I fell in love with Mario when I was a 23-year-old single mother, insecure, and afraid of losing everything. I clung to him, even though I knew he would leave me eventually.
He wasn't like most guys I knew. He respected me, for starters. He suggested I go to counseling, with a licensed professional, and offered to pay. He loved Vince, sincerely, and took him into consideration when we had dinner plans.
"Let's go to Cindy's," Mario would say, referring to a local coffee shop. "They have high chairs."
It was odd and beautiful and wonderful to date him. I wanted to believe he was my forever person, but I didn't trust it. Things were too good... So, when we got married, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world, even when I knew it would end.
Fast-forward to 1992, when Mario and I had been married for five years. We still loved each other, but life was not easy. Kids, pressures of the blended families, work concerns, fights, exhaustion, and expectations for happiness weighed heavy on us. We were on the brink of divorce. Together, we lived with our two (and sometimes four) children, in a beautiful house, somewhat financially stable--but we were both discouraged. Did we really have what it's took to keep a marriage together? We knew that love alone wasn't enough to sustain our relationship, let alone make us happy.
One day in 1992, Mario came home from work, stood in the kitchen, where I was loading the dishwasher, and told me he had booked a week long 'intensive counseling vacation."
"We're going," Mario said. "That's it, and that's final."
As he walked away, I felt relieved. At least we're not getting divorced.
This watershed moment, a mere five years into our marriage, marked the enduring mindset that continues to inform our partnership. When we need help, and we still do, we know where to get it. Good counsel offered us strategies, as well as mindsets, to help us grow stronger together.
Today, Mario and I went to out to lunch at a coffee shop near us that reminds me of Cindy's, the unpretentious cafe we frequented when we were dating. It serves breakfast all day and Mario loves breakfast. After this, we visited friends in Folsom, who we love and cherish.
"Someone once told me the secret of a long and happy marriage," one of them said. "It is to accept the fact that you'll have three or four marriages inside of yours over the years."
I thought about it for a second, then said, "Shoot, that's me in one day."
The real secret to a happy marriage is that there is no secret. Like everything else, marriage reflects what we put into it. If you and your partner recognize the marriage as a partnership, a contract, a sacred covenant worth preserving, you're already ahead of the game.
If you have a partner like Mario, it really helps, too. No matter what, he always remembers the source of our strength. Even today, as he heard my friend tell us her secret of a happy marriage, he smiled at me. Just earlier, at the diner, he told me what he thought was the secret of our thirty-six year marriage enduring, even through the horrible trials we've encountered.
"There's only one reason we're still together," he said. "That's Jesus."
Even writing this here seems cheap. What Mario said can be seen as religious or reductive, unless you are us. Mario said this with sincerity. It hovered over my head like a hummingbird. It was tender, like a small flower that isn't supposed to survive a hailstorm or a tornado. Our shared faith was not the only thing he was referring to--it was divine intervention. He said this with all humility, and he meant it. And you know what? I believe he's right.