Sunday, June 3, 2012

The fundamental difference between marriage and love

I've been thinking about writing this one for a while, and finally just decided to do it.

My husband and I just passed a fairly sizable milestone in our relationship.  We'd long ago passed the marker of having been together for more than half our lives, we just came up on twenty years.

Twenty years.

Time frames like that never seem possible when you're 15 years old and falling in love for the first time.  You never imagine yourself in your mid-30's with a mortgage and a house full of kids.  Or maybe you do, to some degree, but you only ever imagine the good stuff.   The postcard stuff.  The stuff of Rockwell's paintings.  The holiday dinners and idyllic family photos.

You don't envision what the future is really going to be like.  Mostly because you have no idea what to expect.  Or maybe you do, to some degree, but you think somehow it won't happen to you.  You've seen heartbreak and disappointment, you've seen other couples in your parent's generation get divorced.  You've seen loss and failure, but you live in a world where things like that aren't going to happen to me.  Things like that won't happen to us.
Tom & I hiking, 1994
You tell yourself that things will be different for you.  Better.  Safer.  That somehow love will shield you from all the bad in the world, and that as long as you have each other, you can get through anything.

And for a while, it works.

Until it doesn't.

In that space where things start to go wrong is where the difference between marriage and love lies.  Love can come and go.  It is strong and exciting at first, all things are.  That kind of love is unsustainable, though, once reality sets in.   Some people do a better job than most with keeping it alive, but the ugly truth is that it actually takes work to stay in love.  

Which is one of the things that no one warns you about when you are young and excited and about to embark on this thing called marriage.

It's hard.  Really hard.  Sometimes it takes everything you have, and sometimes that isn't enough.

This is the stuff in the fine print.

Marriage isn't just love.  It's love, with laundry and bills.  

Sometimes it comes naturally, sometimes it doesn't.  Love alone isn't enough to sustain any relationship, especially a marriage.  There has to be more.  There has to be respect and trust and effort.  There has to be understanding and patience and offers to help each other.  There has to be sheer determination to weather the storms sometimes.

Marriage requires a romantic love, a love of self, and a selfless love.  The romantic part isn't enough.  It requires that you care not just about yourself, but about every single thing that happens to someone else, and that you tailor your life to accommodate that reality.   That you consider the other.

In the early days, it seems obvious.  You'd never do anything to hurt the other.  Then, as the romantic love portion begins to fade in the face of the demands of daily life, you have to force yourself to remember the importance of the other loves.  The love of self can do battle with the selfless love, and the only thing that can keep one from killing the other is awareness of the struggle.

Most of us aren't.

Most of us get wrapped up in routine, in getting whatever needs done now, in getting by that we don't even notice the dynamics we create.  Life gets complicated, and the marriage is no longer the most important thing.  Except we didn't even see it, sometimes we never do until its too late.

Marriage is hard work.  It's not always rainbows and unicorns, though it might seem that way at first.  We got lucky in that respect.  We had a good run. Though we had a lot of things thrown at us in the early years of our marriage, we were good.  So good that we didn't think we needed to do the work to stay in love.  So busy that we didn't notice when it started to fall apart.

Here I stand, twenty years past being a naive teenage girl falling in love. Twelve years past believing I was invincible. One year past believing that love would be enough.

I know that it's not now.

Marriage is work, a full time job.  Love isn't enough. It's not always easy. It's not always fun. Sometimes it sucks, to be quite honest. But, it is worth it.

And it is worth fighting for.


  1. "Marriage isn't just love. It's love, with laundry and bills." Might be one of my favorite quotes ever. Congratulations on 20 years!

  2. Marriage is definitely work. Love is work. And that doesn't mean you love the person any less. I love your honesty in this post. I admire you and your husband for making it work. It's a tough road, this commitment, and the bad sometimes outweighs the good for what can seem a long time. BUt then you look and see all you've created, all you have in common and your history and love, in the end, is totally worth it. But it's not all there is...sometimes love is not enough.


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