Surviving Fifteen Years of Marriage

This marital reflection comes to us from Samuel Son. Fifteen years of marriage and I’m gonna […]

Mockingbird / 8.30.16

This marital reflection comes to us from Samuel Son.


Fifteen years of marriage and I’m gonna cut to the chase — and through the rosy laces — and tell you that it has been ass-kickingly difficult: 15 years of a selfish person learning to live with another selfish person. Indeed, my wife is my Eve, my ripped-off rib.

Those fifteen years would have been more pleasant if our times together were sparse and sporadic, like those good friends you visit only when you travel and need to save hotel money. But it was nearly every day of those 15 years. I can count the days we were separated, 69 days. There have been times when I wanted out, and so has she. But we are still together and talking.

Taking into account the inflation of divorce — the current divorce rate hovering around 50% to the rate for my father’s immigrant generation of zero percent — our 15-year marriage is like my father’s 50 years. So at our anniversary we tapped ourselves for a job well done, went out and burnt some money on a restaurant a level up from Wendy’s. Our marriage took a major beating, but it keeps on ticking. We survived some badass enemies.


Enemy number one: parenting.

Parenting kills romance. Children are viciously effective birth control. I’m not talking about the pregnancy months and the post-pregnancy months when a woman doesn’t ovulate. I am talking about the repetitive feeding, burping, wiping, and, when they get older, the Sisyphean drop-off and pick-up of kids to activities that will guarantee them a coveted seat in Harvard, not to mention the laundry. They tire you out and then they tire you out from each other. You’re sleep-deprived, and sleep overcomes sex in the priority of needs. As the sex drops, so does marital satisfaction.

Equally dangerous, sleep deprivation turns you into Mr. Hyde, no potion needed. You can’t be a saint without solid sleep. St. Anthony and the first desert monks were not running away from the taint of Empire but children. They went to the caves to get sleep. We said some horrible things to each other during those sleep-deprived years.

If I did not have kids, and a wife with whom to have kids, I would be Thomas Merton of the digital age, writing words to inspire a cynic into a child-like faith. As it is, I have children and I am a cynic.


Enemy number two: the unheralded weight we put on each other.

Ever since the Western world gave up God as the ultimate subject and object of love, we’ve made our beloved into god. All romance movies hinge on this plot, that we are empty until we find our true love: Prince Charming wakes the slumbering girl to the world with a kiss and Jerry Maguire runs to the wife he was divorcing — had to be running through the streets to make time for the soundtrack and getting off a taxi is plain unromantic — crashes a women’s divorcee pity party to proclaim, “You complete me!” Gosh, what an impossible demand! How can any single person complete another human being? I can’t see the bottom of my emptiness. We traded in John Chrysostom, who sang only of the ravaging beauty of God, for John Donne, who made sonnets about loving God and a woman’s ravishing body. Then we traded John Donne for John Mayer who only sang of woman’s body, the great wonderland for adults. It was woman or bust (for ladies it’s the other way). Inevitably, it’s bust.

But something lasting, and not eternal, can come out of a bust. I stopped demanding my wife be the best chef, the hugging mother, the extra-income career woman, the efficient home manager, the strip-teasing lover — actually this last role I’m still holding onto. She then became a person who can be fun to be with most of the time. But it wasn’t easy to free her from my suffocating expectations because of my own need to be everything for her: the empathetic husband, the Socratic dad ready with a story or an ingenious question to recall truth embedded in my child’s pure soul, the rank-climbing successful careerist, and hard-abbed love machine. I wanted so desperately to be everything my wife ever wanted. I feared I would lose her if I wasn’t. But when I got tired of the multiple roles and let my gut hang out and said to her, “Take it or leave it,” she took it and told me to do the same. Now I am a man of whom she has grown fond, “like a poodle or a rug,” she says. I take that as a love confession.


Enemy number three: our ignorance of seasons.

There are seasons in a marriage, and, like seasons of the year, you have to adjust to them, because they won’t adjust to you. It’s deemed the height of insanity to go out with swimming trunks and complain to the weather gods during winter why the weather isn’t warm enough for a dip — though there are humans who think they are polar bears.

Within those seasons are monthly cycles women go through, and you best stay clear — I bet all my shoes even the Sisters of Charity knew when not to engage Mother Teresa. I should have put my wife’s date in my phone as a repeating alarm, but now that we are nearing middle age, even that is no longer predictable. I lack sense and I can’t get the hints, that the grey cloud on the horizon means get the umbrella out and get ready to be soaked even if you got a beach umbrella, and don’t take the rain personally when you get wet. She doesn’t hate you even if she spits those exact words in your face.

Men have periods too. There is a scientific study that proves it because there is always some scientific study that proves anything you want. I would hit a depression every so often. Sometimes it would be soft, a depression with shades and not all-window-shades-pulled-down one; a melancholy with Kenny G — smooth jazz, irksome but not debilitating. But sometimes it would be full on depression. I would roll out of bed and think, “Why am I alive?” I would feel terrible and curse a lot. I would pray the Jesus prayer: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?!”


In about the 7th year of our marriage, my wife saw a pattern. She said, “These bouts are not every so often but almost as regular as my period.” She counted 2-month intervals. “You are having a man-period.” I vehemently denied such effeminization. But after 10 years I could not deny the fact that it was quite cyclical. And when I looked it up on the internet, lo and behold I found scientific evidence in support of the man-period — they are still looking for the cause since a cause is a lot more difficult to come up with than arranging data to prove your point.

Now when I hit depression my wife warns the children, “Your father is having his period so stay clear.” I asked her not to use “period.” She kindly changed it to “mood,” which I still don’t like but much better than “period.”

Enemy four: Greatness.

tumblr_ktu3ngdJR71qzaztiWe tried many things to make our marriage great. We tried listening to Focus on the Family because that is what great Christian families do. They had some saliva-swallowing interviews. But we fell out of it quickly. I found the episodes too manufactured and manicured, speaking of issues in such vague ways that they could be speaking about relational problems between fifth graders with revolving crushes and not two people locked in for life. Their 30-minute episodes were like vitamins; they aren’t bad for you. But they won’t make you fit or increase life expectancy, especially if you think vitamins will make up for the absence of a disciplined diet and exercise. So I stopped listening to Focus on the Family, except for the episodes that have nothing to do with marriage or child rearing. Our relationship, we decided, will not depend on advice from others. It was between my wife and I; we had to figure it out in the peculiarity of our personality, bodies, children, family history and even the square footage of our homes and how it was furnished.

We decided good enough is actually good enough. This is not a white flag to mediocrity. It is practicing gratitude. “Honey, I love the way you mouth-off at our kids.”

What has kept us chugging along and not derailed by these enemies?


I have said some nasty words that I want to take back. But words are not like bait pierced on a hook that can be reeled back in. They are more like toxins chucked into the water. Once it’s in, it’s in. I could only hope that time and the volume of water would dilute them enough that they wouldn’t kill a fish or poison the whole lake. At some point, enough poison-laced words can kill the whole relationship. Both of us had said enough to make the Great Lakes uninhabitable. Yet somehow the volume of water in my wife’s heart, and in mine, has been sufficient. How? For us, it is God we go back to, at least every Sunday, where we hear the story of Christ forgiving those who cursed him after nailing him to the cross. How much can one forgive? When I feel I have reached the limit, God rolls up his sleeves, digs up some dirt and pumps more water into my heart. That is my image of grace, God working harder on behalf of us than our own selves.

That is where we are at. Fifteen years have already passed; like the blinking of a black-and-blue eye. This last year was better than the one before. The next 15 should be smoother now that all the kids are in school. At least it should mean more sex–but no expectations.


6 responses to “Surviving Fifteen Years of Marriage”

  1. Jason says:

    ” How much can one forgive? When I feel I have reached that limit, God rolls up his sleeves, digs up some dirt and pumps more water into my heart. That is my image of grace, God working harder in behalf of us then our own selves.”

    That’s it… right there. Brilliant. Thanks for writing this.

  2. M. Erickson says:

    Good stuff. Thanks!

  3. Samuel Son says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words!

    Humor (and not sarcasm) can be more honest then sentimentality, the way an exaggerated political cartoon is more truthful than a factual speech. If this piece made you laugh, and then laugh about your own marriage, then I feel useful.

    • Jason says:

      To date, this was one of the best, most succinct, to-the-point assessments of marriage. Very much spoke to my heart. I appreciated two insights in particular: (1) What you had to say about deciding that ‘good enough was good enough’ and (2) ‘God works more diligently on our behalf than we work on our behalf’. I just subscribed to your blog and would like to dialog further! You really helped me. Thanks again!

  4. Amy says:

    Going on 29 years marriage here….and let me just say, God and His grace is the only way we have made it through……thru years of little sex, hurtful words, lies and a separation. Thank you for these beautiful, raw, honest words!!!

  5. Fisherman says:

    I read this post on the day of our 25th anniversary. Truth and grace filled writing. Thank you

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