Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

May 12, 2011

And I thought marriage was easier as time wore on

Amy Gusenhues
CNHI News Service

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Gesenhues, Amy.w.jpg

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, are separated. Their perfectly scripted press release explained how they need time apart to work on their relationship after 25 years of marriage.

While neither my husband or I have the status of these two successful public figures, my own recent career transition has caused much stress and anxiety in our marriage.

We finally got a grip after our 7-year-old daughter approached us with a contract during a peacetime moment in our nearly 15-year marriage.

She had taken the time to draw a picture of daddy shaking his finger at mommy while mommy stood between her and her brother. The contract read: “I, Mommy, and I, Daddy, promise not to fight in front of our kids ever again.”

She had even drawn two lines at the bottom for each of us to sign.

Besides the sudden realization we have a future contract lawyer in the making, it was frighteningly clear our arguing had reached its limit. At no time during our quarrels over whose turn it was to cook dinner, load the dishwasher, handle bedtime routines, pay bills and so on did either of us want to end the marriage. We were both simply strapped for time and short on patience.

Our daughter’s contract was the red flag we needed to stop thinking about ourselves and start considering whose happiness was really at stake.

I wonder about Arnold and Maria, Al and Tipper, and any other couple who appear to have made it through the rougher waters only to divorce when the smooth sailing is supposed to begin. I don’t know these people; their marital decisions have no effect on me. But their choices to end their marriages scare me.

How can you survive blockbuster Hollywood success, public-office elections of the highest order, journalism careers built on bestsellers and kids that are now adults only to call it quits when the hard parts are complete?

Do they argue over bills? Maybe how they spend their money instead of a lack of it? I can’t imagine money being an issue. And it’s not like they’re arguing because Maria always has to drive the kids to school in the morning even though she works, too.

The scariest part is that none of these excuses hold water. The only plausible reason is that the hardest part of marriage doesn’t have anything to do with surviving the tough times. The real test is staying in love when there is nothing left to survive.

I have never sugarcoated my marriage or shied away from its flaws. I once wrote a column about how I will one day write a memoir of my wedded bliss titled, “There’s no such thing as a good marriage, only a long one.”

I say and write these things half-in-jest and the other half in the reality of what marriage is. My marriage is built on frequent compromises between what each of us wants individually and what we know is best for our family unit. Sometimes we find common ground and other times our daughter drafts contracts for us to sign.

Nearly four years into our marriage, I thought I wanted to end it. We separated for months before we reconciled. Even all those years ago, before we had kids to stick it out for, we stuck it out for each other.

These high-profile marital dissolutions make me wonder if my husband and I will have the same endurance toward the end as we did in the beginning.

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Amy Gesenhues is a columnist for The News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind. Contact her at amy@amywroteit.com.