Eighteen years ago today, I was a young bride walking down the aisle to promise before God and everyone that I would “be true” to the man I’d fallen in love with “until death.”
Like most people, Ted and I can’t believe how the years since that day have flown. How that day seems as though it were both a lifetime ago and only yesterday.
This got me to thinking about what I would say to someone if they asked what our “secret” is to staying married. (For the record, no one has asked, but isn’t that why I blog?)
The first thought that came to mind is that I could point to two shining examples among many in our families. This 18th year of marriage for us is bookmarked neatly between two other anniversary milestones in our families: my parents’ 45th and his parent’s’ upcoming 50th. Through our parents (and grandparents–Ted and I were dating at my grandparents’ 60th anniversary!), both of us have witnessed great examples of how to struggle through the difficult times, suffer through the painful times, and celebrate the joyful times–always together.
I also always liked the answer I saw on a Dr. Phil episode once. (Eye roll. I know. Dr. Phil). Still, I thought it was a good answer. He said a woman who’d been married 60 years was asked what her secret was, she said, “I guess we never fell out of love at the same time.” I think there’s truth to that, too. Even if it’s a little depressing to think about.
Most recently though, I’ve come across an answer I like best as it best fits Ted and I. It was a story about how in the Orthodox faith there is first a civil ceremony that is celebrated in the public arena for all to see, and it’s followed by a second sacramental ceremony.
You do not have to do the second ceremony.
But in order to celebrate it, you have to make a choice to enter into it.
The article said that the second ceremony is the celebration of the choice to have that marriage, which is already a marriage, “crowned by the wisdom, glory and meaning of the cross of Christ.”
Now, as a Catholic, I could argue that because our wedding took place in a Catholic church, where marriage is taught as and considered a sacrament, that Ted and I made that choice and had the public and the sacramental marriages combined into one. And it wouldn’t be entirely untrue. But, if I’m really honest, the truth for me is that I wasn’t thinking about any of that back then. I was thinking about how much I liked wearing my white dress, how neat my manicure turned out, and how fun our reception was going to be.
I wasn’t thinking about sacraments (or even God for that matter), much at all.
But, I believe that somewhere in our eighteen years, we’ve both made the decision to enter into that second ceremony.
Through the years we have “washed each other’s feet” in service to one another. (Not literally. I don’t do feet. But you get the gist). We have celebrated the “eucharist” of marriage by taking, blessing, breaking and giving parts of ourselves to each other in ways that only two people who have trust, and faith and love for God, for each other, and for themselves can do. And we have taken parts of ourselves that we’ve loved and we’ve witnessed their painful “crucifixion”. We have struggled, and suffered and let parts of us die for the betterment of the other. For the betterment of the two of us over the one. And while one was suffering an inner crucifixion, the other of us has stood by as witness, holding on to faith, standing by in hope, and letting go in love, trusting the process for the other, willing them on to endure the pain to witness the healing and joys of a “resurrection,” a new life, on the other side.
For me, the answer to staying married is to be willing to go “all the way.” Now, to any 20-year-old that expression has a very shallow meaning and can be complete in a five-minute interlude on the wedding night (or in many cases before).
But, for me, our only “secret” to a lasting marriage is that each of us, in our own way, and in our own time, has made the choice to use our marriage and enter the Mystery.
Marriage as the Mystery of the Cross.
Marriage as the Mystery of Christ.
Marriage as the Mystery of Love that is God.
Marriage as a daily choice.
It may not be what you were looking for. It may not sound romantic.
But, after 18 years, that’s the only “secret” I have to offer.