Yesterday was my twenty-third anniversary. We were married at Christmas when I was 21 and he was 22.
When I started writing my newspaper column twelve years ago, one of my first columns was about my anniversary. And so I thought I’d publish it here–about what Keith meant to me after eleven years of marriage. This was first published on December 21, 2002.
This Saturday I’m supposed to give my husband something made of steel.
We’re celebrating our eleventh anniversary, and for this blessed occasion whoever is in charge of anniversary gift etiquette obviously ran out of ideas. “Paper? Taken. A nice wooden chest? Taken. What about diamonds? Better save that as an incentive to stick around.” Growing increasingly desperate, she probably looked out the window, saw her husband’s ‘57 Chevy up on blocks, and yelled, “Steel!”, forever relegating us to eleventh anniversary hopelessness.
I figure I’m left with a new car (fat chance), the foundation for a new house, or power tools. But the only thing more ridiculous than me trying to choose a power tool would be my husband trying to use one. The one and only time he did any home improvements was his attempt, along with another doctor friend, to hang a pot rack. Instead of drilling into a stud, they drilled into my toilet drain, sending water—and I don’t know what else—into our kitchen.
Whatever I choose, though, it occurs to me that Ye Olde Marriage Etiquette Lady may have had a point.
Steel is an appropriate metaphor for marriage.
Steel holds houses together, keeps bridges from buckling, and forms the foundations of our cities. Steel doesn’t bend.
Over the years of our marriage we’ve had some tough times. Keith’s residency at the Hospital for Sick Children was horrendous. He always came home exhausted. Two babies demanded our attention, leaving us with no energy for anything else. In the middle of this, we had a beautiful baby boy, who lived only 29 days. Though I will treasure those precious four weeks forever, his death left a hole that can never be filled on this side of heaven.
When I walked down the aisle eleven years ago, I knew I loved Keith and that he loved me.
I figured that love would be enough for forever. I was wrong.
Love alone would not have seen us through these eleven years, through miscarriages and sleepless nights, through baby stresses and our son’s death. As much as I adore my husband, I don’t think it’s love that has made our marriage strong. Indeed, that idea—that love keeps us together—can actually harm a relationship.
If love is what keeps us together, then when we stop feeling all gushy towards each other we wonder if the relationship is viable. Commitment is just as important as love, and perhaps even more so. If you’re not truly committed to each other, you can’t really discuss problems. Whenever you do, the whole relationship may be at stake. But when you are committed to each other, you can hash something out until you get it right, because you know that person isn’t going anywhere.
During our first year of marriage, I was ready to kill my husband many times over, or at least bean him on the head with a frying pan. He understood nothing about my feelings, while I, of course, understood everything about his. What allowed us to get through that time was not that we loved each other—there were times we both doubted it—but that we knew we were in this for the long haul. We had promised God, and we had promised each other, and we did not make those promises lightly. And if you’re in it for the long haul, then you may as well work it out, because the longer you wait, the more miserable you’re going to be.
In every relationship there are times when splitting up seems like the only option.
Certainly in cases of abuse or chronic infidelity this may be the case. But overall, God promises that people will be happier if they choose to honour Him by staying and working it out. It occurs to me that this is the way steel is forged: through hard work. The sign of a strong marriage is not that storms don’t come; but that when they do, you decide to weather them together. And as you do so, that steel supporting you grows stronger.
My husband is the most romantic guy in the world. He’s easy to love. And as we’ve chosen to commit to each other, the steel holding up our house has grown stronger. My kids can tear all over it and it won’t collapse. They can jump and tug and pull, and we’ll stand firm. I cherish every day we have together, and I look forward to many more.