Mario and I have been married thirty-two years today. When we met, he had two young sons—David and Joe—and I had a toddler, Vince. Less than a year after our wedding, we had Alicia. The family we had together was wonderful and I love our kids (and now our Grandchildren) but the early years of marriage were also the early years of parenting.
Tonight, over dinner, Mario said, “It seems to have all flown by.”
When you have children—especially when you have a blended family—the rules of marriage are constantly changing. As a couple, you have no choice but to change with them. We’ve been lucky because we have been surrounded by friends and family who strengthened us when we needed it.
People often ask us for marriage advice and we RARELY give it. The reason why? Most couples don’t want marriage advice. They want to know they’re going to be alright.
|Our Engagement Party - November 1987|
I’ve decided to list three pieces of humorous marriage advice. It’s all going to sound ridiculous, but this is actual advice we’ve received, and it worked. Have fun reading...and remember, you’re going to be alright.
|Our Wedding Day--December 29, 1987|
1. “Trust you’re okay.”
I was raised in a culture that sold romantic ideas about marriage: If you married the right person, you would sing duets in gazebos as it rained outside. If you keep up your appearance, your husband will chase you around the bedroom. If you share good ideas, you could both spread your passion to others and change the world. Anything less was a ho-hum marriage. I wanted to be the physical, intellectual, and emotional partner of Mario's dreams. I did my best to be like a bride in a movie, and often felt rejected when Mario was tired or working.
“I think Mario and I need help,” I once confessed to my friend, Hilary. “We have no real time together and when we do, he says there’s a lot of pressure to be romantic.”
Hilary didn’t even blink. She asked, “What would you like to have happen?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I want to be together more. I want to feel like a priority to him. Sometimes I think he cares more about his work than he does about me. I don’t even know if we’re okay.”
Hilary shrugged. “Marriage is a partnership, and you’re working together. Most of the time you have to trust you’re okay with each other, especially since the kids commandeer so much of your time.”
TRUST we’re okay? I thought. That sounded like a pat answer. How was I supposed to trust we’re okay if I didn’t feel okay?
Looking back, Hilary gave me the best marriage advice for that day. I wasn’t in the middle of a crisis, or being threatened by anything more than our hectic schedule. The truth is, Mario and I were okay during that season. Hilary, one of my close friends, could probably see this. She also could see that I thrived on attention—especially Mario’s—and demanded quite a bit from my husband. I had to trust that Mario and I were alright and stop demanding more than he could give, just so I could feel like the bride the media had portrayed.
Even though Hilary's simplistic answer didn’t satisfy then—if I am being honest, it still doesn’t satisfy—I now know it's one of the greatest truths of maintaining marriage.
Here we are, husband, you and I. We love each other, even though we don’t get a lot of time alone. We don’t tell each other “I love you madly!” several times a day. You and I are here, walking toward the goal of raising our children into adulthood and being part of a functional community. Today I will trust that you and I are alright.
There have been times when we were facing a battle that was too much for us—and for those times we have definitely taken action by getting formal counseling. We’ve somehow been able to save our overturned canoe on more than one occasion, with a little help from our friends. We’ve been able to cling to each other during terrible times. I also had to get over my unrealistic picture of what a healthy marriage should look like.
|Family Portrait just after we got married|
2. “Don’t Fight.”
As a young married couple with a blended family, Mario and I would sometimes argue when we should have been working together. For some reason, the fights were more intense when we were supposed to be somewhere at a certain time. If we were expected at a family dinner, a holiday, and (most commonly) for church on Sunday mornings, Mario and I would sometimes arrive looking like two cats that had been through a car wash. We might have looked fairly put together on the outside, but we really struggled with the other person when we were under pressure to perform.
Most often, the behavior would surface on Sunday mornings. We would fight over seemingly trivial things: Which clothes should the kids wear? What should they eat? Why aren’t you helping? Who opened the peanut butter and spread it on the cat? Where is the baby’s new car seat? Once we were all in the car, Mario (who hated being late) would speed off to the destination, while I (who didn’t like to be rushed) would sit in the passenger seat, looking out the window. The kids knew better than to talk.
Other people pulled into the church parking lot in shiny vehicles, unloaded their children (who always seemed to be wearing matching outfits), and entered the building, ready to be happy.
“How are you guys doing?” our pastor, Rick, greeted us one day.
I was ready to say some bullshit thing—like Great! —but my face wasn’t cooperating. Mario blurted out: “We’re fighting again!”
Not just, We’re fighting, but again.
Rick looked sympathetic. “Oh, guys. Don’t fight.”
It was the most absurd thing to say. I looked at Mario, just to see if he thought the same thing. Instead, Mario looked at me and shrugged.
“Okay,” he said.
So, we dropped it.
I didn’t bring up later how I couldn’t just forgive him like that. I didn’t point out how I did most of the work, even though he was more alert in the morning. Nope. I just dropped it. Maybe it was a miracle, but I did.
Despite some really complicated personality differences, Mario and I rarely fight. I think we have moments of severe disagreements, but we’ve stopped attacking each other and speaking our mind without a filter. I have to remember that this is my guy, and he’s on my side. I also have to remember that he likes knowing what he’s supposed to do long before I want him to do it.
So, “Don’t fight” is actually pretty good advice. Disagree, yes. Fight, no.
3. Share Your Dreams (BTW, I have permission to tell this story 😁)
A friend of mine (Cindy) told me, at a BBQ, that she wasn’t talking to her boyfriend (Jake) because he’d taken apart the engine of his old Indian motorcycle that he was restoring, and spread it out on newspapers in the living room. She was almost crying, and I felt like clobbering Jake myself.
Later, Jake explained how he was only doing this because they had no garage, and he had chosen a spot in the house they never used (their pristine living room). He had taken great care to sort out the engine parts and lay down cardboard boxes and newspapers underneath them, so the grease wouldn’t stain the carpet—and it was only until the replacement engine parts were delivered.
What Cindy didn’t tell me is this: the Indian used to belong to Jake’s father, who had died the year before. It was Jake’s dream to restore the bike, so he could take a trip to the coast and spread his father’s ashes. What Jake didn’t tell me is this: he used the money he saved to take Cindy on a vacation to restore the bike. Now, without a vacation, and feeling less important than the Indian, Cindy had to look at the disassembled bike every day until the parts came.
Mario and I didn’t offer any advice to Jake and Cindy. They never asked us what to do, but I remember asking if the Indian restoration was a dream project.
Cindy answered, quickly: “Restoring that motorcycle is his dream. Not mine.”
Jake (a huge man with a full beard) suddenly looked five years old. “But I want you to support this dream,” he said. “That’s what you promised to do.”
Cindy looked at him and shook her head. “I will,” she said. “But the motorcycle is lying in parts all over our house. I wasn’t planning on that. That wasn’t part of this dream.”
Jake moved the parts to a friend’s garage until the parts came (which, btw, had to be flown in from the States and took three months to be delivered). After that, everything was better, kind of.
|ARC Graduation- June 2016|
|Sac State Graduation December 2017|
I decided to go back to college when I was fifty-two, for a variety of different reasons, but mainly because I always wanted to get an MFA (a Masters in Fine Arts). This meant I had to get an AA and a BA first. Mario and I agreed it would be a good time to go back to school. He supported me one hundred per cent and loved me at every turn. I had to work twice as hard as my younger classmates, whose brains were all beautifully elastic.
Here’s what Mario wasn’t planning on: the speed at which I attacked these degrees. I had seen (at 52) what interest-bearing student loans did to our children and I knew the faster I got the whole thing done, the better off we’d be. The pace of the combined degrees commandeered much of my energy, and it shows. The house is not exactly littered with greasy motorcycle parts, but our relationship, our social life, and life in general, has definitely changed.
Tonight, as we were eating tapas at a reserved table at Aïoli Bodega Española, a Spanish restaurant in midtown Sacramento, Mario said so.
“I can’t wait until this is all over,” he said. “The next six months are going to be critical.”
I agreed. We enjoyed our evening, but as I was writing this blog, I decided to go out and ask him if he feels like my dream has taken too much out of our family, our relationship, our lives.
“It’s not just your dream,” he said. “It’s our dream. We decided to do this together, and we’re doing it.”
“So, you don’t you feel cheated out of my time?” I asked him.
“No,” he said. “But there are days where you’re exhausted. There are days you don’t feel good about yourself. Those are the days I don’t like. Those are the days we need to pray harder.”
I agreed. I kissed him—and took a puff on his cigar—and came in to finish this.
There have been times when Mario has decided to go after a dream, and I’ve supported him. There’s something rewarding about the process, something that is key to happiness in a partnership. In his mind, this MFA is our shared dream.
It makes sense. Mario is wonderfully diligent in achieving the things we call dreams, so much so that he’s inspired me to realize my own. I feel blessed to share my life with him. I feel grateful that our time of dreaming has been clear and realized.
So, there it is. Mario and I are in our 32nd year being married on this earth, and this is the advice I’ve listed: Trust you’re okay. Don’t fight. Share your dreams.
Shoot. That’s pretty good advice...but it looks like nothing. In fact, it looks so simple, it’s almost irritating.