My friend Fawn, over at Happy Wives Club asked me to answer this question for her:
Glennon, what do you believe about marriage?
Um, WOW. Well, a lot of things. Here are five:
1. If neglect or abuse is present in your marriage and you are being hurt, get the hell out. If your church tells you to stay, get the hell out of your church. Any decent church will promise you that God loves you more than any institution God made for you —including marriage and including church. If you are telling yourself that you are staying for the kids, tell yourself to leave for the kids so you do not teach them that love is pain. If you have no one to help you get out of an abusive, neglectful, hurtful marriage, start here.
2. If you are not hurt or neglected, but you’ve “fallen out of love” and are disillusioned about marriage, join the club. All married people in the whole world are in the club. Being disillusioned is good. It means you’ve stopped believing a lie. The lie is that marriage is like it is in the movies and that everyone else is having hot love affairs while you are cleaning up smelly socks and trying to get someone to actually listen to you instead of pretending to listen to you. The truth is that cleaning up socks and trying to get someone to really listen to you is marriage. It’s less sweep you off your feet and more sweep the kitchen four times a day. Like everything good in life, it’s 98% back-breaking work and 2% moments that make the work worthwhile. So get ready to sweat. Despite what the movies tell you, you’ll sweat less often in bed and more often in therapist’s offices, in front of the clothes dryer and in line at the grocery store while the children lick used gum off the floor and you silently curse your partner for existing. I’m actually surprised more of us married folk are not constantly dehydrated from all the sweating.
3. Happily Ever After is not a thing. We are all trained by Disney to believe that the wedding is the finish line, but the wedding is just another starting line. In light of this fact, we should quit the huge, fancy, debt-inducing weddings. When I asked my parents to help pay for my wedding, they said they’d give me a little bit and then if Craig and I made it to our ten-year anniversary, they’d give us some more to throw a big party. “That’s the time to celebrate,” they said. My parents were right.* Celebrate after hard work, not before. Young people: marry simply, start your life, and party later. Think of how much babysitting for your future colicky baby you could buy with that wedding budget. Think of how much marriage therapy you could buy. Invest in your marriage, not your wedding. Spending all your money on a wedding and leaving nothing for marriage is as irresponsible as foregoing health insurance for your baby so that you can throw her a kick-ass birthday party. It’s as backwards as circling the stadium with your arms in the air — waiting for applause — before you start the race. Sweat a little, then celebrate. And don’t forget the good news/bad news: there is no finish line. Marriage starts over again every.single.day.
4. Sex is really, really freaking confusing. No one talks about this, which is a shame. I’ve been married for eleven years and my husband and I are still trying to figure out how to make sex enjoyable for both of us. Right now sex is a source off all kinds of confusion and resentment and shame and pain for us. But we don’t think this means that there’s anything “wrong” with us or our marriage. We just assume that our confusion means we’re normal people who’ve been paying attention to the world’s mixed, dangerous sex messages forever and so we have some unlearning to do. When our kids were young, we knew we were stuck when it came to sex but we couldn’t find an extra hour or dollar to spend figuring it out. Now that the kids are older, we spend hours a week in therapy muddling through this stuff. It’s annoying and painful and expensive and necessary. Mating comes naturally, but healthy sex lives don’t. They take work.
5. Marriage is still the best chance we have to become evolved, loving people. We live in a transient, disposable world that teaches us that if we are uncomfortable, we should change our surroundings and people instead of ourselves. I do it all the time. New friends, new house, new church, new, new, better, better. It never works, because wherever you go, there you are. If you keep swapping partners because the ass is always greener, you’ll just end up poorer and more exhausted, but with all the same issues. We are like butterflies who want to keep moving, keep flitting around and being free, but freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose (thank you, Janis). What we want even more than freedom is to be loved, and we can only be loved when we are truly known. It takes a lifetime of tears, laughter, arguments, loss and conversation with another human being to be truly known. We have to be patient. Marriage is dogged, determined patience. It’s also one of the only ways we’ll ever truly know ourselves. Because to know ourselves we have to stop flitting and face our demons in the face of another person who serves as our mirror. Who reflects the best and worst of ourselves back to us. Sometimes I feel like marriage is more a constant relationship with myself than it is with Craig. I’ve learned to quit listing things he could do to be a better partner and ask myself instead what I can do to be a better partner. If I get stuck in comparison induced self-pity and start feeling like others have better love affairs than mine, I don’t need to look for another person to love, I just need to start actively loving the person I already have. Because love is not something to wait for or hope for or look for — it’s something to do. Do not measure your marriage by how much love you feel today, measure it by how much love you’ve offered today. When you don’t feel love, dolove. Feelings follow doing, not the other way around. Lasting, true love is not about being swept off your feet. Sometimes love is just sweeping the kitchen and being grateful that there is a kitchen and a partner who is contractually obligated to share it with you forever.
*Hey! Dad! Where the Sam Hill’s our ten-year money, Bubba?!? Well-played.
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