The other day while talking to a friend going through a separation I told her, “Life happens, kids happen, shit happens, and even the strongest marriages get tested.” Its true…but I’m shocked how many times I’ve said or typed that sentence in the past year – it seems like everyone around me is either going through a divorce or separation. My wife Kate and I have always seemed to be the first to test the waters among our group of friends. We were one of the first to get married and then boom, boom, boom everyone else was married. Then we had our first son Max and then boom, boom, boom our friends had kids. Now we are weeks away from having our next son and I will not be surprised when friends start calling next year to tell us they are having another baby as well. It’s not like we are leading the charge or anything…we are just of a generation and our generation is settling into adulthood. I’m not the only one of my group grappling with my 30’s and the transition into adulthood’s responsibilities. I’m far from alone. However, the surprising thing for me is the number of friends who went boom, boom, boom, “We’re getting a divorce.”
Relationships are hard. They require finding the balance between caring for yourself and caring for another. Loving someone is not enough to support a relationship; you have to be ready for the sacrifices required by becoming a partnership instead of a sole propriety. Plus, people change. The person you are when you stand at the altar is not the person you will be in five years. So marriage requires more than love, it requires compromising evolution. Perhaps many members of my generation are uncompromising in their need to evolve?
When I stood in a penguin suit across from Kate back in 2008 I had no idea I’d be sportin’ slacks behind a desk with a job in marketing. I didn’t even consider that I’d be living in Wichita, KS where I’d drive an eco-friendly compact car that does zero to sixty in…wait…does it do sixty? I had no idea how much my priorities would change in just five years…but here I am…living my life. While I had no idea what to expect specifically I had the foresight to expect adversity, challenges, and the need to be spontaneous. Luckily, so did Kate. We read our vows aloud to each other in front of family and friends…some of whom are now married with kids and others who are divorced or separated. Then a smooch on the lips, a swipe of the pen, a toast to the crowd, the rumbling of cans behind a car…and we were married.
- Year one just saying “my wife” made me blush and feel all awesome inside!
- Year two I was settled in and very much “Have you met my wife?”
- Year three was pregnancy and, “I’m so happy for you and your wife!”
- Year four we had Max and everyone was all, “Max looks like your wife.”
Now it is year five and Max is two. Max daily pushes Kate and I to our limits by throwing temper tantrums, testing our boundaries, and showing us he has a personality of his own. So now we are three people living together with three personalities and desires…with a fourth on the way. Marriage has become less about how much we love each other and more of strategic planning for our kids. Sometimes we are militaristic in our strategies…other times we are herding cats. I love my wife more every day but love isn’t enough to hold together a marriage and a family…it requires trust, patience, respect, humility, honesty, and a whole bunch of other words us guys breezed over during the reading of the nuptials. Marriage can be hard especially when there are kids.
Now I’m not trying to pat myself on the back but I will tell you I entered the bond of marriage prepared for the future and mutually respectful of my partner. Loving my wife is not a problem. Respecting my wife is not a problem. Cohabitating with my wife while we are mentally stressed and chasing kids…that can be hard. I’m not going anywhere and this is not some precursor to the devolution of my marriage…on the contrary, this is the resolve that my marriage is strong. I love my wife more than words but more important? I like my wife. We like each other. We work with each other. It is this that will carry us through the sleepless nights, potty training, the terrible twos, the terrible threes, teenagers, and beyond. It is this bonding thought that prompted my head to follow my heart and say “I do” in front of friends and family. We do promise to have each other’s back. We do promise to work together. We do promise to communicate. We do.
So as I watch so many of my generation break their vows I can’t help but wonder where they have gone wrong? They loved each other, they lived together, they had kids together, they tackled life together…and then it fell apart? I guess it got hard and the bond broke. I’m a bit jaded because every friend I have that has gone through a divorce…the problem has stemmed from the husband. A midlife crisis. A cheater. A family abandoned. Leaving wives for other people’s wives. Leaving wives because it just didn’t work. Its disheartening as a man to see the examples of those around me. What has happened to the sanctity of marriage? I understand marriages end for a slew of reasons and some should end. Someone very close to me was in a marriage where her husband was verbally abusive and used her as an emotional punching bag to make himself feel better…yes…that marriage is a good one to be over with. However, I think my generation has pee’d in the conjugal pool by not dignifying it with the respect it deserves. Don’t get married if you are not prepared for work, flexibility, and adversity. Marriage is overcoming hurdles with someone…and sharing the victory. You want kids? You better be ready. Having kids is like having your emotions go run a marathon without having ever stepped foot on a treadmill. It will show you love you never knew you had and push you to the end of your limits with everything else in your life.
As a small (maybe insignificant) voice for men of my generation I give you this advice about marriage and kids: Don’t marry the person you love, marry the person you love and want by your side when the going gets tough. If you view marriage as something you can get out of if it doesn’t go well…you are not ready for marriage. If you want kids, make sure you have been humbled in your life and understand humility to some extent. My marriage is a rarity as it is (currently) perfect for me and my liking. If it were not, Kate and I would talk about it and work out a plan. That was the agreement we made privately to each other before even picking out the flavor of the cake…that we were in this for life. When I say life I don’t mean “If it gets hard we’ll stick it out!” No…that is stupid and stubborn. We explained to each other that we respected each other enough to understand what “getting married” means. Do I see how cute other women are? You bet. Do I get frustrated with Kate sometimes? You bet. Does having kids change the entire dynamic of our small family and make me wonder if Kate and I will survive? You bet. Do I consider turning and leaving? Never. Not in a million years. The military has “No man left behind” and I will never leave my wife or family behind. Kate and I will always lift each other up and trudge ever forward together…happily. She’s my best friend.
Marriage is a commitment to yourself, your partner, and your family. It is more than a piece of paper, more than a ceremony, and more than the vows you say in your Sunday best. My fellow men need to either quit screwing around or don’t get married if you aren’t going to respect the marriage…you are a disrespect to those of us who are in it for the real deal. To the women of my generation, you need to recognize that some guys are never going to change and no amount of ceremonies and baby-making is going to change that. Kids won’t save a marriage…they test it. If you pass, then you get the right to have time between just you and your partner and find that love constantly evolves too. Every year Kate and I rewrite and add to our vows, because we are different people than we were last year and situations have changed. It makes me think about homosexual couples who have had to fight for their right to get married…maybe heterosexual couples should have to fight too. I didn’t need approval to get married and I didn’t have to fill out any paperwork to become a dad but it takes more paperwork to buy a dog than it does to make a baby. Marriage is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “…the state of being united to a person in a consensual and contractual relationship…” I am united to Kate and will always be there for my children and family…I hope if you are married you are united as well.