Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Did Somebody Move the Sign to Easy Street?

These pictures were taken just a few weeks before Adam and I married. When we met, I lived in Utah, and he in California. We knew we loved each other; we needed to make sure the kids could at least stand each other. So, we arranged to "meet in the middle" in St. George, UT at the home of my best friend for a weekend of "future family", to see how it all gelled.

The kids instantly loved one another. Their ages melded seamlessly. Lyndsay had always wanted a sister, and here was a ready-made one, only two years younger. Sean wiggled in right between my two boys, and everyone seemed right at home. It felt too good to be true.

It was. It always is, isn't it?

Boy, I look back at these pictures and think of the fantasy that all would continue to flow so smoothly. I thought the hardest part of a second marriage would be blending the kids together, and that seemed to go without a hitch. Besides the fact that we were moving to a new state and needed more income, I thought we were headed for Easy Street, and I believed that after the heartache that both Adam and I had endured, it was well-deserved. Now, almost three years into the adventure, I'm not sure what is the hardest thing about a second marriage. I'm not even sure what's easy, if anything, about a second marriage. But, we definitely missed Easy Street somewhere along the way. How come I can never find Easy Street?

Every facet of this new beginning has been difficult. Adam and I knew each other only a few months before getting married, and because we lived in different states, we had even shorter time actually together. Love conquers all, huh? Let me tell ya, love doesn't even begin to conquer all. Love, I'm finding, which we have plenty of, is not nearly enough. The movies lied.

I remember a close friend and mentor confiding in me once that she and her husband had come close to divorcing, though they had six children together. They decided to stick it out, and don't regret it for one minute. Her words to me: "Commitment is a much stronger glue than love ever will be." Boy, was she right.

One of the findings of Judith Wallerstein's intense study of marriage and divorce, which she published in her book, The Good Marriage, was that couples who described their marriage as "unhappy" or even "very unhappy", five years later, if they remained together, described their unions as "happy" or "very happy". Interesting. Must have been that commitment. You gotta ride the wave. In other words, life can't suck forever, right? One of the other findings in her study was that successful, happy marriages needed to go through at least one very trying, stressful make-it-or-break-it time. That's how you test the commitment, and that's how you beef it up to the next notch. The happiest marriages all had experienced really difficult losses, betrayals, or heartache, and had come out on top. In this, I'm no lightweight.

Marriage is hard, though I hate to admit it. I am an idealist and in my mind marriage should not be hard. It should be hard work, but not hard. There is a difference to me, and I'm always willing to work. I just didn't know the work would be so emotionally and spiritually wrenching and exhausting. Second marriage is harder. Even happier, it's still harder, because of the other relationships involved (ex-spouses, ex-spouses' new spouses, etc.) hanging on by tentacles, threatening to strangle at any moment. Throw in children from first marriages and the fragile relationships of step-parenting. Add all the wounds that come from the break-up of the first marriages and then toss in the differences in discipline, parenting philosophies, and financial habits. It's one serious project. Being under the microscope doesn't help much either. Kids getting grilled at the other parent's house about "how things are going", and exes making comparisons, taking notes with which to indict you, when you're only trying your best to play the hand you were dealt.

I guess since that first trip to St. George, we've had to "meet in the middle" many, many times. And on some things we're still in heated standoffs. But that's okay, right? We don't have to have it all figured out yet, right?

I'm in it for the long haul. I'm dying to see where this train goes, where this wild ride leads. I have to let go of the ideal, which I'm not sure even exists, except for in one marriage that I've seen in my life. The Golden Standard. (she knows who she is) The rest of us will just have to settle for imperfection and heated standoffs, mixed up with passion, love, laughter, and phenomenal make-up sex. It keeps it interesting, and interesting is real.


Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

So much truth here. I'm so sorry it can't be easy, but I can't help thinking of those couples who stuck it out. That maybe a big part of why they describe their marriages as happy five years down the road is because of what they have to compare it to. I don't know, I'm still a novice at this marriage thing myself, and mine is relatively uncomplicated (though still bloody frustrating at times, let me tell you).

It is hard. I don't think it can not be hard. But if I take a moment to compare now to five years ago? Wow. We have come so far. And as for the having far still to go part? No one I'd rather do it with. No one.

This was such a beautiful post, Jenna. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Jenna. Very well thought out and informative.

We had a make it or break it event happened to us three years ago and things have been even better since that time.

I wish the same could be said of my parents marriage. They've stuck it out for 27 years and commitment isn't helping anything. In many ways I wish they'd divorce already.

Laurie said...

Oh Jenna, You are an answer to my prayers. I needed this post today. I have been struggling this week with so many things, this being the main one. Sometimes it's just so hard and I wonder if it's all worth it. I think I just went through the toughest challenge I've faced so far in my marriage and we are still experiencing the fallout and I am such a brat. I don't react very well to it all. This is a good reminder that sometimes when love seems weakened, commitment is strong enough to keep us all together. Thank you!

I think you are doing an amazing job with all the trials you have been handed. And because you are such a beautiful writer, your life continues to reach out and touch so many others.

Misty said...

this is such a truly personal and raw post. I agree that every couple has to endure and tough out that big hard time (and for some it's more than one) and things get better... there is this way that the two individuals meld more together, through life... it doesn't happen instantly! :)

Sarah said...

I told you about our story that night we stayed extra late at the Vance's home.

Five years ago, I would never have imagined that we could be as happy as we are today. And that was before I had hit rock-bottom. There has been such an enormous transformation in just the past 2 years.

Prior to our falling out, all the way back to right after we were married, I didn't even know what it meant/felt like to truly be in love. I mean, I thought that I was when I got married, but I surely struggled with it for a good 7 years. Once we hit that point though of being right on the edge, something hit me and I realized what was happening. I grew incredibly from the experience. Not to say I enjoyed it, because I hated every second of my life while it was falling apart around me. But looking back I can see where I made mistakes and I am still learning from them today.

I remember the picture my mom had hanging on the wall in our house while I was growing up. It had a picture of Christ in the center along with the quote "I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it" I think everyone should be handed a gold copy of this quote when they get married!

Lesley said...

Wow,I may just have to print this out and keep it under my pillow. I'm sure hoping life can't suck forever because things are really sucky right now. I'm glad to know I'm not alone, and that there is hope. Thanks!

Misty said...

I'm glad you mentioned the make-up sex made me laugh. :) (And it is my favortie part of fighting!)

Lori said...

hey Jen. Although it's hard to hear you are struggling, I'm glad I know. I am always here if you need to talk, please call me or email me. I've been where you are and understand what you must be feeling. It really does get better over time. Uncle Ray and I celebrate our 25th anniversary this November and it's been a rocky ride, sometimes, and others it's been wonderful. Most of the time we just trudge along and try to understand each other's feelings and needs. The beautiful part comes, unfortunately, when your kids grow up and you have more time for each other. I say unfortunately because I miss having babies and little ones, but the truth is, they add so much stress, especially when there are ex-spouses involved. I hope you know you can count on me. Hang in there. Make sure you MAKE time for each other (a date) once a week no matter what, and keep trying to remember the long term goal. I love you! Aunt Lori

Anonymous said...

I love you Jenna!

Stop and smell the Daisies said...

A wise man once said that ANY two righteous people can be happily married if they put the other person first.

It is true that marriage is not the path to EASY STREET (If you ever find that path, please give me directions!), and a second marraige is DEFINITELY NOT the path to EASY STREET, but press forward! After the trials, you will be blessed!

idahohubers said...

This post was exactly what I needed! You have a way with words that really speaks to me. I told my recently married sister that I will alway LOVE my husband but sometimes I really don't LIKE him! It makes sense to me, I'll give her a few more years to see what I mean. I'll be married 8 years this summer and I do think that marriage is hard and that people are rarely real about how difficult family life can be. I really think marriage is a true refiners fire and Heavenly Father set it up that way. I see so much growth in my marriage. Growth we wouldn't have without the trials. I do have my bratty times though! I liked that comment from above :)

Unknown said...

great post jenna. you hit me with a ton of bricks when i also read, "Commitment is a much stronger glue than love ever will be."

i have a quote for you ... "without testing, there can be no testimony." reading your post made me think of it.

thanks for writing this one, kathleen

Tina @ said...

Hi! I stumbled on to your blog a while back and I check in periodically because I find such a common ground with you. I am LDS, divorced, have two kids, on my second marriage to a man with two kids. This post perfectly articulated so much of how I feel. Step-parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, dealing with ex's is the next hardest thing. Compromising on parenting in a second marriage is more of a challenge than I ever imagined. In my first marriage parenting came easy, I think because neither of us knew what we were doing, it was all uncharted territory. The second time around we are meshing existing habbits and routines. I am every day greatful to have a marriage where we both have the fundamental relationship lessons figured out, because without that the issues created by blending families might be intollerable.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying all of the things about this topic that are so close to my heart!