11/18/2014 06:16 am ET Updated Jan 17, 2015

What I Know After 25 Years Of Marriage

Have you heard the joke that goes like this?

I've been married for 25 years. It's been the happiest 6 months of my life.

Like most good jokes, there's a kernel of truth in that statement. Much of marriage isn't simply about being happy, just like after the age of about 11, much of life isn't simply about being happy either. Most of us, if we're not either incredibly wealthy or incredibly irresponsible, spend much of our lives in the most ordinary of pursuits, the most pedestrian of activities -- and while we may have moments, hours, even entire days when we're giddy with happiness, for most of us, being happy all the time just isn't possible.

There's too many other things we have to do.

The same goes for marriage. Being happily married is not the same thing as being happy all the time. Being happily married is understanding that marriage is a contract and a commitment. Being happily married is putting the success of the marriage above either person's individual needs or desires. The marriage has to be bigger than either person. The marriage has to take priority over anything else in your lives -- at least most of the time.

  • I did not know this when my husband proposed to me one Friday night, drunk and naked, having bought me a ring that afternoon (he's such a romantic).
  • I did not know this 25 years ago at our wedding, at a yacht club overlooking the Pacific Ocean where we were not members (we have never owned a boat, much less a yacht).
  • I did not know this when, three weeks after our honeymoon, I discovered that I was pregnant and my husband could barely speak to me for three days (like it was all my doing).

I did not know this for a long time.

We were so caught up in the whirlwind of our lives -- wedding ... baby ... house ... another baby ... that the reality of us being a couple was almost an afterthought. We went from newlyweds to new parents in eight months. We went from two of us to four of us in three years. We never had those years "before kids" like most couples do -- in fact, between his demanding job and pursuing his MBA at night, I didn't really spend much time with my husband the two years we were together before our wedding.

Maybe that's why he fell in love with me. Maybe a little of me goes a long way.

Becoming a family so quickly did not get in the way of our growth as a couple, it just took it in a different direction -- one we both loved. We loved being parents (we still do).

But here's the thing -- we really didn't know each other very well. For as much intimacy as we shared, as much love as we felt for each other, for our kids, we were just starting to get to know each other about five years in. Maybe that's true for lots of couples -- I don't know. I remember suddenly realizing how different we were, how differently we were raised, how much I didn't know about him. It was kind of shocking. And I'm sure I was a bit of a surprise to him, too.

When we were dating, we went to see the film On Golden Pond. This scene has always been one of my favorites. I remember looking over at my husband (then my boyfriend) and thinking, "Yes. I can see feeling like this with you."

There have been days ... even months ... when it's been rough. There were moments we weren't so sure we'd made the right choice -- and sometimes we felt this way at different times. Not a lot of moments, but we've had our share.

The most challenging things we've been through together -- the deaths of our fathers, the stomach-clenching thrill ride of owning a business, raising two wildly different children, our personal ups and downs -- those are the things that have brought us closer together, have taken us from being two people to being one couple. The wonderful moments -- the days our children were born, the family gatherings, the vacations, the football games and choir shows, the amazing friends ... those things have given color and shape and background to our lives. But the most difficult days, the ones that exhausted us and kept us up at night, that scared us or made us desperately sad -- those are the days that made 25 years possible.

Those are the days that, oddly enough, I appreciate most of all, because those are the days when I learned the real secret to being married:

You have to be there for each other, no matter what. No. Matter. What. There's no choice. The moment you hesitate or turn your back, you're doomed.

That's what makes me happy. Knowing that he's there for me, all the time. Knowing I can always count on him to come through, to be my "Norman," my knight in shining armor. Knowing his hand is there to hold in the middle of the night. And knowing I can -- and will -- do the same for him.

Previously published on Empty House Full Mind

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