09/12/2012 02:08 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2012

3 Lessons from Thousands of Days of Marriage

I once heard someone say, "It's easy to stay married, just don't get a divorce." What kind of advice is that? The last time I was legally uncommitted, the Gores were still making out. There were no iPhones or Facebook, a good date was nachos and a dollar pitcher of beer, and I didn't need industrial strength chemicals and a cosmetic sand blaster to get that youthful glow.

I've been married 18 years, which is a long time, but it's still a small number. Eighteen, big deal. You can't even buy a decent pizza for $18. I like big numbers, so as of today, I have been married for 6,590 days. The dreadful days are a minority, but when they have congregated in a conspiracy to attack my happily ever after, the temptation to walk away has been strong. On the worst days, simply not getting a divorce was the best I could do. Maybe it really is that simple.

Thousands of days into marriage, this is what I've learned.

Marriage is a daily choice
You don't stay married for whole years at a time. You choose marriage one day at a time. One blissful day, after one terrifying day, after one uneventful day at a time.

I don't think that long-term marriage is any kind of preferred state of being, but it's what I chose. And I keep choosing it--every day now for the last 6,590 days. I'm here, and that action speaks louder than words, even when those words are loud, unkind, or spoken through a confusion of tears.

Good listeners are priceless
My husband and I have been married longer than all of our friends put together. This is a function of moving across the country, divorce, and age. It wasn't something I could have foreseen, and sometimes makes me feel like the elder stateswoman of matrimony. I have a tiny circle of friends whose marriages, like mine, are old enough for combat, but not quite mature enough to buy their own booze. These are the women who really get me on my worst "for worse" days. They listen. And when my husband and I are back to inside jokes and afternoon sex, I listen to their bad days.

There is no unicorn of marriage
I do not take for granted that my marriage will last forever. I think it requires constant maintenance and a healthy understanding that my spouse could choose to leave any day--physically or emotionally. Even without adultery or addiction, even when a marriage is mostly good, it's never easy. Not for long, anyway. The books, websites, retreats and preachers can help you with specific issues, but there is no magic here in the land of wedded bliss.

I'm lucky. I married well. But marriage ebbs and flows. The older I get, the more I accept the ebbing as a natural process, and not the harbinger of certain doom. And as more days pass I appreciate the flow more than I ever thought possible. I don't take it for granted, especially on those days that not getting a divorce is the closest we come to romance.

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