Marriage has been on my mind lately—probably because this month Ben and I celebrated 14 years of marriage.
When we married on a cloudy October day 14 years ago, we were idealistic kids, wearing love-colored glasses that erased things like a man taking off his shoes in the middle of the house so a woman would trip on them when she wasn’t looking; a woman squeezing the toothpaste from the top, rather than the bottom, because this is the only logical way; dishes left in the sink, clothes left on the floor, dinners that repeated too frequently to be considered anything but boring.
We were two different people. We came from two different backgrounds. We were raised differently, taught to value different things, shaped by our environments in different ways. We carried different victories, different scars, different wounds. We interpreted the words, actions, and motivations of people differently.
Over the years we learned, in an awkward, fumbling way, how to open ourselves to one another. We learned how not to diminish the experience of one another by explaining it away, or, worse, saying one or the other was being ridiculous for feeling this way or that way. We learned that feelings, beliefs, hopes, worries, the whole array of human emotion is valid—whether or not we readily agree with the emotions and experience of the other. We learned, most importantly, to listen to the words that lived underneath the spoken-aloud ones—the hidden words that were huddled up in a balls of hurt, disappointment, fear, hopelessness. These were the most important words, because they required work to uncover them. They required patience. They required listening with both a mind and a heart.
In the work of these last 14 years, we have uncovered my fear of abandonment, which drives my response to conflict, which drives my wall-building, which drives my sense of isolation, which drives…well, perhaps you get the picture.
A marriage of 14 years does not flourish without listening for these places of difference, without laying love gently over them so the hardened shells begin to soften. Even after 14 years spent together, I still do not know completely what it’s like to be Ben, because I have never lived his life or grown up a boy named Ben. And he still does not know what it’s like to be Rachel, because he has never lived my life or grown up a girl named Rachel. And so every day we battle our own defenses, and we seek to better and more wholly understand each other.
Because we belong to each other. Because this is what it means to love and be loved. Because the world needs more of this kind of love, stretched gently across all the places where we are most different.