Our one-year anniversary practically snuck up on us this past Sunday. Time is strangely elastic when it comes to the defining moments in our lives—it has a way of moving simultaneously fast and slow. It seems like it was only last week that we were rushing about, finishing last-minute details for the wedding while greeting friends from out of town and hurriedly packing for our honeymoon. But it also feels as if we’ve lived a lot of life, both good and bad, in the past 12 months. I wonder about whether marriage has changed us, and about the trajectory on which we’ve set our relationship for the years to come.
In this first year, I didn’t feel as if we had that blissful interlude people call a “honeymoon phase.” I have suspected there is no such thing. True, it took us a few months to adjust to the new normal of living together and to the strange and wonderful identity of spouse. But life, with all of its stresses and responsibilities, still marches on. The “after” of “happily ever after” still involves jobs, bills, conflicts, and laundry. So much laundry.
Were I to be honest, I would say this has been one of the most stressful years in my life, but not for the reasons you’d think. Life has thrown at us a number of external conflicts that have tested our ability to handle stress in relationship. Aside from the adjustment to marriage, we’ve endured a move, a health scare with a family member, and changes in jobs for both of us, each with its unique challenges. When Constantino took a stress questionnaire earlier in the year as part of a medical check-up, the doctor said he had a 50% chance of a major health breakdown within the next 12 months. The results sounded so melodramatic that we laughed when we first saw them—but it was a nervous, strained laugh. We knew there was a ribbon of truth running through those findings. Constantino did in fact get sick, but it was not the major breakdown predicted.
I suspect this year of stressors has been far better for our marriage than any honeymoon phase could ever be. Our ability to mitigate adversity has been tested early on, and frequently. We’ve been forced to be more intentional about communicating feelings and supporting each other through trials. I’ve been learning the hard, seemingly unending work of being emotionally present, and Constantino has been learning to speak love languages unnatural to him. The external conflicts have prompted us to strengthen our internal coping mechanisms. This us-versus-the-world mentality has trained us to work as a team, right at one of the most formative moments in our relationship.
On the night before our anniversary, we had dinner with new friends who were celebrating 34 years of marriage. What I admired about them is how intentional they’ve been about their relationship, right from the get-go. As newlyweds, they read books on marriage and put regular work into their relationship, all of which they assumed was normal for new couples. But every marriage develops its own internal culture, and most aren’t nearly so intentional. Our friends were surprised to find this out at a marriage workshop they attended. They discovered that most couples at the workshop were still struggling to master the most basic conflict resolution skills, even though they had been married for years. Our friends were far ahead of the curve.
Despite tragedies and setbacks that could easily break any marriage, these friends said they had never been more in love. It was an inspiring picture of marriage. What if the honeymoon phase wasn’t at the beginning of a relationship? What if it was much further down the road? What if Constantino and I didn’t miss our honeymoon phase, but rather were working toward it? We all live in a culture that is infatuated with first loves and new romances. But if that is all we value in love, perhaps that is all we will ever get out of it. What if true infatuation develops over a lifetime lived together? What if the best is still years away?
That’s the vision of romance I long for. One thing I know is that I love Constantino more today than I did a year ago. If that is the trajectory on which we’ve set our relationship, then there is hope that one day we, too, have a true honeymoon phase in store for us.
David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland.