A couple years ago, at a girlfriend’s bachelorette party, she made a point to come around to each of the married attendees and ask for our best advice about marriage. What lessons had we learned? she wanted to know. What was one thing we would tell our engaged selves about marriage, if we could go back in time?
I don’t know why my response popped into my brain at that exact moment, but I’ve since shared my answer with many of my girlfriends—whether they’re about to embark on their own marriages, are already married, or are in long term relationships. It’s the relationship advice I remind myself of most often, no matter where I stand in my own marriage.
This is what I told her:
In a partnership of any kind, you are traveling along a path, experiencing your own, marvelous journey. You will have tall peaks: triumphs at work, hobbies you love and master, laughter-filled moments with family, joyful times with friends.
And, you will have valleys—times when you don’t know where you’re going or what the hell you’re doing. Days, months, even years when you feel completely lost, and when absolutely nothing is going your way. When you experience grief and loss and death and abject despair, and have no idea who you are.
While all this life is happening, your partner is experiencing their own peaks and valleys in tandem.
In your marriage, there will be wonderful, blissful moments when you arrive at the peaks together, but most of the time, you will find yourselves at separate elevations. Some years might be yours for the taking, while your partner is experiencing the lowest of lows. Sometimes the opposite will be true. Most years, you’ll probably both be climbing and grinding it out, trying to determine which way is up.
Such is life—that’s the journey we’re all on.
From my wedding day
And while you’re each ascending and descending, peak to valley and up again, you are—naturally, normally—pulling away from, then back towards one another. It’s true of all relationships—we all have friends we gravitate towards then drift apart from as the years pass, like a tide following lunar phases ruled by circumstance, convenience, and emotional availability. The same is true in marriage, but with the added warm, satisfying comfort of permanence.
So the path we each walk, as it turns out, doesn’t just go up and down through mountains and valleys, but winds left to right along a flat plane, drawing us closer to—then pulling us away from—the person we love most.
The key to marriage, I think, is how you always choose to come back to each other, no matter your elevation, nor whether your path has taken you east or west, at any given time. You each wind this way and that, but at the end of the day, as you grow and change, you decide, everyday, to ultimately come back to one another at a designated, intersecting point. The work is in making the choice to keep meeting each other, for days, then years at a time. Sometimes, it’ll be easy to meet one another daily. Others, the journey back might take weeks, or even months.
But the point is that your North Star is always the place at which your paths intersect.
I have been married for over six years, but in love with and committed to my person for over sixteen. We’ve had our share of glorious peaks, along with valleys that dipped well below sea level. And we’ve each experienced them at different times. When I reflect back on the hardest times thus far, when I wondered and fretted over whether our commitment could really last forever, I realize now I had lost sight of my way back to our intersection, that meeting point where we promised we’d always wait for the other.
The worry is in the past now. But time and the path forged did teach me how to reset my compass always, no matter whether the journey takes me up, down, left or right. Because love—real, lasting, deeply felt love, along with its sidekicks vulnerability and acceptance—is the magnetic force which guides me to our meeting point.
At least, this is what marriage is like for me.