Nine years ago today, Maria and I became girlfriend and girlfriend. We’d been dating for about a month before she asked me to be hers. There was a fluttering feeling of little wings going crazy in my tummy as I tucked my chin ever so slightly and replied “yes” with a delighted grin on my face. Since that perfect moment, Maria and I have lived a jam-packed life loaded with all the extra toppings–some we ordered, some were extra, and some we wanted to send back. But we’ve taken it all and enjoyed almost every moment. I definitely haven’t been a perfect partner along the way, sometimes dipping down very low on the contribution ladder when it came to being the most romantic or giving. And I’ve had to learn a lot about compromise, more so in expecting it rather than me just compromising all of my own beliefs because I thought it had to be that way to keep a good relationship going. To be fair, Maria didn’t know when I was doing this. She just thought she had lucked up finding a woman who happened to believe everything she believed. In our nine years, I have come out more strongly in the last few years as more of my own person, owning who I am and what I think.
Along the way, I’ve also had to learn a lot about relationships in general. I didn’t have a fear of commitment, per se. I just took off when the going got rough. What was the point if we couldn’t get along every second? Those were my thoughts in my 20s. I didn’t know how to effectively discuss my feelings of agitation or to let Maria know she’d hurt me without acting out in a passive-aggressive way.
When we got married in 2009, my grandmother, who’d divorced her first husband before marrying my Papa, said with a very loving tone: “Good luck in your marriage, Kirsten. You haven’t had any good examples of a marriage actually working out. Everyone in your family has gotten a divorce, including me.”
And she was mostly right with the exception of my father’s third marriage, which lasted 17 years until his death, to my stepmother, Clare. They loved each other in abundance every day, and hardly ever disagreed. Theirs was a love affair I want to emulate.
But I also married a passionate Italian who possesses the confidence to get her feelings across and yet let me know that she loves me in abundance. Maria has taught me so much about what it is to maintain a relationship, to keep ours going. It’s not just about loving each other. We’ve got that down pat. It’s also about allowing ourselves to take time to fume over something that’s got one of us in a tizzy, to talk it over, and for our hearts to know that we can give it our all at all times because we know that the other one isn’t going anywhere. We must tend to the garden that is our relationship in order to have it continually bloom, and we mustn’t abandon it or else weeds will grow.
As we’ve grown older and (hopefully) wiser, I feel like we’ve also grown with each other, like roots of two different plants, intertwined deep within the earth, and I love knowing that we’re together through anything life throws our way (and it has thrown some major curve balls).
I love Maria in abundance not just during our happy times, of which there are countless, but during the hard times, as well. And you’re not going to be together for nine or more years without a difficult time coming at you hard at some point in your relationship. But I’ve learned that you have to work hard at making it feel easy, that when the going gets rough, you don’t just throw in the cards.
Happiness in a relationship, I’ve come to know, very much depends on what you’re willing to do once the honeymoon period is over. Because I’ve learned how to do the work–and so has Maria–I feel like we’re reaping those benefits tenfold now, and we’re riding high on a fluffy yet sturdy cloud of comfort and joy with two gorgeous children, a cozy home, flourishing careers and the knowledge that no matter what the future holds, we’ll face it head on, together.
Tell me, readers, what do you think maintains a marriage?
Photo: Our Labor of Love