We’re sitting at the table in the morning, sun not quite yet up, coffee cups in our hands, waking up slow and gently and together. It’s this togetherness that throws me off, not the waking up early part. Two hundred and thirty days gone and then with the landing of a plane he’s back and the normal that we lost has once again been found. I fit so easily tucked into his side, like two puzzle pieces that click right back into place. It’s funny to me how easily we start life again: side by side, together, right where we left off, really.
We’re chatting about everything and nothing all at once- how the kids are doing- are they doing okay?, how we’re doing- are we doing okay?, what our future will look like- will it all be okay?, but then also the carpet our feet step on and the new clock hanging on our wall and how good chips and guacamole really is.
It’s these little things that I missed the most- the everything and nothing of marriage- while he was gone. Sure, sure, he missed an anniversary and all five of our birthdays and the 4th of July- my very favorite of all of the holidays. But it was when I had finished tucking the girls in and came back downstairs to sit on the couch by myself, or when we were at our local ice cream shop and I saw his favorite flavor listed as the choice of the day, or when I needed help opening up the salsa jar, that I missed him the most.
Yeah, it’s these little things that make up our life together and it’s these little things that I missed the most.
He leaves to go to Mosul for most of the year, and then returns and sits on the couch with me. It’s Day Two of reunion, and we’re both just so tired. He, from his war, me, from my own home front campaigns. We get the girls to bed and sit side by side, just like we always have, just like nothing has changed, only everything has. Our bodies are tired and our souls are tired and our eyes are so, so tired. 7:45pm, I look over and he’s asleep- “You had been quiet for so long,” I say, “You fell asleep on me. Just call it babe; just go to sleep.”
There was a time, in the younger years of our marriage maybe, that this would have caused friction between us. You mean you aren’t willing to sacrifice to be together? You mean sleep is more important to you than me? You mean you’re choosing something else over me? What about me? What about me, babe?
And while we’re at it, has he always left the toothpaste tube open? Or do you just notice it now? Has he always left his keys right there in the middle of the counter or do you just notice it now because you’re annoyed about the toothpaste too?
And suddenly, this whole marriage thing is messier than I thought it would and could and should be. Suddenly, marriage is hard and complex and demanding and husbands are annoying and does everyone have to work this hard at being married?
Well, yes and no.
Because it is here that we find the art of marriage that is so hard to master: It’s these little pieces that make up a marriage, but also, also- these little pieces cannot make a marriage, not completely.
These mundane pieces fluctuate with the ebb and flow of each of our days, with my emotions, with the hard and good seasons. The toothpaste and the falling asleep and the clutter on the counter, too. The sitting on the couch and the coffee cups in hand and the talking about everything and nothing, too. All of it. These little pieces can make or break me if I let them.
So I had to learn how not to let them.
When something as big as marriage is built on something as fragile as my satisfaction, it’s going to crumble. Something as big and hard and important as marriage requires a foundation that is bigger and stronger and grittier than my own finicky heart.
Balls in my court, I suppose, in choosing the importance of these mundane pieces of life when they annoy me. I can choose the stack of papers on the counter, let that be my hill to die on, nag him and remind him and dwell on the injustice of it all.
Or I can choose a little perspective, remember what’s important, and choose him instead.
Let me tell you what, I have learned this the hard way. We’re all works in progress, as it turns out. Our marriages are all works in progress, as it turns out. And so I choose him as he chooses me, we choose grace, we choose to believe the best, I choose to just flipping let it go and not nag. It’s when I let go of the expectation that it has to be perfect, right now, and he has to be perfect, right now, that I remember the process of living a life together and that it is all a long process, really.
The what-about-me’s and the toothpaste squeezed out and the clutter on the counter and the unmet expectations all only distracted me from the central truth in marriage, I see now: It’s not about me, after all.
I am finding that marriage is less about me learning to love and change and accept this man, quirks and all, but more about me learning to uproot my selfishness and let love form there instead.
Marriage is modeled after sacrificial love and requires sacrificial love and none of that places me at the center. It is this that must be the foundation of our marriage, we see now. We’re at our best when we’re functioning as one, each putting the other first, claiming grace. The everyday nothingness and little pieces tell our story, but always at the beginning is you first, you first, don’t you know I love you over everything first.
It doesn’t seem so temperamental around here anymore. We’ve settled in, we remember what’s important better now, we remember love first and it is this, and not a tally sheet keeping record of wrongs and grievances and my reminders that he needs to earn his way back, that informs every decision, every interaction, every day.
Love is a choice, I see now. Contentment is a choice, grace is a choice, responding in love and patience and gentleness is a choice.
The other night, we’re getting ready for bed, he’s walking around the room as I’m laying down with a book opened up. He laughs and I look up as he points out the nightstand and the dresser and the drawers in the room. “Don’t you see it, babe? Do you see what you do to the drawers? You never close a single drawer fully, they’re all sitting two inches out and I keep running into them.”
So he walks around the room and pushes all of the drawers closed and squeezes my shoulder as he walks by to brush his teeth.
“I’m so grateful for you,” he tells me, toothbrush in hand, as I look on with tired eyes and a top knot. “I wouldn’t want life to look any other way than it does with you.”
Here we are, twelve years into marriage, and somehow idiosyncrasies translate to gratitude now. It’s our own water-to-wine miracle of sorts in our very own marriage. We’re still in the middle of the process, being sure of less now than we were then. But we’re certain of the big things, the important things- I walk towards him as he walks towards me, we love the other first and love always and love wins.
Stay encouraged! Grab my guide for 5 Steps to a Stronger Marriage here. xo!