[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]
The air was thick with the tension between us. Our eyes were hot with held-back tears, brows burdened with unresolved anger. My husband and I had lost passion for anything, and patience for everything.
At this hard moment in our marriage, we were less charmed, less charming. Our annoyance filled the space between us, leaving no room for intimacy—all felt more acutely in the hangovers of disappointing holidays and anniversaries. Disenchantment and creeping doubt would edge us closer to a cliff of despair.
On a good day, love can be challenging. In a good month, even more so. But what about if we are talking longer?
We have been married for far more than a few years now—and in the shadows of a long, dark time, it's hard to remember what it feels like to be in love.
The first time it happened in our marriage, we wondered if this disconnect—this feeling of being only half—would ever end. We were overwhelmed, and we were scared. Even though we knew we could get through this, because we had before, it didn't make it any less dreadful.
Why couldn't we just forge a truce? Why did we keep finding ourselves in these trenches of disaffection and dysfunction?
Life's evolutions would throw us off balance, disrupt our "normal" and make us uncomfortable and distracted. Whether it was a new job, a new state, or a new baby, we would lose focus on what was most important—us. Our family.
We forgot to put the we first, instead of just the me. Forgetting to pay enough attention to each other, it was easy to lose sight of our common goals.
But being off kilter was not the same as being broken. The key was recognizing that what was causing us pain was really a catalyst for growth—a chance to grow individually and together—and to continually grow towards each other... instead of apart.
Those episodes of dissatisfaction were uncomfortable for a reason. They motivated us...
...to examine ourselves, each other, our relationship.
...to determine what didn't work anymore.
...to mend what could be saved.
...to discover something new that would help turn us back towards each other.
When we grow, we grow out of the old and into the new. This process is understandably laden with work. It would be lovely for this to happen magically, of course. But if it did, we wouldn't really appreciate the sweetness and the satisfaction of knowing we withstood the storm.
To grow is painful, and joyful.
Just like when we had our babies—those pains of labor gave way to the most beautiful thing we had ever seen. The same is true for our marriage. Through the pain, we have forged a new bond. A stronger one. Those growing pains serve to remind us that the work is now, here, together.
We know now that to resist growing is to deny each other the chance to grow into our best selves—both of us remaining stuck in the eddy of repeat fights, frustration and exhaustion.
We know now that to stunt each other's growth is to deny each other the chance to grow into the person we are supposed to be.
No matter how down, buried, mad, sad or frustrated we were, we had to remember that we were equally responsible for how we got here, and for how we were going to find our way back. It took hard work and vigilance to identify and resolve the issues that were eating away at our relationship.
We had to become more aware and recognize when we were stressed, then cut each other some slack .
We had to learn how to help each other without expecting anything in return, or making each other feel worse by pointing it out.
We had to focus on the big picture—to know when little things were little, and keep in mind the great things about each other in order to buffer the minor annoyances.
We had to remember what makes each other feel secure and happy, then give it freely, the way each of us needs to receive it.
To love, truly love, is to give, even when it is hard—especially when it is hard.
When that reservoir of resentment was so full that just a drop of irritation made it spill over and saturate us with anger, we had to be stronger than the flood and to give more.
When those hard days were done and we had carried that extra weight of worry, we had so little left to make amends—all we wanted was rest and a reprieve from the constant undercurrent of discontent. But, this, this was when we had to dig deeper and give more.
This was when it mattered most. This is important. This is what we meant when we gave ourselves to each other on our wedding day.
When we thought we had nothing left…
...we still had to show up.
...we had to engage when the other wouldn't.
...we had to rebuild when the other couldn't.
...we had to be strong when the other wasn't.
...we had to have patience when the other didn't.
...we still had to give.
We had to give more, to help the other grow when they hadn't.
We had to believe we would again be in love, even if we weren't.
And when we had nothing left to give, this is when we had to forgive.
And when we did, we began to build trust again in keeping each other safe, and in knowing that neither of us would ever give up.
Then we endured, then we grew in love.
This work of a forever relationship is endless, and it is hard, and it is beautiful.
Love is a choice—one we are privileged to make every single day. What results from our efforts is never perfect, but always so much more magnificent than before.
Our faith in each other and the hope in our hearts will always manifest in love—the greatest thing we can make for ourselves and our families.