Two things, or people, previously separate, now joined together. This word can pertain to a myriad of things, but for me marriage is the first that comes to mind. I met my husband the summer before my senior year of college. I had only a vague idea at the time of what my future might be, and then suddenly there was this person who seemed to compliment me in every way, our personalities fitting together like puzzle pieces, and it simply made sense to join myself to him. A marriage. A partnership. A union. We exchanged vows on a sunny day in September, honeymooned in the mountains, and started a life together.
Now, nine years later, I look back with absolutely no regret, but also with amazement at how little I knew then. The two of us who said “I do” had no idea what it really takes to create a union between two humans. We didn’t know the work it takes to make a relationship strong and deep. We didn’t know the storms we would face, the heartbreak and seemingly insurmountable roadblocks we would come up against. Making a marriage work is worth it, but is by no means easy. It is both incredibly complicated and painfully simple, because it is first and foremost a choice—one that we must make over and over and over again each day. I choose to be part of this union rather than a separate entity. I choose to care about something more than just myself. I choose to face the world together with him, united, even when we disagree on things and annoy one another and argue.
For most of us, self-centeredness is a default state of being. Putting others first must be a conscious choice, because it isn’t what comes naturally. More than half of marriages do not last, and I am quite certain that selfishness is at the heart of that much of the time. A strong union requires both of us to consistently take the other’s desires, dreams, and feelings into account. It means choosing our marriage over my own immediate desires, but it works because he does the same. I’ve learned to make an effort to see the world from his perspective. Considering this alternate point of view not only creates more understanding in our relationship, but it has made me a more compassionate and empathetic person. And that right there is key: a healthy union, while not always easy to create and maintain, will always be worth it. It’s worth it because it stretches us as individuals and makes us better than we would have been alone. It’s worth it because despite all of the challenges, it feels good to be part of this sacred oneness. There is a security in facing the world as a united front. This unity is something that should be a given in any marriage, but is all too often taken for granted- I think because selflessness is the heart of it, and that isn’t the most popular concept. But this selflessness is something quite different from losing yourself in the relationship. While you will both inevitably change and grow, you will ultimately gain a new sense of self through the bond you share. While you are one with each other, you are simultaneously more yourself than you ever were before. While you are learning to put another person’s need before your own, your needs are also met even more fully than you could have hoped.
Union takes work, and it’s an ongoing process. It is less “happily ever after” and more “one day at a time”. It takes the humility to apologize frequently, and even to seek outside help from time to time. I have had to learn the necessity of selflessness in marriage the hard way, over and over again. The presence of children seems to amplify that necessity. My husband and I are in what I like to refer to as “the thick of it”. With little ones ages 7, 4, and 6 months, the reality of life right now seems to often lean more in the direction of surviving than thriving. This is equally true for both me and my husband, but as the one working from home and spending many 10-hour days alone with our children, I have all too often allowed myself to focus only on how hard it is for me. The moment I let myself go there, it is a slippery slope to bitterness, resentment, and sharp words. I can end up feeling alone in this, and that sense of isolation creates a wall in our marriage. If I choose instead the infinitely more accurate perspective of us as a team—opting to share my burdens non-judgmentally while hearing his too, and asking gently for help when I need it rather than silently resenting his lack of telepathy—then we thrive. Our union thrives when we’re choosing to function as a unit rather than separate entities, and in turn our family also thrives. One of the greatest rewards for the work that a marriage takes is the knowledge that we don’t have to face the hard things alone. This can be easy to forget, and I’ve been thankful again and again that he is there to me with a simple “I’m here. What can I do?"
This kind of union is not easy to create, and not every marriage is a union. But when you are both in it, intentional and fully committed, it is something truly beautiful.
Written By, Hannah Mayo