Marriage is tough, sister. Some of this you know, like nixing the idea that towels will be folded a certain way, tolerating game night with the boys, or if you’re a guy, maybe you’ve heard there will be love stories on your plasma TV. But it’s tough in other ways that no one really talks about at weddings. Here are five tough things about marriage that every married person knows, along with how to be tough right back and kick ass anyway.
1. Marriage is not fair
Marriage isn’t fair. It’s not equal. At any given time someone is getting more than their share of the good stuff, and someone is picking up more than their share of the crap end of the stick. This is just life — it’s not a perfectly balanced teeter totter, and it never will be. Surprise!
Think of a game of teeter totter where the goal is to stay balanced the whole time, with both people’s toes touching. No one dips, and no one floats. Whenever someone starts to go up, the falling person whines and crabs about how unfair it is and the rising person feels guilty and nervous. Super fun, right? NO. The point of teeter totter is the joy of rising, the anticipation of falling, and the fact that you work together to keep the cycle moving.
So deal with it. Don’t spend any time tallying up how much slack you’re picking up so you can demand to be repaid. Just ride the flippin’ teeter totter, do your part pushing, and trust your partner not to bump you off when you’re on top.
2. Marriage has no finish line
My mother-in-law always says you can tolerate anything if you know when it will end. Marriage has no end unless one of you dies. But let’s try not to look at the coffin as a finish line with a ribbon across it that you can joyfully burst.
Marriage is a permanent shift in paradigm. The vows say that two become one. Not two become two standing very very close together, with an eventual plan to disentangle if somebody starts to stink. This is a magic spell where you throw away the antidote, a surgical procedure where you toss out the instructions for reversing the operation, and decide to live and die that way. There’s no being done. There’s no exit.
3. Marriage has no rests
Whatever you’re doing to stay married, you’re doing it every day, all the time. There are no vacations, no periods of time off for good behavior, no rest days. You’re not looking at other dudes/girls ever, you’re considering your spouse’s needs before your own always, and the beauty of it is that taking a break from it wouldn’t even be fun. You don’t yearn to take a break from having a functional heart valve, or some time off from your left arm. You don’t get tired of being able to see, or breathe. Marriage isn’t like your favorite song, that you can only put on repeat for so long before even it starts to annoy you. Marriage is like oxygen, where taking a break from it starts to kill parts of your brain. Remember: dating was not fun. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it any more.
4. Marriage has no metrics
There’s no winning marriage. There are no medals. You can’t even see how you rate compared to other married people, because there is no standardized test and no score. Being married is like running an endless race, and you can’t see any of the other runners or any mile markers, and the only reason you know you’re still in the race is that you haven’t yet died.
You *can* compare your marriage to other people’s marriages if you want to. But you can’t ever tell if you’re beating them, really. Maybe under all their fighting is a secret weirdly passionate love, or under all their peacefulness is a cold fish and a dissatisfied fisherman.
If you’re lucky, you may someday hear a friend say, “You guys have such a strong marriage!” But then you have to wonder, strong compared to what? There are no inches, feet, yards. You can measure yourself against how good it might be, or will be. But you will never fully know you made it, and you’ll never get a trophy or a prize.
5. Marriage has no rules
Unfortunately for those of us who like to be perfect, marriage is one big “your mileage may vary.” Sure there are some absolutes, but leading with “Don’t kill each other” won’t make for a very good wedding sermon.
For every engraving of the 10 commandments, there’s a couple out there swinging into retirement. For every exhortation to be kind, there’s some jackass calling his wife a cow and some bonehead that keeps tolerating it. I’m pretty sure no one has ever saved a marriage by slapping her husband in the head with a board and running off with the local insurance adjuster, but if you take a wide enough sample, lots of weird stuff falls within the range of normal.
Marriage is tough. It’s endless, relentless, unfair, and there are no rules or rewards. But here’s how to be tough enough for marriage: Answer to no one, and compare yourself to no one. Live for each other, and never stop. Embrace your spouse with such force that they become an extension of your own self, an extension you can never do without. Marriage is an opportunity to separate yourself from the rest of the world. To redefine happiness between you two, and live life your own way. When you’ve found the right girl or guy, everything that makes it tough to be married will make your marriage even tougher to break. Harden up. This is worth it. Get tough and be strong.