Christian reflections · Family life

The Ache of Marriage

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Denise Levertov wrote a poem called “The Ache of Marriage.” When I studied it in college I wanted to throw it in the garbage. Marriage achy? Pfffft. Another example of a poet writing silly nonsense.

Then I got married.

That Levertov? She knew some things.

Daryl finished his PhD this September. In many ways, his dissertation became a third person in our marriage, always there, needing attention, wanting time.

In the years he worked to complete it, we sacrificed. We lived in separate states from one another not once but twice. I was the sole breadwinner for awhile, our Saturdays were never spent together, and I’ve had to pretend Latin was interesting because: love/amor.

When we stood at the altar a decade ago today and said our vows, I was starry-eyed with the thrall of marriage. Moving in, setting up house, snuggling (and, ahem, other things!) late into the night.

If those vows included what these ten years have included–five moves to five different states, an autoimmune disorder, ministry transitions, late-night diaper changes, book projects, handing off the kids between meetings like batons, PhD courses and exams, a failed hospice chaplaincy, a challenging first pastorate, the dissertation, the dissertation, the dissertation, the dissertation–we would never have been so starry-eyed.

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This is my holy cow I just got married face. Mostly happy. A little terrified.

We both would have hesitated a good bit. It would have been silly not to.

But here’s the thing: Our marriage grew.

He taught me trust and I taught it right back to him. I taught him love and he taught it to me. We schooled each other in patience, in listening, in waking up and doing all of the hard things all over again.

We fought and still fight. We do our fighting much more fairly and kindly now, but we are both too passionate not to disagree deeply when we find ourselves at odds. We discuss things to death. I cry; his voice gets strident. I sulk; he walks the neighborhood.

Our marriage? It aches.

Yet at the end of an argument, a tiff, a frustrating bout of “whose job is it to wash the never-ending dishes this time” and one of “where did you put that thing I really needed, oh wait, I’m the one who misplaced it,” there’s the “I’m sorry.” The turning back toward one another, looking into one another’s eyes, learning that being in relationship means rubbing up against one another’s rough edges until you are both a bit softer, smoother, and more holy.

Ten years, baby.

We’ve followed Jesus, haltingly at times, but always together. I’ve pushed out two babies and he’s held them close. I’ve been overwhelmed that he’s chosen me and felt overwhelmed at how to keep choosing him. We’ve been gut-wrenchingly exhausted together and hopelessly silly. We continue to watch way too much Survivor.

The throbbing ache of the first years, working out how to live with someone so different, so difficult, so other has given way to a new ache. The ache of gratitude. The ache of “What-did-I-do-to-deserve-this-life? To deserve you?

I’ve learned that almost everything worth doing or loving or living brings with it an ache.

Marriage is worth fighting for, friends.

Here’s to our next decade.

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