Nothing taps into the hopeless romantic buried deep beneath my sarcastic exterior like a wedding. Such a magical event—the couple who radiates happiness, the toasts that bring on laughter and tears, the music and dancing (I especially love that part!).
I love it all really, but the longer I am married, the more it is the ceremony itself that affects me. Two optimistic souls saying, “I’m a nut job. You’re a nut job. Let’s see if we can win this game of life together.”
Ok, so that’s not in most vows, but isn’t it essentially what is being pledged? On your wedding day, you are betting that you and the person you chose will have what it takes to win the game that half the U.S. population loses. I’m not a gambler and those odds suck, but I took the leap anyway.
Every wedding I attend now reminds me of my own—and how the way I play the game of marriage has changed (starting with not treating it like a game). Last weekend, I watched my cousin exchange vows with the love of her life, and what stood out was the pastor’s emphasis on forgiveness. When we marry, the vows often focus on love and support and cherishing forever, but forgiveness is perhaps the most critical component to any marriage.
When I got married, the need for marital forgiveness never entered my mind. I was young enough to still live in the world of absolutes: “I will never” and “I will always.” I couldn’t say “I’m sorry” myself, much less accept an apology from someone else.
Forgiveness and apologies used to make me feel weak, mostly because they made me admit I am human. Humans do stupid, foolish things. They make mistakes and I don’t like messing up.
Besides, I already knew exactly what I would and wouldn’t tolerate from my new spouse. Case in point, I once swore that if my husband should ever cheat on me, I would rip off his balls, kick him out of the house, change the locks and promptly move on. Let me be very clear that my husband has never been unfaithful, but I will admit that I no longer feel quite so vicious about this hypothetical scenario.
The reason I was even thinking about infidelity at all was because the night before my cousin’s wedding, I finished a book called The Vacationers about a family in crisis after the husband’s infidelity. Spoiler alert: When the wife chooses in the end to remain with him because they have been married for 35 years and have two children, the story line was completely believable to me.
This got me wondering if I’ve merely become complacent. Has marriage worn me down? Where is that passion I used to feel about the black-and-white issues? Shouldn’t they still be absolutes?
It used to be that every major fight we had, I assumed would end in divorce. I wasn’t going to back down—I wanted to win. And yet, when I finally put aside my rage over whatever irritating thing my husband had done, a compromise would emerge and oftentimes, forgiveness joined it. Sometimes I had to forgive him. Other times I had to forgive myself.
When I think of the couples I know who have been married for many decades, I wonder what challenges they have faced. What indignations have they chosen to forgive? Did forgiveness make them feel more vulnerable or did they feel stronger? Have they forgiven things they once said would be unforgiveable?
The stakes get higher with every year of marriage. An indiscretion in year one doesn’t carry the same weight in year 30—it may weigh more or less, but it isn’t likely valued the same.
Marriage is a gamble, but bluffing works against you in this game. At some point, the forgiveness card will be in your hands, and you’ll have to decide are you out or are you all in.