But the reality of merging two lives into something greater is complicated. Marriage is the ultimate in commitment and unconditional love.
It also means a tremendous amount of compromise. Marriage allows you to be yourself and not have to worry you’ll be rejected or abandoned.
It also means that you have to be better – less selfish, less egotistical, less concerned about your ambitions, more concerned for everyone else.
Marriage makes life better – you share the thrills of your kid getting the lead in the school play, you share the frustrations of being on hold with customer service for an hour, you share the duties of folding the laundry and throwing out the garbage, you sing 80’s songs in the minivan on a family vacation, you can laugh and gossip and fuck and just BE until the end of your days.
Marriage also holds up a mirror to you like nothing else. It’s so immersive that you can’t hide. Your flaws are constantly exposed and you must sit with them, make peace with them, massage them, and deal with them. Your spouse sees all these flaws, up close, every day, and never gets to escape them.
My biggest flaw is that I’m an opinionated, critical, mansplaining, know-it-all. It’s not easy to be married to a guy who reads books about parenting and then offers unsolicited advice to a full-time mom on how to be a better mom.
My wife’s biggest flaw is that she’s opposed to change and structure. Where I seek knowledge, she buries her head. Where I’m intensely focused, she’s a multitasker who struggles to get things done due to her perfectionist ways.
We identified this when we were dating. We joke about it. We have to. It’s the only way to make peace with the fact that, perhaps, we’ll always be this way.
But the reason I’m writing this is because I don’t think we will. By being married for 15 years, I’ve discovered the virtues of being more like my wife.
- I no longer try to be “right” all the time; I’m more likely to try and get along and find common ground.
- I have used a gratitude journal for the past 6 years to help me focus on the many things that go right, rather than the things that go wrong.
- I’m more likely to take a day off of work to take a 3-day weekend with my family than I would have ten years ago.
- I demonstrate my love through my wife’s love language: “acts of service,” walking the dog and driving my son to soccer while she sleeps in.
- I am a better listener because my wife has shown me the importance of validating the kids’ experience even when I don’t understand it.
This is the beauty of marriage.
It’s the glacial pace of growth when you realize that who you were as a single person does not work when you’re part of a couple.
It’s the awareness that you can’t change your partner but you can, through osmosis, pick up on the better parts of your partner’s personality.
It’s the delight of seeing yourself improve and feeling more integrated and connected to your family, your clients, and your friends.
What I didn’t realize when I started writing this piece was that the ending was different than I thought.
I thought this was about my deep, abiding love for my wife – who, for whatever reason, was highly resistant to growth and change.
I thought this would be an ode to acceptance and tolerance, which are the foundations of a happy marriage.
I was wrong.
In writing this, I realized I’ve spent far more time in my marriage focusing on my wife’s refusal to become hyper-efficient and growth-oriented, and never acknowledged how much she HAS changed.
- My wife never wanted to wake up early. She’s now woken up at 7 a.m. for a decade to drive both kids to school.
- My wife never wanted to seek help. She has now started therapy for the first time and seeks out different doctors to address her changing body.
- My wife never wanted to talk about politics. Now she listens to The Daily and we have far more interesting conversations than ever before.
- My wife never wanted to be the boss. She volunteered as school treasurer and ran the place like Janet Yellen runs our economy.
- My wife never wanted to deal with conflict. Now, she stands her ground and speaks her mind – with her friends, her family, and, of course, me.
While I’ve noticed how I’ve adopted my wife’s people skills, I’ve never celebrated how she’s taken on some of my core characteristics, too.
It’s a valuable lesson that cuts to the heart of marriage.
Rule #1: Find a partner who accepts you and doesn’t try to change you.
Rule #2: You can’t change your partner so accept him despite his flaws.
Rule #3: You’ll grow old grumbling about each others’ flaws and that’s okay.
What I didn’t consider until today is that couples ARE always changing, slowly, imperceptibly, over time, simply by the act of building a life together.
I’ve become more like my wife. She’s become more like me. After 15 years, we’ve never understood each other or appreciated each other more. To me, that’s something worth sharing with the world.
Happy anniversary, honey. I’m so proud of you – the person I married, the person you are now, and the person you’re becoming.