On Monday, Dave and I had a ‘disagreement’. It was one of those moments when one person says something and it shoots straight into the other’s brain and triggers all the hidden buttons of insecurity, identity and fear. On the face of it, we were merely discussing my lack of enthusiasm for a planned outing for Dave and his friends (right through crazy hour), but the undercurrents of the moment went much deeper. Or so at least I thought.
We celebrated our eleventh anniversary on Sunday.
When I write that down I feel strange. How on earth could that amount of time have already passed us by? It feels like yesterday that we were perched in the boot of my yellow Cruze, strumming the guitar and hanging out in The Den at our university. Dave still mocks me about my overconfidence in my squash skills as I challenged him to a match in our early days of hanging out. I lost. Though, I believe I might have been playing in heels…. (there is a slight chance I could have inserted that part into the memory to make myself feel better).
We were young, passionate, driven by urgency to make our lives ‘count’, moved by compassion and hope. Dave poured his energy into running events to bring people together for a common cause- hurting souls.
My journalling at the time reveals a heart desperate to make the right choice, to align my future with someone who would cherish and appreciate me, encourage me and spur me on. His letters touch on the need to make his life count and to have someone who would walk alongside him into the unknown.
Dave and I look back at the youthful ‘us’ and shake our heads sometimes. Really, did we have any idea what we were doing? Him, barely 22 and me, 20?! It sounds so crazy now, and I have no doubt our family and friends would have worked hard not to express doubts or fears at the time.
And yet, it has somehow worked….
We have lived in seven different dwellings throughout our marriage, even back with my parents for a period while we saved to travel to Europe for my sister’s wedding. We lived in tiny apartments as budget conscious students, church housing while Dave was employed as a Youth and Young Adults worker, on campus at a college sharing meals in a big dining hall, shared a house with Alex and Monica with our young toddlers (each of us with another on the way). We’ve travelled through South-East Asia, New Zealand, Italy and Poland. We’ve been research assistants, sandwich artists, store managers, church workers, volunteers, students, articled clerks, lawyers, teachers, pastors, church planters and parents.
It is a whirlwind of memories, locations and shared experiences.
There have been difficult moments- car crashes, surgeries, a miscarriage, extended hospital visits for two of our newborns, extended and complicated labours, sleepless nights, fights, disagreements, tears, a moment where our house dreams almost collapsed (until our very generous housemates lent us a significant amount of money), we’ve been victims of cyclo scammers in Vietnam, come close to hitting zero in our bank account, experienced crises of faith, lost almost eleven years of memories stored on a broken hard drive (I still get teary when I think of that one), we’ve been burnt out in positions of leadership… but we have survived.
Marriage is a bit of an enigma. You can think you have it all figured out, and then suddenly one comment can make you think as if you were completely mistaken. So much in our communication is tied up in our previous experiences together and what those words might have meant in the past. The care that we would take in our conversations with others can be discarded and we show our grumpy and exhausted faces to each other instead. Expressing excitement at the other’s gain, when we know it means our immediate loss, can be difficult, even if you grudgingly admit it is what they need to hear. As a parent, outings and spare time can become transactional, and a chalkboard ledger hovers ominously in the background for either to wield against the other.
And yet… true freedom in marriage only comes when someone takes a step first. To lay down their ‘rights’ to privileges or expectations. To say sorry even if the words catch coming out. To be willing not to rehash past wrongs, and accept an apology. Realising that your partner will disappoint you and hurt you, often without meaning to. Dave is a lot better at this abdication than I. He is quick to forgive, slow to anger, and does not hold onto past wrongs. (He may lack the memory capacity for that last one, I suspect!)
After our Monday disagreement, many words were used to work out why it was such a big deal to both of us. I have a little more understanding about my own identity struggles and the need to be affirmed as a good ‘supporter’ and ‘helper’ to Dave. Also, to be seen as the laid back, easy going wife who lets her husband do anything. It isn’t really the whole picture.
Marriage. It certainly isn’t easy, and the pressures of parenthood press down to reveal the weak points you never suspected existed. Eleven years in and I feel as if I have only uncovered a small fraction of this puzzle, but I am so thankful and grateful to have someone so incredible to learn alongside.
David Colin Edwin Hughes, you are an amazing, inspiring, visionary, passionate man. A father to our kids beyond what I could have hoped for. I love doing life with you. Thank you for encouraging me, cherishing me, pushing me and contradicting me when I try to hang onto misconceptions. Despite the sheer number of ideas and visions you have conceived, I am excited to see which seeds blossom into vivid realities and I know you will continue to make your significant mark on this world into the future. You have made a inconceivable mark on us already.