Talk about mixed messages. All the fairytale bullshit I inhaled as a child tends to blend uncomfortably with the residue of about ten thousand Family Circle articles I read while babysitting various 2.5 children, said articles advising that marriage, dear lady, is a lot of work. I never knew what that meant. What kind of work? Did ambitious married couples schedule times to hoe the weeds of their union like broke-backed farmers under the hot sun? Was work hard conversation, unwilling tolerance, or something even more mysterious? Was it like slogging through the obstacles of a treasure map I had never seen?

Yes, yes and yes. In fact, there are times when I wonder if all this damn work is worth it. Sometimes our marriage, despite all the work, does not seem to be lush at all. It seems more like rows of limp-stemmed plants dragging in the heat. Today I learned, from my gifted therapist, that I might see things this way because I'm a black-and-white thinker who forgets, in misery, the faintest breeze of hope.

Scott is not like this. In misery he hangs on to hope, like an ice climber supported by ropes even in a free-fall. He's able to remember the good times we had last week, even if the good times only lasted half an hour. Somehow, in the middle of screaming children, toy wreckage, a whining dog and an irritable wife, he holds joy like a medicine bag to his chest.

So this, for me, is the work. Pressing out the edges of my brain to make room for simultaneous experiences, learning to hold entrapment and freedom, love and annoyance, criticism and generosity side by side is the work. Honesty is the work, and willingness is the work, particularly when there is nothing I would like more than to scrap the whole business.

Family Circle certainly had the closer mark on marriage than did the Brothers Grimm. It's not happily ever after. However, at least in my experience, it's happy a lot of the time. My challenge is to honor that, even when we're not happy.

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