I have been thinking about this post for the last three months. To feel safe, I have wanted to write a list of what I learned in the past year of marriage, like I have in previous years. Lists are clean and neat, and I certainly learned enough this past year of marriage to make a substantial list.
But every time I thought about the last year of my marriage, a list seemed too cheap somehow. What I actually learned cannot be synthesized in numbers and phrases.
So here goes my best attempt to express this year in a series of paragraphs and pictures.
When Branden and I began to date, I had a severe eating disorder.
For the first year of our marriage, I succumbed to the eating disorder. For the second, I dug as hard as I knew how. I clawed my way out. For the third, I healed.
I say this because Branden and I never really experienced the “honeymoon phase” of marriage and dating that many people do. Our early days together were full of the push and pull that addiction brings–the balance of fighting against deceit but feeling too broken to put my heart completely on the line. I was afraid of being loved and was afraid of loving openly.
For the first two years, I said I was sorry, a lot. I said I was sorry for being a handful, for being “too much,” for having such a multitude of issues. He didn’t bring up his “stuff,” because he was busy taking care of my apologies.
This year, I started to say “Thank you for understanding,” when my impulse was to say “I’m sorry for being myself.” I began to realize that the burden of my journey away from maladaptive coping skills and towards self-love was mine to own.
When we started to date, Branden and I struggled to communicate. I needed to talk about everything, all the time. My idea of closeness has always been communication, while his has been creating memories through quality time. When two people differ on something so fundamental to a relationship, I think there often is a long stream of questions: “Who is wrong? Why isn’t this working? Is it you or is it me?”
I asked myself and Branden this for the first two years. If my way of communicating was wrong, his must be right, I thought. Or if his was right, I must be wrong.
This year, I began to accept that maybe our methods can co-exist. And as soon as I considered this, we began to accept each other. He stopped trying to quiet my passion and I stopped trying to pull rawness out of him.
As I gave him space to be unapologetically himself, he started to tell me his story day-by-day. Almost the moment I committed to let him be himself without questioning that this somehow threatened who I was, our communication problems became almost non-existent.
I have learned that Branden is not responsible for me, and I am not responsible for him. And as soon as this started to click, as I began to heal from the scars of my past, we became much more of a team. I can now honestly say that I love Branden exactly in this moment of who he is. I love that he loves smoking meat and working with wood, that he gets emotional about inspirational music auditions, that his way of being vulnerable with me is soft and thoughtful. I love that I know his struggles, which ones came out to me when I stopped pushing him and started loving myself. And I choose to believe him when he says that he loves me, really loves me, and that he thinks (at 9 months pregnant) I am the most beautiful woman in the world.
I cannot begin to describe how much I appreciate him. When I see posts about people in love who are “best friends,” I always wonder what that really means, especially when they seemed to have met only yesterday.
But Branden has earned that title for me and I hope I have earned it for him. He chose to marry me when we didn’t know if I would ever recover, or if I would ever be able to have kids or lead a “normal” life. He demonstrated so much confidence in my ability to fight and overcome that I couldn’t help but try. He inspired me to do what I thought could not be done, and he sat with me through counseling and encouraged me through despair and prayed for me through sleepless nights. He sat with me on many bathroom floors and talked me through many panic attacks, and he loved me and never shamed me in moments of relapse and struggle. He is the best friend that I have.
So what have I learned this year in marriage? I learned the richness that comes from loving someone without trying to change a thing. I learned the depth that comes from believing I am lovable, scars and all. I learned how to really love.
More than anything, I learned what a wonderful man I married.