Year 1: Becoming One
As we sat shoulder to shoulder, I squeezed my groom’s thigh until it broke skin while listening to the toast of my father at our wedding reception. There we were adorned in all of our ceremonial regalia, blissfully in love, and overflowing with gratitude for the near-completion of the event we had been planning for over a year, watching horror unfold before our eyes. We sat listening to the man that had raised and loved me as his princess repeat the words of his father-in-law to my brand spanking new husband into a microphone,
“You’re going to hate that woman!”
His voice roared and reverberated throughout the venue as all 150 of our guests watched our reactions in silent astonishment. Our faces were still and quiescent. My husband’s was stroked with his placid grin of awkward embarrassment as I sat stoically and angrily piercing his thigh to relieve my humiliation. Who is “that woman?!” I could not fathom that my father would utter such words about ME to my husband on my wedding day! This gaucherie was followed by my matron of honor’s ominous toast warning that our first year was going to be dreadfully difficult; so much for the fairytale. We weren’t even allowed to pretend it existed on the day of our wedding. The reality of our circumstances and differences were never veiled.
Our backgrounds are starkly different, so much so that friends and family pondered if we were trying to mix oil and water. He was the youngest of three in his household, but is from a very blended family. Both sides of his family have roots in the South, but their branches have spread throughout the urban belts of the Midwest. Though he always desired a family of his own, he had only witnessed marriage outside of his home. I am the oldest of three, a southern belle preacher’s daughter with parents that have been married since they were barely in their twenties that saw single-parent households as a rarity; completely sheltered and naive. Both of us had ideas of what it meant to be married and both of us were wrong.
He assumed that our lives would show very little difference after “just a ceremony” because we lived together through our engagement. I knew it would change, but I underestimated just how much. When you live with someone as roommates, regardless of the relationship, you know you can walk away with little paperwork if there are issues you can’t reconcile. You also tend to excuse or overlook the raised toilet seat lid and snoring or the kitchen full of open cabinets and hair in the drain because it may still be new and novel or you’re just so giddy about being in love and “adulting” on your own terms. You may have a greater understanding and even appreciation for differences because you know you don’t have to accept them. You don’t feel the sense of responsibility to each other as greatly as you do when you say, “I do.” Anything you give or share with your partner is a bit easier because there’s less obligation. You can kind of pat yourself on the back and get points for being a great significant other if you stick around during trials without a covenant. It’s remarkable to tolerate discomfort as a girlfriend or boyfriend. All of that is just expected as a spouse, common-law or civil, and it’s not always so easy or enjoyable. There are no rewards for upholding your daily marital responsibilities to each other. In fact, it can become so routine that the two of you can overlook it if you’re not careful.
Once the novelty of marriage wanes, you have to then meander your way through the process of becoming one without losing yourselves. This insurmountable requirement is a daily, sometimes hourly, decision and task. It means that you have to sift through the decisions that impact your family, (yes, you’re a family now), and the ones that solely concern you. There are far fewer of the latter and as your family grows, they become more scarce. You have to always adopt a spirit of consideration. How will this make him/her feel? What does she/he need? How can I support him/her during this? Will this hurt their feelings? Do I have to care if it does? (Yes, yes you do.) There are no opting out options in marriage because you are essentially caring for an extension of yourself. Neglecting your marriage means you’re also denying yourself. You are one. Of course you still have your individual ideas, desires, goals, friends, etc. and as one you have to respect and support each of them together and compromise based on what’s best for the union where necessary. You are still you, just greater (as in vast); more enabled to face life’s challenges and pursue dreams because there’s someone else fighting alongside you that wants what you want for you. How amazing and difficult is that?!
None of this is easy and there are times, when deciding who’s going to yield and who’s going to stand firm or who’s going to sacrifice while the other is elevated, when you can grow weary or feel disdain; just as we all feel about parts of our selves. All of these decisions are based on what’s best for you as a family and that may not always be what’s best for you as an individual. If you are not looking and thinking through a lens of unity, if you forget for one moment that the two of you are traveling a journey to a destination you’ve envisioned together, then you can lose sight of the ultimate goal and “hate” the one deterring you from your self-serving ambitions.
Now, almost nine years later, we can recall the events of our wedding with humor and much more insight and understanding. Our first year of marriage was absolutely the most challenging year of our lives together thus far, with 2015 coming in as a close second. I remember jokingly blaming my father and matron of honor for cursing us with such turbulence. It may not be the first year for you. Your first year may be blissful, or some other “B” word. But, “becoming one” is an inevitable challenge in marriage. We didn’t know what we were doing; what it truly meant to become one.
It means that you share life and all it throws at you as one. If you have an interfaith, intercultural, or interracial marriage, it means honoring the similarities and accepting and respecting the differences without judgement or ridicule. Everything from hunger to financial gains and strains; from the care and deaths of loved ones to the birth and raising of little ones is faced together as one. Troubles are shared and the abundance of the tangible and intangible is multiplied. The process of shifting to this mentality is difficult, but the reward of knowing your strength and ability to face every obstacle and to secure and maintain prosperity is literally doubled is so much greater. Marriage math requires you to add one and one and still get one. It just doesn’t make sense or work every day, but you wake up to try the equation again every morning anyway.
Talitha Anyabwelé is an author, SPEAKer, educational consultant, wife, mother, and founder of the Black Girl Speaks Movement. She also likes naps when it’s raining and vegan mac and cheese with a burnt crust.