When I was fourteen or so, I was told that love is not a feeling, it is a decision that you make every single day to be kind, devoted, and faithful to another person. Sometimes it produces that feeling of ecstasy, where you get butterflies and feel the warm rush of affection, but most of the time, it’s an uphill battle. When I heard it, I nodded as if I had already known that and was so much wiser than the other teens around me. I didn’t really know it, though, until I experienced it.
Of course, I had my infatuations. I mean, after I turned fifteen, I pretty much dated non-stop until I was married. I cared for a lot of people and I learned a lot about what I was looking for in a mate. I don’t regret dating a single one of those people (well, mostly). I see the lessons I learned from past relationships in the relationship I have now. I hope they made me better.
When I fell in love, the infatuation was quickly snuffed out by all the trials we encountered as a couple. The butterflies were replaced by that steady, secure kind of love that perhaps isn’t as exciting, but is preferable to the rollercoaster of feelings in that the early honeymoon stage. I knew fairly quickly that this was going to be the man I married. For me, I just knew. Though I know for others, they had to discover that truth.
Since then, I’ve seen many marriages of friends and family members. Joyous occasions all. I’ve seen all the reasons for them too. The rushed ones because a child was on the way, the engagements that seemed to last forever while the couple scrounged for cash, the ones that were magazine perfect in every way, the ones that seemed destined to fail. And after a while, some of them do fail (though not necessarily the ones expected).
I’m no expert. I’ve been married for nearly five years. I like to think it’s long enough to feel like we know each other inside and out, yet short enough to remember what it was like at the beginning. We’ve been through quite a bit: the death of a parent, the birth of a child, living paycheque to paycheque, living with a moderate amount of money, going to school while both working, trying to maintain a marriage with one child and another on the way. We have been blessed in many ways, but we have also seen our share of hardship. We have both been betrayed, both been hurt in big ways and small. No one can hurt you the way a spouse can.
Which is part of what I have been thinking about lately. No, we are not thinking of separating or divorcing or anything like that. I’ll admit, it’s been a hard year. Hard and wonderful. Children change a marriage like nothing else. But I have understood better this year why marriages fail, which I hope helps me better steel myself against that ending. Maybe it will do the same for others.
Sometimes marriages end because a knife in the back. You know, infidelity, abuse, financial crises, lies that run so deep that the foundation of the marriage is riddled with holes. These are the obvious reasons that we all accept as reason enough to end a marriage. Of course, the knives are nothing to sneeze at. But they mask the more insidious, and I expect, more common, reasons that people decide to separate. I call these the papercuts.
My husband leaves every Saturday afternoon to play board games with his buddies. This is the way it always has been. I’ve bucked at this boys’ afternoon before, when Saturday was the only day both of us weren’t working or when I felt lonely at home. Lots of times I’ve accepted it. He needs time with his friends as much as I do. What’s wrong with having it scheduled? It’s not like they’re doing something bad. Besides, it makes him happy. The papercut happens, though, when I’ve had a long week with the baby while he’s working and Saturday becomes yet another day when I’m stuck in my house with a child who is sick or teething or screaming and he’s out enjoying himself. The times when it feels like I’m in it by myself.
Now it can end there. I can be a little grumpy about it, but then get over it when I realize that I’m happy that I get to have more time with Monkey. I know the time spent together, loving him, will help him be a better adjusted little boy. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t end there. I don’t let that papercut heal. I pick at it. I think of all the times I was left alone and unappreciated. I think of the guilt I feel when I leave Monkey home with his dad so I can get a prenatal massage and I blame him for making me feel that way. The cut gets bigger. It gets infected.
Then I cut him when he gets home. I make him feel like he owes me something for letting him leave the house. He gets a papercut and now he has to decide if he will let it heal or if he will pick, pick, pick at it. If he picks and becomes resentful, it’s easier to cut back. Soon, both of you are covered in festering papercuts and are filled with resentment. When you have so much practice cutting each other, it’s easier to plant that big knife in the other’s back.
I have learned that some papercuts aren’t worth picking at. Some you have to let heal on their own, others you have to talk about with your spouse (not with your friends and relatives so that you can pick at it together) to stitch it back together. Every day remind yourself that love is a decision and so is ignoring the superficial little cuts that happen.
Do you agree with my theory? Have you been in a situation where you didn’t let the paper cuts heal? Did it lead to a bigger knife? Let me know what you think in the comments!