I find it interesting that fairytales often end with weddings. The prince and princess have gone through hell and high water to be together, and the idea seems to be that marriage is the reward, the end of the journey. But what happens after they ride off into the sunset?
I'm not sure marriage is ever what anyone expects it to be when they make their vows. There have been days when I have felt quite disenchanted with the married life, as I face yet another pile of dishes that I don't seem to stand a hope of getting help with or find myself wishing my husband could read my mind. But yet, there have been other days when I have been absolutely floored by the unique strength of the relationship between a husband and a wife. I mean, think about it, two people pledging their lives to each other, promising never to leave the other's side. There is a lot of power in that promise.
When I asked married women of all ages from across the United States to describe what marriage is "really" like, it often came down to the attitude about that promise of partnership. Is it a burden and a chore, or does it present a daily opportunity to grow together, support one another, and build a life together? Maybe a little of both.
"On one hand, it's never being able to make any decisions without consulting someone else, getting cold because you husband stole the covers, and having your spouse drive you crazy with all their quirks. On the other hand, it's the joy of always having someone to talk things over with, having someone who is always there to give you a hug and kiss at the end of the day, and who loves you unconditionally. It's the most challenging, lovely thing I've ever experienced." - Sally C., Milan, Ohio
"In the end, marriage isn't just one thing, marriage is a moving entity that constantly changes and gives you new (or old) challenges to face. As long as you and your partner can face them together, then marriage works." - Lindsay W., Jacksonville, N.C.
"Real marriage is discussing who should make dinner. Real marriage is reminding your spouse to take out the trash and to empty the dishwasher. Real marriage is discussing bodily functions in too much detail. Real marriage is worrying about money and never seeming to have enough of it. But if it's a great marriage, you wouldn't trade it for anything in this world." - Rachel C., Columbus, Ohio
"An ever-evolving friendship. A fine balancing act. As one partner changes, the other must adjust and vice versa. It's like tuning a violin everyday." - Shelly O., Oklahoma City, Okla.
"Marriage is like an almost bad banana; it has both dark spots (the bad) and mushy spots (the good), and it's always worth the work it takes to turn it into something wonderful (thinking of chocolate-chip banana bread!)." - Lindsey R., New Orleans, La.
"Sometimes it is like living with a roommate, but with very occasional bonuses. On the plus side, that roommate is someone who knows you very well, who can anticipate your responses, and who needs very little explanation about your state of mind. I find that you ask your spouse if they love you very often, mostly because you need that extra assurance that although you are not madly in love with each other right now, you love and are loved by that one person more than anyone else in the world." - Stephanie R., Worthington, Ohio
"Marriage is hard work. Like anything worth having, you have to maintain it. Without taking time for each other, life can get in the way. Home, chores, work, kids, and pets all demand your time, and it's easy to let them take priority, but your marriage is the foundation for all those things." - Lindi A., Tuscon, Ariz.
"I've learned to love the small things in our relationship. I don't complain about not getting flowers or big romantic gestures, because when he makes my eggs the way I like them and in the shape of a happy face, I know how much I'm loved." - Casey R., Hilliard, Ohio
"Marriage is an act of completion. It really is joining forces with your other half. I know that we belong together, and without him, I would be incomplete. Marriage is knowing that even on your worst day, someone is loving the real you, flaws and all." - Jen G., Fort Thomas, Ky.
"Marriage can either be like having a horrible roommate that never helps with chores or bills and you can't stand coming home to, or it can be fantastic, a team of two people that are not only husband and wife but best friends and soul mates. Of course, if you want it to be the second one, it takes a lot of effort, love, determination, and communication. Thank God I at least learned that from going through my divorce!" - Karyn M., Albany, N.Y.
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