Reality Wins

 What did you expect marriage to be like?

Jenn: This is an interesting one for me because I had been married previously, so I knew exactly what I didn’t want marriage to be. Michael and I were very serious about getting it right. I did not want to make another mistake and he was only going to do this once! We dated for two years and tried to be super intentional about getting all the kinks worked out before we even got engaged. We got this book, 10 Great Dates Before You Say “I Do”, and took turns planning dates where we’d discuss whatever the weekly topic was – stuff like finances, disciplining children, what holidays would look like. We went to premarital classes at a local church. We talked at length about all the BIG stuff and everything we could think of to better prepare ourselves! I knew there was no such thing as a perfect relationship, but I really felt like we’d covered our bases and would be on pretty much the same page going forward. 
Michael: I grew up in a pretty normal family and my parents are still happily married, so I had a great model to know what married life looked like. I knew there were going to be problems, but nothing too big. Jenn and I were friends from high school and we had been talking on the phone for almost a year before she moved from Seattle to Florida, and then we continued to date for a while after that. She’ll say it was two years, but it really couldn’t have been that long before I finally popped the question. We already knew a lot about each other and had discussed all of the major topics that cause problems in marriage. I remember going to the marriage classes and thinking we probably had it figured out better than some of the presenters. I thought to myself, "I’m a pretty easy-going guy so this marriage thing is really going to just be a continuation of our lovey-dovey dating." 

When did reality set in?

Jenn: Oh, almost immediately.  We got back from our honeymoon and I moved from my apartment into his house. He’d lived there for years, so it was quite a shock to him that I would actually be taking up some of the space. He used to store computer components in the bedroom beside the bed, and suddenly I wanted that area to...oh you know, be able to walk to my side of the bed. I objected to storing fishing poles in the master closet. I did laundry differently and loaded the dishwasher all wrong. And when we finally got all that sorted out, we started having kids and I just kept moving more and more things out to the garage in order to make room for cribs and swings and oh so many toys. He still has days where he looks around and wonders where all his stuff went.  

He quickly discovered that I am not so neat. I am forever leaving cabinet doors open, I never put the cap on the toothpaste or saline bottles, my laundry doesn’t always make it to the basket, and I break things. A lot. We never fought about all those big things that we worked out before marriage, but it never occurred to me how much the minutiae of everyday life could cause trouble! Our biggest recurring fight during our first year of marriage (and I am really not kidding here) was over the use of the word “humid.” I apparently use it in a way that is not meteorologically accurate and it made him crazy nuts that I, an otherwise intelligent woman, refused to change my ways. I never did fully grasp what I was doing incorrectly and insisted that my way was absolutely correct according to the common use of the word, and we would have real, angry fights over this. Every time it came up - for a solid YEAR. Crazy!
Michael: Day one. So as soon as Jenn started moving things into the house, I realized I was the crotchety old man who just wanted me and my stuff to be left alone. This was "my stuff" set up in the most efficient way around the house for living – a big sofa in front of the TV (because you really never go back to the room to sleep), and the computer behind the sofa (so you don’t need to leave the TV to game or surf the web). All I was really missing was a mini-fridge and a bucket and I wouldn’t have had to get up or even leave the room. The reality that my Man Cave was now turning into a grown-up’s house hit pretty quickly, but even smaller changes seemed to continue for the next few years. The garage was now designated as "my area," and every time I got it set up, we had another kid, or rearranged a room and the extra junk moved to the garage for a few months before we donated it or got around to holding a yard sale. I continued to lose my space. I remember one day sitting on the edge of the bed so mad that there was no place in the house anymore for me, just my side of the bed was mine. It’s not big, but it’s my space to do what I want… and then a kid came and lied down and I almost lost it.
It wasn’t just the stuff that caused problems. We had figured out all of the big problems, but forgot all about the day-to-day stuff. We fought over the stupidest things; the stuff that doesn’t even matter in the long run. I’d like to say we’ve gotten better at it, but I think we’re both just better at ignoring the stupid stuff and focusing on the important things.

What has surprised you most about marriage?

Jenn: I think I’ve been most surprised by how I’ve changed in it. I’d always considered myself an even-keeled, practical and independent woman who didn’t need any help, thank you very much. I never really thought I’d be the wife who stayed home and took care of the house. I knew I would be a mom and that I wanted to stay home with our kids, but I never really thought through exactly what that would look like. Whatever I thought back then, I was sure I would handle it with ease. Most everything came easily to me, so it stood to reason that marriage and parenting would, too. Then I had three children in three years, didn’t sleep properly for four more, and all my marbles just rolled away. I became a complete nut job. I could hear the crazy coming out of my mouth, but I felt helpless to stop it. Everyday life felt impossible and I needed help. A lot of it. And my husband showed up to provide it. And he keeps showing up. I sleep more and feel slightly less crazy these days than I did even just a year ago, but now I’m homeschooling all three of our boys and life is BUSY. I need help, I can’t do it alone, and I don’t have to. I’m married to an incredible man who actually said these swoon-worthy words to me not too long ago. He said, “Listen, I go to work and earn a paycheck to support us. That’s my job. You keep our kids alive and are their teacher. That’s your job. All the rest – the dishes, the laundry, whatever, we’ll figure out together.” I might have cried actual tears when he said that to me. I still struggle sometimes with needing help, but he never struggles to give it. He is my partner in ways that I never anticipated. He’s not perfect, I’m not perfect, we’re not perfect, but we figure it out together and it is good.
Michael: Similar to when you become a Christian, the "old you" is gone and then you’re the "new you" born in Christ. Well, it’s the same in marriage – and even more so when you have children. It’s part of growing up, but man, that was a tough one for me to get into my head.
It’s taken me some time…okay a lot of time...but I’ve finally realized that what was bothering me most about moving things around was my mindset. This wasn’t really "my stuff" getting moved out. Most of it was really just junk that I was keeping around to fix something or replace something if it broke. Some of it was just tossed into a room because it was only me and the dog in a three-bedroom house, not because it was the best place for it.  It was my mindset that it was me getting moved around and thrown out that eventually changed and I realized that we were making room for our stuff, and not just our stuff but our life together.  Jenn is always surprised when I don't mind doing the dishes or vacuuming, but his is just something in my head that makes sense. She and I are in this together so we have to split the work, whether it's going to work, watching the kids, doing the dishes, wiping butts (thank you God everyone is doing that on their own now!), or whatever the case may be. Some people may look and say since I had the better paying job, when we had kids that I continued to work and she now stays at home with the kids. That isn’t the case at all. She is so much better at taking care of the kids than me, that I have to go out and work. I get paid for my job, but we can’t afford to pay her for her job (I’m just glad she hasn’t caught onto that fact and reached out to a law firm for labor laws). Just like there’s no longer "my stuff" in the house, there’s no longer "my jobs" or "her jobs." It takes both of us to keep this family together so we are in for everything together. 

So which wins, expectation or reality?

Jenn: It’s funny to think about who I was ten years ago. There was this dream of what marriage and family would look like – that hodgepodge of movie fantasy and all the best marriages I’d seen, the visions of loving and laughing together in perfect harmony, dreams of snuggling sleeping babies, and reading to perfectly attentive toddlers, and on and on. Reality is so much more complicated than that. There is love and laughter and snuggles and joy, but there is also fatigue and frustration, stubbornness, and mess. 

So. Much. Mess.  

But it’s our mess. The joys and the struggles are who we are and the man who drives me crazy when he walks into the kitchen and takes over stirring my pan because he can’t help himself and who snores so loudly that I spend half my nights on the couch, is also the man who makes me laugh every day and who loves me through my crazy and takes care of me in ways I would never think to care for myself. Reality goes far deeper than any of the expectations I could have had back then. Reality definitely wins!
Michael: Reality. I think the expectations continue to change and evolve as we grow and continue life together. Each kid has changed how we think things are going to be. Each new adventure turns out a little bit different than how we thought. The reality is there, it’s just up to us to figure how we’ll accept and react to it, and how we’ll move on together through it.

Jenn and Michael met in high school in Oklahoma, moved to opposite corners of the country, fell in and out of touch for years, and then finally got serious.  They've been married for ten years, have three awesome little boys, and their idea of the perfect date is sending the kids to the grandparents and enjoying an uninterrupted dinner at home!