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State of the Union

About five years.”

-- The answer I received from my friend Sheila, who now lives in North Carolina, when I asked, “How many years of marriage does it take until you start feeling comfortable in your marriage?”

On Saturday I celebrated five years of marriage to my husband, BMNB (Black Man Not Blogging). We celebrated by allowing each other to do what we really wanted to do – I went on a gardening tear while he vegged on the sofa and caught up on some much needed sleep.

I can’t say that I was always assured that we would reach five years.

Right before I got married, I made peace with being single. I embraced it, had started to plan my life on the assumption that I would never marry. Having married late in life, I’ve tended to be somewhat utilitarian about marriage – that marriage should make you better off than you would have been had you remained single. Not financially, but emotionally.

That hasn’t always been the case in my marriage.

I’ve felt, at times, that I carried more than my fair share of the burdens without an end in sight.

I’ve felt, at times, that my wants and needs came in second to his more pressing wants and needs.

I’ve felt, at times, that being a good wife meant taking on certain roles and responsibilities, whether I liked them or not.

Then I grew the eff up.

I realized that, contrary to what I was lead to believe, yes, people do indeed keep score in a marriage, especially if they’re carrying the lion’s share of its burdens most of the time. No one can be expected to carry more than his or her fair share for an indeterminate amount of time. So, I’ve learned that if you’re married and you’re not carrying your fair share, whether it’s financial responsibility, division of household labor, or caring for the kids, you need to give your partner some certainty as to when the situation is going to even up, lest your partner ask, as I once did, “If this is what marriage has to offer, why would I choose this over being single?”

I realized that no one – not your husband, your mother, or your father – is responsible for your happiness other than you. If you’re not happy, it’s on you to speak up. Few spouses can read minds. Taking responsibility for your own unhappiness starts with voicing it. Whenever I’ve spoken up, BMNB has listened and taken me seriously.

I've realized that, like Bishop T.D. Jakes says, marriage is the union of two imperfect people. And, quiet as it's kept, I'm so far from perfect, they don't have a measure for the distance. Light years don't suffice. So when I get a notion to criticize my husband's shortcomings, I try to remind myself of my own glaring imperfections and the fact that, more often than not, he overlooks them.

I realized that, as one of my bridesmaids advised me, no two marriages are alike. What works for other folks in their marriages may not work for you. Just because all your girlfriends cook and embrace cooking, if you don’t like it, being a wife isn’t going to make you like it or embrace it all the more. If anything, it will lead you to ask, “What did he do for dinner before he married me?” You have to tailor your marriage to the two people in it.

I realized that it isn't always what I say, but how I say it. I've got quite a sharp tongue, and I don't want to sharpen it at the expense of my husband's psyche. Quiet as it's kept, apologies don't really erase words spoken, because they don't eliminate the fact that you actually thought the words. Better to step back and think clearly about the effect of one's words than try to take them back once spoken. Because you really can't.

I realized that you have to allow your spouse room to be who he is, with the proviso that he allows you room to be who you are. BMNB is never going to embrace cooking, period. Just doesn’t like to do it. Looks like he’s being punished when he has to. Conversely, I’m probably not going to be attending church with him every Sunday. Maybe the church of my choosing, at best, but probably not the church of his choice. Mind you, these were both things we said we’d “embrace” during our pre-marital counseling, kind of a tradeoff we each were supposed to make for the other. Five years later, nothing doing. It went against who we both really were and are. Now, I think we’ve reached some peace with it, or at least détente.

The most important thing I’ve realized is that marriage isn’t a destination, but a journey through the joys and vicissitudes of life that you share with an incredible partner. Not a perfect partner, but an incredible partner. And I can’t imagine sharing this journey with anyone else, so much so that I hope to predecease my husband because I can’t imagine this journey of life without him. Now that he’s a permanent part of my world, I don’t want to know a world without him. I don’t even want to imagine it.

Realizing all this is the best gift of all after five years of an incredible journey with an incredible partner.

Happy Anniversary, BMNB.

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