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I had a dream last night

The other night I dreamt that Mike and I were hiking the JMT, something he did with his brother in real life last summer, and that we’re planning to do together summer after next.  In the dream we are crossing a narrow, wobbly bridge, the kind of bridge that seems to be suspended from heaven, that looks like it will evaporate if you stare at it too hard.  The bridge hangs over a ravine, so high up there’s nothing below us but sky.  We’ve made it all the way from one end to the next and now have the arduous task of climbing from the foot of the bridge to the lip of a cliff.

A soft wind blows and the bridge sways.  Clouds lick at our ankles, whisper a warning: Don’t look down!  The end of the bridge is at least three feet from the lip of the cliff; we’ll have to lean forward as we reach up, over our heads, grab hold of the ledge and pull our bodies up and through a small crack in the granite.   The land ahead of us is green, flowering, pristine, exquisite.  We are bathed in dappled pools of sunlight, but the threat of danger cannot be shaken, the risk of losing grip, a slight misstep, a fall to our death.

I close my eyes.  I know I can do this with his help.  I know that as long as he’s there I will be safe.  He tells me where to place my hands in the rocks, how far to lean, which way to stretch.  I listen carefully, let his words guide me.  In a moment my feet leave the bridge and I am suspended, clinging spider-like to the side of the mountain, eyes squeezed shut, Mike’s voice in my ear.  My body feels weightless, the breeze plays with my hair, the sun shines warm on my face.  And then I am there, standing in a field of wild flowers, and Mike is laughing.  We did it.

I woke up thinking, “That is what marriage is like.”

I keep trying to put my finger on that impulse, the half-conscious realization, “that is what marriage is like.”  But I’m not sure what I meant.  In An Open Life, Joseph Campbell says, “Marriage is an ordeal.  It means yielding time and again.  That’s why it’s a sacrament.  You give up your personal simplicity to participate in a relationship, and when you are giving, you are not giving to the other person, you are giving to the relationship.  And if you realize that you are in the relationship just as the other person is, then it becomes life-building; a life fostering and enriching experience, not an impoverishment, because you are giving to somebody else.  This is the challenge of a marriage.  What a beautiful thing is a life together; is growing personalities.  Each helping the other to flower, rather than just moving into the standard archetype.  It’s a wonderful moment when people can make the decision to be quite astonishing and unexpected, rather than to become cookie-mold products.  Failure to recognize that is the main reason for the high divorce rate that we experience today.”

Mike and I will soon celebrate our four-year wedding anniversary.  We haven’t been married very long, in the grand scheme of things, but we have learned a lot in our four years of marriage.  One of the things I’ve learned is how little people in general value marriage.  How quick they are to judge, turn their noses up, crack jokes about tuna casserole and joint bank accounts.  I’ve learned not to tell anyone when Mike and I have an argument because people are too quick to jump to conclusions, suggest other fish in the sea.  I’ve learned to ignore the rolling of eyes when I say I’ll check with Mike before making plans, or when I decline a second round of drinks because my husband is waiting at home.  I’ve learned to ignore the looks of pity, turn my back to the whispers of lost independence, pretend not to notice the comments about how fun I “used to be”.

Being married isn’t about falling in love and having a fancy wedding and then going about life as usual.  Marriage changes everything.  It’s not about me anymore; it’s not about what I want or what’s best for me or what makes me happy.  I’m married now.  It’s about us; it’s about what we want, what’s best for us as a family, what makes us happy.  I promised to love him and honor him though richer, though poorer, through sickness, through health, until my death parts us.  They’ll tell you that about kids – that once you have kids you have to put them before yourself, you have to think about their needs before you think of your own.  That’s true for marriage too.  No, I won’t have that second drink because the man I promised to devote my life to is waiting at home and honestly?  There isn’t anywhere on Earth I’d rather be than curled up in his arms.  I don’t care if you think I used to be more fun because when shit hits the fan and the world starts spinning out of control, he’s the one who’s going to take my hand and help me through it.  He’s the one who promised to love me and honor me and cherish me.  He’s the one.

Marriage is an ordeal.  It’s a union to be valued, treasured, respected and cared for.  It can be difficult and frightening, there is always the risk of failure, a slight misstep, a fall to our death.  But we’re bathed in dappled pools of sunlight, the wind in our hair and a laugh on our lips.  Marriage may not be right for everyone, but it’s perfect for me.


The Second Time

<i>Beneath the sunset and over the sea<i/>
Beneath the sunset and over the sea

The second time couples counseling saved my marriage was in the summer of 2008, exactly three years after the most romantic marriage proposal in the history of all marriage proposals, and less than three weeks after the fight that was the biggest fight in the history of all fights.

The recent six-part story I wrote about babies was supposed to be a post about how important counseling can be when a couple stops communicating, but it ended up being a post about babies because that’s just how I roll.  I could sit down to write a story about ketchup going on sale this week and before I know it I’ll be writing a story about babies.  My biological clock has taken over.

Since I never made the point I wanted to make in that post, I’m going to make it now: Couples counseling saved our relationship and then it saved our marriage.  Now I think counseling is a magical elixir for relationships.  (You can read about the first time it saved us here.)

Instead of re-telling you about how not talking about babies nearly ruined my marriage, I’ll just say that Mike and I have learned the hard way.  Twice.  Ignoring our feelings + avoiding communication = disaster. You could try to argue that couples counseling didn’t work the first time, your evidence being that we had to go back a second time, but you’d be incorrect.  The second time we only needed a refresher course.  We lost our way for a minute but we got back on track in a matter of weeks because we had the strong base we’d built in our first round of therapy.  That being said, I have to admit that Mike and I were lucky in that both times we started counseling, we started before we got to the point where we hated each other.  A lot of couples wait too long and by the time they’re in counseling their relationship has been badly damaged, sometimes heartbreakingly, irreversibly so.

A marriage is another person sharing your home.  There’s you, there’s your spouse and there’s your marriage.  Each marriage has its own needs, it’s own peculiarities and it’s own character.  Marriages need to be nurtured, nourished and cared for.  If a marriage is neglected it will not thrive.

I realize I’ve been proselytizing about couples counseling, but far more important than counseling is simply taking care of your couple, however works best for you and your partner.  Counseling was the magical elixir that taught Mike and I how to take care of our relationship.  What is it for you?  What has been the thing that has saved you and your partner, whenever you’ve needed saving?