Today – May 23, 2018 – my husband Chris and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. About a month ago, I asked my beloved if he’d like to write something about marriage for my blog to mark this occasion, and I was delighted when he said yes. The final product is a gift that exceeded all of my hopes and expectations, and I am both humbled and overjoyed to be sharing it with you.
All the days of my life
The first 7,304
It never occurred to me that marrying Gretchen was a choice. Truly, it was no more a decision than it was whether to draw another breath. I suppose I could have put it off, but then I’d eventually pass out and start again. Breathing that is. But you get the point.
We were engaged ten months after our first date and wed six months later. It didn’t seem fast because marrying her was the most natural thing I have ever done. I had also been brought up to believe that’s how it should be. Blessed to be born into a family overrun with happy marriages, my mother used say that “you just know it when you know it.” It was a uniquely unsatisfying, irretrievably irrational and absolutely accurate piece of wisdom, and I never doubted.
I gave little real thought to how “just knowing it” would feel. But when I fell in love with Gretchen, I remember having a sense of peace that I hadn’t known before. It was the kind of serenity that comes when you flow effortlessly in the stream of life. I recall thinking calmly to myself,
“So this is her. The love of my life. I knew she’d be smart. Glad she’s pretty. Figured she’d be blonde.”
And I exhaled, as if I had been holding a small measure of my breath for the better part of 24 years.
Of course we did have some difficulties which were also learning experiences. To this day, our biggest fight came as newlyweds setting up our first apartment. The Great Spice Rack Dispute will live on in family lore for decades to come. Well it should as a tale rife with lessons about life.
The facts of the matter, as stipulated by the parties, are these: Gretchen wanted the spice rack concealed in a cabinet so the kitchen wouldn’t look messy. I preferred the spices visible and within arm’s reach. Needless to say, it’s a miracle our marriage survived.
I recollect nothing of what was said but I remember it being explosive, at least by our standards. I think I even left the condo that night, coming back a little later. After all, my magnificent dog, Crash, was still there.
When the dust settled, we spoke about what had happened. It turns out that Gretchen was actually not arguing about the spice rack’s precise location. Instead, I learned that she had a lifetime of plans and ideas about how to create a home; that these notions were an extension of her identity; that our disagreement seemingly threatened our very being as well as endangering all manner of critically important, authentically valid, truly emotional and deeply-held thoughts about herself, me and our new life together.
And for my part, I was arguing about where to put the spice rack.
An important lesson to this day, I understand that the real cause of most conflicts usually has little to do with the ostensible terms of the debate. That is, it’s easy to confuse the symptom with the illness and growth in our marriage has usually come from focusing on underlying issues.
That said, we have developed a few everyday strategies to avoid unnecessary flare-ups. These include:
- No discussing anything after 10pm. Not the kids, not tomorrow’s schedule, not rainbows, not unicorns. No matter how seemingly innocuous, a late day conversation is about 500 times more likely to end poorly and/or stupidly.
- No mind reading. And no demands for telepathy. We try not to conjure up each other’s thoughts and if we want something, we need to say it.
- Always assume the best intentions. We want the best for each other. Our frustrations are usually borne of a lack of understanding rather than an absence of love.
- No quinoa. Ever. I’ve forgiven Gretchen for knowingly eating Grape Nuts, but there’s a limit. Quinoa is bad for a marriage, your soul and for America.
Most importantly, over the years we’ve found that approximately 99.3% of our issues are not between us as a couple, but within us as individuals. Gretchen brings out my better qualities, but she doesn’t rid me of my flaws. I still bring me into every situation.
That’s one of the many reasons spiritual growth has become part of our life together. We don’t always approach it in the same way, nor do we have to. For instance, Gretchen is a Catholic convert. Her kind can be found singing during Mass and probably sitting upfront being all attentive and holy. On the other hand, I was raised Philadelphia Irish Catholic, so my brand of religion involves telling jokes during funerals.
Such superficialities aside, we both care deeply about growing personally and growing as a couple. Early on, especially when we were finding our own way, we stepped on each other a few times. But we have accepted that our spiritual paths run alongside each other, each meandering at its own pace, sometimes crossing, sometimes in parallel, always moving the same direction. And that works for us.
When reflecting on marriage, it’s easy to dwell on the bumps in the road. I think doing so misses the joy in it all. After all, perfection is a fine thought, but it means that there is no further growth, no greater joy, nothing more to be revealed. I’m in no hurry.
The fact is that our problems are really just challenges, and our challenges are really just worries. The worries, trifles. Job stress, busy schedules, not enough time for all the people we care about. Each and every one just a reflection of some wonderful blessing in our lives.
I often need to remind myself of that great truth and to bask in profound gratitude for having been given such a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman with whom I can greet life. Gretchen is my greatest blessing.
When we married, I promised to love and honor Gretchen all the days of my life. Great days do adorn our past, but the best lay yet ahead. And as each has passed over the last twenty years, I remain forever overwhelmed.