In Praise of Marriage: Insights from a Pathetic Housekeeper
Yesterday I got a call from my best friend from college, a brilliant, charismatic, fabulous woman. She was distressed because she was at a turning point in the first truly serious relationship she’s been in in the last ten years. Should she stay and work towards marriage with this good guy who has some annoying habits, or throw the whole thing aside and find someone who is a better match? (He’s not much of a cuddler, he doesn’t like talking in the morning, he has problems getting to sleep and is consequently pretty controlling with the light switch, he doesn’t tell her she’s beautiful, etc.) All these things worry my friend, who, however, is also quick to talk about all his good, steady qualities as well.
As I was trying to be a good sounding board, I was also trying to communicate that these annoying habits can improve with time. I didn’t want her to throw away a chance for a great marriage because of these irritations that occur in practically any relationship. In the back of my mind was also the thought that I sure have plenty of annoying qualities as well, and that I am quite glad that my husband took the risk, married me, and stuck with me, despite them.
Chief among my annoying qualities is my failure as a considerate house partner. I began my marriage with no sense of keeping common space clean. I had dirty underwear, crusty dishes, and who knows what other disgusting items strewn across the apartment. I knew my husband liked the place clean, but that wasn’t enough to motivate me to pick up. Cleaning was my lowest priority. And I functioned fine in chaos, why couldn’t he just deal? It’s no big deal, just step around it, I’d think.
Well, it’s taken ten years, and I am proud to say that I am now better at housekeeping. Not great, but I do sometimes make the effort to make the bed or wipe the counters or shove toys in closets. (Sadly, I attribute my change of habits to watching HGTV and thus realizing how much nicer a space is when it’s clean, rather than to selfless love for my husband.)
Anyway, reflecting on this has made me feel rather friendly toward the institution of marriage.* I’m grateful that marriage has given me the space and time to improve on my annoying qualities. Because marriage (ideally) entails working out these problems and taking the commitment seriously, I think it often serves as a strong motivating force for people to work with their partners and be patient and give them time to grow. I appreciate that about my Mormon tradition, this emphasis on one partner. There’s a lot of stretching, compromising, and love that comes as we give our partners a safe space to slowly evolve, explore, and grow.
I hope my friend will understand that marriage is always a risk and a compromise. Her partner will annoy her, no doubt, and she’ll annoy him in return. They’ll both inevitably be disappointed with one another at times. But in the end, after 50 years of marriage, I have every hope that there will be much satisfaction in building a life together, hanging in there, and watching one’s partner and oneself evolving and improving throughout the years.
*I’m sure other long term relationships can likewise afford similar chances to grow.