Today Umur and I have been married for three years. It’s hard to believe time has gone by so quickly. I have been searching and searching for the right words to explain what these last three years of marriage have meant to me, but summing it up feels like an impossible task. Not to mention it also feels like a task I am not qualified for. Though in some ways we have come so far, and learned so much about each other and about marriage, we also still have so much left to figure out. To pretend that three years is enough to be experts on marriage would be absurd. But today I want to reflect on the things we have learned, the things we have become good at and the things we are continually working on.
First and most importantly, we have learned that it’s okay to have bad days. We have our days when we are perfectly in sync and love spending time together and we also have our days when one of us or both of us are just off. It’s impossible to be “on” all the time and to expect that from another person isn’t fair. We are almost literally together 24/7, so it is inevitable that there are times when we aren’t at our best. If nothing else, marriage has taught me to be patient, and to have the strength to remain still in these tough moments and wait it out. It’s tempting to try to fix things every time your partner is upset or having a rough day. We end up running around like chickens with our heads cut off, in panic mode, believing that one moment or day of discontent might bring down our whole marriage. It won’t. And giving each other the freedom and space to have a bad day without trying to fix it is one of the most important things we can do for one another. I’ve also learned not to make Umur’s tough moments about me. The natural instinct when your spouse is in a bad mood is “what did I do to deserve this?” or “why are you being mean to me?” When we indulge that instinct though we minimize the pain of our partner and make them feel less able to share that pain in the future.
I think we demand 24/7 happiness from other people because we are afraid that a crack in their happiness might shine a light on the cracks in our own. It’s not so much that we expect other people to really be happy all the time, but we want them to at least maintain the illusion of happiness. In a world dominated by social media, where we see the highlights of people’s lives rather than the realities, it has become taboo to allow the world to see your struggles. This makes it all the more important that we break down these barriers in a marriage. It is exhausting to maintain that illusion of happiness at all times, and if you can’t be honest and raw with your spouse, there is no reprieve from that illusion. But also, if you don’t allow your spouse to show you their moments of darkness, you don’t really get to know them fully. Part of the wonder of love and marriage is that we see each other at our absolute worst, and love each other anyways. And part of our bond is that we are privy to each other’s secret darkness and struggle.
Another thing we have learned is that the day we got married we did not, contrary to popular belief, magically become one person. We are two distinct people. We have our own hopes and dreams and hobbies; And the moment when these things diverge is not the moment that our marriage begins to weaken, but rather when it is strengthened. In allowing each other to have our own separate lives, we honor each other more than we could by forcing those two lives together at all times. For example, Umur loves cars. He thinks cars are the coolest. I have only ever had the ability to describe a car by its color. “Oh sick white car you have there.” It’s perfectly okay that I don’t engage or even fully understand this hobby of his. The fact that we can have areas of our lives that are entirely our own and that we don’t share, enables us to maintain that sense of being two distinct people. Being two separate people with different views, goals and lives can make marriage pretty challenging at times. However, by making compromises and supporting each other even when we don’t share the same goal, we make our marriage stronger. It’s easy to be happy for someone or to support someone when you want all the same things, because you are working for your happiness as much as you are for theirs. But to support someone when you have nothing to gain, solely for the sake of their happiness, is what love is really supposed to be about. I take no pleasure from Umur’s expensive sports car. It’s loud and hard to get in and out of, and he washes it too much and takes too many pictures of it. But it makes him happy and I love him too much to stand in the way of that happiness. I, on the other hand, am made extremely happy by having one million pets. So he puts up with our house being a zoo, a dog sleeping on top of him, and cats that have a knack for pooping every time we are eating dinner. Marriage isn’t necessarily about putting another person’s happiness above your own, but it is about placing the same value on their happiness as you do on yours. It is also about not equating their happiness with the avoidance of your mild discontent. This is not something that comes easily or feels natural. It’s safe to say this is one of those things we are continually working on.
We have also learned that sitting on the couch next to each other on our phones does not count as quality time together. It’s easy when you live together to get in the habit of spending a ton of time together, but very little quality time. Early in our marriage we realized that we were always together, but never actually present. Now we recognize that it’s better to spend one hour a day of quality time together, than three hours of half-present, distracted time together. Since we both have bad habits of scrolling through our phones whenever we are in the house not doing anything, we try to carve out time to actually get outside the house and do things together. We love to (over)eat, so for us quality time tends to mean going out to a good dinner. Friday is date night and I can honestly say I look forward to it all week. The important thing is to find whatever it is that you bond over, and always make time to do it.
The last thing that we have learned and are still working on is focusing on the big picture and not getting caught up in the small stuff. It’s easy to allow every day responsibilities to overshadow the more important work that we are trying to do, which is build a life together. We have had the somewhat unique experience of getting married before we fully entered into adult life. We had both recently graduated and had little idea what real life would look and feel like. In the beginning of our marriage, we were definitely overwhelmed by all the adult responsibilities that had recently fallen into our laps. We were always stressed about jobs, bills and how the hell a person was supposed to work and still have a life. We struggled with these things together, which was both a blessing and a curse. In one sense, it was comforting to be able to share this experience together and to not feel alone in it. But on the flip side, we frequently took out the stresses of every day adult life on each other. We hadn’t recognized that it was possible for all areas of our lives to be complete and utter disasters, but for our marriage to still feel good and strong. If I had a bad day at work, I brought it home with me and Umur was sure to have a bad night. We were constantly picking at each other and arguing over stupid small things. I yelled at the top of my lungs that the dishwasher being loaded improperly was the source of ALL my unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. Of course the things that we fought about were never the true problems we were facing. Very rarely did our actual problems even have anything to do with each other. That was a difficult thing to recognize and the pattern of taking out our frustrations on each other and finding fault was a hard one to break.
I would be lying if I said it’s not something we still struggle with. But we are getting better at taking a step back and saying “What is really wrong here? What are you actually upset about?” Sometimes the answer is simply that one of us is stressed and had a bad day, and there is actually nothing wrong at all. Umur is better than I am at pointing out these moments and steering our interaction back to a more positive place. Sometimes the answer is more complicated and is something we really need to talk about and work through. Either way, we have learned not get so caught up in the small struggles and complaints of daily life. We try to remember that this is the process of building a life together. That it is sometimes hard and that’s okay. But we also try to remember that this is our life, right now. Amid the stressful, responsibility-crushing, mundane of every day, we are growing and our relationship is strengthening, and that’s something worth celebrating.
If we treat these years solely as building blocks for our future life to come, we risk missing the beauty of this moment of our life. In this moment, we are just two kids in love, struggling to figure out what life is really about and how we can make the most of it. Though we look forward to the years when our lives feel more settled, our souls less restless and our love a little more calm, there is something beautiful about this struggle. There is something beautiful about choosing each other, every day, even when we feel incapable of choosing anything else. Umur, you are the only thing I am sure about. I love you. Today and always.