People seem to assume that marriage causes suffering. But that is too simplistic. Marriage does not cause suffering; life causes suffering. What makes married people unique is that, by vowing to be one in all things, they inevitably vow to be one in their suffering. This means they can’t run from suffering. They must endure it together.
Of course, enduring suffering isn’t easy. But suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to a human being. The worst thing that can happen to a human being is to lose hope in the face of suffering. It is the same with marriage. What determines a happy marriage is not the quantity of difficulties, but rather, how those difficulties are dealt with. What determines a happy marriage is not whether or not you suffer, but what you do, together, with that suffering.
Over the past week, my husband and I had to stay at the hospital for my Crohn’s disease. This wasn’t our first hospital trip and it probably won’t be our last. My health casts a shadow over our life. We have such a wonderful life. We have two beautiful, sweet sons, a loving family, and a comfortable, happy home. Sometimes life seems just about perfect. But then I wake up sick in the middle of the night and we rush to the emergency room. And I start playing in my head all the things that could happen. Most of all, I think of all the things we can’t do when I’m sick. I miss holding our children. I miss going for walks. I miss dancing. I miss going on dates. I miss the ability to go on road trips. I miss being able to eat and cook and be normal. I feel like my sickness is a cruel joke. We have this beautiful life, and then we aren’t allowed to fully live it. And that can make me feel bitter really quickly.
But I know that rabbit hole of self-pity only leads me further away from the answer to my earthly suffering. Namely, that I always have a choice. We always have a choice. We may not get to choose whether or not we suffer. But we do get to choose whether or not we suffer together.
This isn’t always an easy choice to make. But the ways in which we can make it are usually pretty simple. For instance, when my husband and I are in the hospital, we can choose to look at pictures of our children with joy and laughter, rather than sadness because we miss them. We can choose to sleep together in the hospital bed, rather than isolating ourselves out of convenience or bitterness. We can choose to binge watch Downton Abbey or Lord of the Rings or Parks and Recreation instead of mindlessly browsing our phones. We can choose to pray together when we’d rather just sulk together. When I feel up for it, we can choose to get up and walk through the hospital, peek in on the babies in the nursery or wander the tunnels and halls, rather than camping out indefinitely in our room. I have the choice to wear something that makes me feel beautiful, rather than the hospital gown. My husband has the choice to open the windows and change the lighting and set up electric candles and turn on music to make the whole place feel prettier and, often, even romantic.
Almost six years ago, my husband and I had one of our first dates inside a magnolia tree. My husband climbed high up into the tree and carved our names. Eight months later, he proposed inside that tree. A few days ago, while walking the hospital grounds, we stumbled upon a big magnolia tree between the hospital buildings. Naturally, my husband had to climb it.
But really, he didn’t have to. He could have chosen to keep on walking, with a smile at the tree, but assuming neither of us had energy for adventure. But, as romance teaches us, some of the best adventures happen when you don’t really have the strength for them. And some of the sweetest, most intimate, and joy filled moments happen when you choose to suffer together.