On Making Marriage Work

Today’s my wedding anniversary. Greg sent me a romantic Facebook message that says,

“Our marriage is now as mature as a college freshman!
Happy 18th Anniversary!” 

My brother said it’s past time for my marriage to pull some legendary pranks on some other marriages.

Personally, I think our marriage should ride around town mooning all the other marriages, but Greg’s usually more mature than me, so don’t worry. You’re probably safe.

The point is, we did it. Again! Another year. BOOYAH, baby!


Can we talk honestly about marriage for a minute? ‘Cause Greg and I’ve made it 18 years, and that makes me an expert. Also, hahahahaha! There are no experts here.

People often ask me how we do it, though. Marriage is hard, they say. And I will tell you what: this marriage gig has not come easy for us, so I believe them. Marriage is hard. But I’ve been married long enough, I think, that I’ve lost the trite answers to the how questions. I’ve stopped giving the magic bullet responses like “marriage takes hard work” or “we’re still together by the grace of God” or “marriage isn’t 50/50, it’s 100/100.”

Now, of course marriage takes hard work. And I do believe in a gracious God. And it’s important to go above and beyond our fair share in any partnership. But to say that our marriage is intact by virtue of our work or God’s grace feels too close to implying others have failed for lack of hard work or that God has somehow withheld a measure of grace, and, well, I just don’t buy either implication. Some of the toughest divorces I’ve witnessed have come on the heels of a whole lot of hard work. God, I believe, gives grace extravagantly, especially when it’s all falling apart.

The truth is, Greg and I work hard on our marriage. That’s a fact. Except when we’re apathetic and worn out.

And Greg and I are consistently tenacious and determined to make our marriage better. Except when we’re exhausted and just kind of done.

And Greg and I are committed to always being available for each other. Except when we’re myopic and selfish and can’t move past our own needs.

Honestly, Greg and I aren’t in a 50/50 marriage very often. Oh, we strive for equality. And we try to bear one another’s burdens. Sometimes we even hold up our ends of the marriage bargain. Sometimes, we rise above the difficulties and each give 100%, which is when the toilets get cleaned and the children are bathed and we don’t forget parent/teacher conferences. But sometimes we fall down on the job, friends. Sometimes, I give 5% and Greg gives 5% and we’re grumpy and petty and we both wonder where the hell the other 90% went.

The real problem with marriage is the fact that we let humans do it. It’s the same problem with parenting, really. And with the church. And with schools. And with government. And with family. As humans, we’re fallible, glorious, well-intentioned, messy creatures who create fallible, glorious, well-intentioned, messy systems and relationships, sometimes all at once.

So how are we still together? After 18 years? I gotta say, I think it’s a crazy cocktail, and while hard work and grace and giving more than our fair share are part of the mix when we can manage them, so, in even measure, are fighting and failure and forgiveness.

After 18 years, Greg and I are learning to accept deep down that we’re imperfect. He’s imperfect. I’m imperfect. We’re not perfect for each other. And we’ve built a beautiful, imperfect life from our tragedies and our triumphs. And from stubbornness, faith, laughter, fears, giving up, trying again, trust and tears.

After all this time, Greg and I are still together because we’re beginning to truly believe that living life to its fullest means embracing the raging mess in the kitchen and in each other and that our deepest act of love comes, not in the absence of mess or the elimination of it, but in relaxing into it together.

 Happy Anniversary, Greg.
I love you love you.


ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. […] I wrote those things when we were married 18 years, and it’s all still true 3 years later; it’s just that, this year, I don’t […]

  2. […] The heartbreak and heartmake of marriage. […]

  3. […] On Making Marriage Work @ Five Kids Is A Lot Of Kids- “The real problem with marriage is the fact that we let humans do it. It’s the same problem with parenting, really. And with the church. And with schools. And with government. And with family. As humans, we’re fallible, glorious, well-intentioned, messy creatures who create fallible, glorious, well-intentioned, messy systems and relationships, sometimes all at once.” […]

  4. […] some point in the last 6 months, Greg and I thought this would be a GREAT way to celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary, despite the fact that we’ll have to erect a tent together THREE TIMES without harming […]

  5. Happy Anniversary from one married-on-January-14th person to another. We’re only on year 2, but there’s been a lot of h.a.r.d. in those 2 years, as my husband battles depression and has for 17 years, and I battle the fear of his depression, and have for 5 1/2 years. Your words ring true, and genuine, with a lot of encouragement and hope. Thank you.

  6. Delightful post, Beth, and lots of great comments.

    A major reason to stay married (which takes years and years to realize and experience) is the wonderful comfort of a long history together; the coziness of being with someone you love dearly for dozens and dozens of years; the gratitude in having who remembers you when you were young and still adores your old self.

    We have 65 years, 4 months and two days.

    And, Beth, I will send you that copy of This Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage that I promised you back in November. Or did I already?!

  7. Hey – congratulations! While I agree with most of the above stated, it kind of feels unfortunate that whenever we talk about marriage the first thing that comes to mind is “hard.” How about “I just love being around him?” How about “we have lots of fun together?” How about “We laugh a lot, and that makes up for all the mess?” Ironically, there’re only three occurrences of the word “love” in the entire post, the first one, closer towards the end of the post, being phrased as “the act of love…” Before I got married I attended a myriad of Christian seminars where all I heard “marriage is hard work.” After I got engaged, apart from congratulations and the “awww-s”, I heard my married friends say, “There will be days when you wake up and wonder why in the world did I marry this person? Did I make the right decision? This is when you have to hold on to your commitment…” Is it because the default end of any marriage is divorce, is it because people even entertain the idea before getting married? Is it because we have lost our perseverance in the luxury of a self-absorbed culture and comfort and have resorted to the path of least resistance? You marry because you love the person, because he makes you laugh, because he makes you feel more than you think of yourself, because you’re just happy to be together (I don’t mean the fleeting happiness, but the joy that forms forms into a steady river that nourishes and nurtures everything around). Why complicate things and write about “hard work” in every single statement? Going back to those marriage classes I took as single, I used to be terrified of getting married. The ideas of “not making the right choice,” or “waking up to the harsh reality of forcing yourself to love the other person” haunted me. For a couple of years after I married my husband I dreaded that morning that somebody had cautioned me about. But I still love him, and wouldn’t want to trade being around him to anything else in the world: no girls outings, no pajama parties, no boring seminars on how marriage is supposed to work taught by people who are so uptight and tense about “making it work” that they have no time to enjoy each other’s company. When you love somebody you want to do something to make them glad, make them smile, day in day out. If I’m ever asked to do a marriage seminar I’ll try to stay away from “too much hard work” admonitions (though that hard work is a part of it, like a part of anything: potty training for the toddler, curbing your fleshly desires, resolving to watch less TV, getting a degree, cooking a meal, waking up in the middle of the night to nurse the baby and trying to go back to sleep etc. When we do anything that requires hard work we don’t think or talk about hard work only, we look at the benefits it will bring, that is what keeps us going!) I’ll talk about the fun part of it, the mystery of being one, the happiness of your home, the love that you cherish.

  8. […] still together by the grace of God” or “marriage isn’t 50/50, it’s 100/100”), go here. For now, I just want to acknowledge one small, almost negligible, marital […]

  9. Oh, this is lovely. Congrats and thank you ~ We celebrate our 22nd this year (i am not old enough for that) and sometimes the platitudes of “how” ring so false that we need something more. Thanks

  10. […] one goes into marriage thinking you’re getting a Penis Goiter Coveter for a wife – but marriage doesn’t always turn out the way you think. The person you marry changes. And they make new discoveries. And, well, sometimes Penis Goiter […]

  11. What a sweet sentiment, Beth. Happy Anniversary.

  12. loved this. happy anniversary to you both.

  13. Amen to that Beth. Happy Anniversary!

  14. I just wrote about a similar topic, this really touched my heart today. Thanks so much

  15. Well said! We’re about to celebrate our 18th as well. Last anniversary, at a fancy restaurant, my husband had clearly grown tired of the question: “So what’s your secret?” because of the reasons you’ve already listed. So when asked again, he responded, “We eat lots of aphrodisiacs.” I was bright red!

  16. Happy Anniversary! My husband and I are celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary this Friday. I’ve talked him into going to a “marriage booster” at our church to celebrate. He’s thrilled! 🙂 Must be true love, huh? 😉

    Not sure why you chose January for your wedding, but my thought going into wedding planning 16+ years ago was that I sweat a lot and I had a shot at not sweating in a big heavy wedding dress if we got married in January. As it worked out, January 18th was a record-breaking coldest day of the year in 1997! 🙂 And I was still hot when we were inside dancing. But at least I could step out side to cool down.

    I loved this post! I so agree!

  17. Beth, I appreciate you for so many things! But especially the way you can look at a situation and say “this stuff happens” and this is how I in my humble humanness handled it. Thank you.

  18. Thanks for you absolute honesty. Realizing that neither of us are perfect, and embracing the mess we are and giving that to God instead of stressing about it … so important. My husband and I have 12 years under our belt. My parents divorced after 30 years. That number is just a number. I can’t think that I can relax a little and not do my part just because I’ve been married one more year, for sure! Husbands love your wives; wives, respect your husbands -Eph 5- this is His command and the oath we took.
    I love your blog. Thank you!!!

  19. I have to admit that I stood in the living room last night and read this out loud to my sweetie. Ending with a quit loud disclaimer that “If they can do it, then damn it so can we!” (As I returned to the kitchen and began cursing the stove because the burner has suddenly decided to stop working and I WANTED MY BACON!) 🙂
    Congrats you crazy kids!!!! And thank you for being a light of inspiration to us parents, us couples, us humans who need to remember once in a while, We’re Not Alone!!!

  20. YES, Beth – thank you! I’ve come to the same conclusions myself after nearly 20 years (this coming May!) of the journey that is marriage. Thanks for your blog – you always encourage me, even when you don’t mean to. 🙂

  21. First, Happy Anniversary!

    I think for us it’s the simple fact that we have decided to love each other. Because we were both in horrible marriages (that ended before we met, thankyouverymuch) we were hesitant to even take the plunge in the first place. Since we loved each other enough to take that momentous step, we are extremely dedicated to making it work. It’s really that simple. We love each other, and we are going to stay together. End of discussion. Not to say that some days we don’t hate each other, but still.

  22. This is so lovely and so very true. We can all identify with those times of only giving 5% and wondering where the rest went, in all kinds of walks of life. Thank you for your encouragement to accept and love the imperfections rather than wanting to change them. Happy Anniversary!

  23. Wow. I think I needed that. Thanks for sharing with us who aren’t quite so experienced yet. 🙂

  24. I really feel that if we lived in the same town, you and I would be very good friends. My husband and I are rounding on our 18th anniversary this year as well, and this very thoughtful post rings true. Thank you for taking the time to be transparent.

  25. Thank you, Beth! I love the honesty…..helps the rest of us to feel halfway normal (but seriously, isn’t “normal” overrated?!). I like you a whole bunch, and then some! 🙂

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