout the years boredom, infertility, depression, debt, infidelity, abuse, addiction, dishonesty, difference of opinion on religion or child rearing, prison, step-parenting, poverty, illness, death of a child, and more have impacted those closest to me.

I can’t adequately put into words the depth and breadth of their experiences, but each and every one has been handled with astounding grace. Some have resulted in divorce, but from my limited knowledge of the circumstances, each friend put their whole selves into fighting for their marriage.

It breaks my heart to hear a friend say that she just knows that the neighbors across the way don’t have any problems in their marriage, so hers must be screwed up. To hear a friend say she has heard marriage is hard, but there’s no way they meant this! To have a friend feel damaged, or like a failure, for leaving an abusive relationship after she put all she had into saving it, and wonder if she will ever be able to find a healthy relationship down the road.

Each friend has their fear because they believe they are the only one with it. We know the people who complain and moan about marriage or their spouse. We know the ones who have given up, or who will always be miserable due to their own refusal to take ownership.

But what about the majority? The good people who have a good partner, but who are having a hard time making it consistently work? Who feel like they are taking one step forward and two steps back? The ones with both parties doing what they think is best, to no apparent end?

I’ll tell you what a dear friend told me. It gets easier. You get better at it. And I’ll tell you what I tell me. I’m not the only one. Young and old, bond and free, rich or poor, marriage is hard. Work. And you’re not crazy for feeling like maybe it’s too hard sometimes. There, I said it.

I hope I’m not sounding like the (I think) annoying voice ‘warning’ people about marriage or having kids (different topic). The “Make reeeeeal sure you want to get married, because it is HARD!” camp. Or the even more obnoxious, “Life ended once I got married,” mentality. If I’m coming across as either of those, please read on!

I think marriage is something absolutely worth seeking in the right season of life. It adds to life in both tangible and intangible ways, and provides a way to invest in another person then reap the benefits over the course of time. Sharing everything with someone and learning from them, not to mention loving and being loved through it all, is unlike anything else life has to offer.

There are so many perks, that avoiding marriage to avoid the struggle is like avoiding eating to avoid having to chew.

My goal is to soften the hard-set idea that marriage is a cure for unhappiness, and that if it doesn’t make you completely happy or fulfilled at all times, then it isn’t working properly. This is an idea which leads to good marriages falling apart because of unrealistic expectations.

It also keeps good relationships from advancing to marriage, because perhaps the dating relationship involves compromises, bad days, and annoyances. Understanding that two people joining their lives together requires all of those things at times, can alleviate the impression it’s broken when they are present.

For the extra hard times, I’ll throw in a positive study to sweeten the deal:

5 Marriage Myths, and 6 Marriage Benefits: A speech by renowned sociologist and professor at University of Chicago, Linda Waite. The highlight for me is a study she did on 13,000 couples; couples rated their marriage on a scale from one to seven. One  =  “Awful”, Seven = “Fabulous”.

When checked again five years later, 87% of all couples who had rated their marriage as “Awful”, now rated their marriage as a six or seven. Only 10% divorced. The takeaway? Usually, if you feel your marriage is “Awful” one day, it is very likely a rough patch that will smooth over with time.

Now back to my #amazingincredibleperfect husband. He is perfect, for me. He is my teammate in every way. I didn’t know what that would be like, having a partner. Like, a life partner. I was great at doing things alone, or so I thought. He is highly intelligent, but gets more praise for his jokes than his smarts because he’d rather highlight the fun in life. He has brought laughter into my life at times I thought I didn’t have it in me. He is committed to The Right. Exactness. It’s good for me and hard for me and just what I want.

I recently saw a movie starring Bill Murray called St. Vincent. There is a part where he visits his wife who doesn’t recognize him due to dementia. He is looking at her, talking to her, just happy to be with her, even though she’s not giving anything back. It hit me in a big way how much I know Jon feels that way about me.

I later told him so, and he said, “Yep- that’s what love is. It’s not dependent on anything the other person is giving.”

He lives by this. He gives to me even when I’m not giving. He apologizes or forgives, even when I don’t. He believes I’m capable of anything, especially when I don’t. He loves me, even when I don’t.

Nothing worth having has ever come easily. So yeah, marriage is hard.