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Serge and Monica Bielanko

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Serge Bielanko spent nearly 15 years living in a van and cheap motel rooms as a guitarist/songwriter in a rock-n-roll band called Marah, before turning to marriage, parenthood, and writing. For the past several years, he has written about the humorous side of being a dad and a husband on his personal blog, Thunder Pie. In addition to writing daily for Babble Dad and Babble Voices (He Said/She Said), his writing has appeared in places like Esquire magazine and The Huffington Post. Nowadays, this 41-year-old dude spends way too much time working on his first book in his garage in central Pennsylvania, where he chases trout, drinks beer, and lives with his wife, the writer, Monica Bielanko, and their two kids, Violet and Henry.

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Zen and the Art of Marriage Maintenance: 10 Questions About True Love

By Serge Bielanko |

Groove Is In The Heart: me and my soul-mate, Monica.

Marriage is kind of a pickle, huh?

I mean, maybe not for everyone, but for a lot of people like me the union of “holy matrimony” can sometimes seem like an obstacle course set up all over the floor of my feeble mind.

Just when you get things going pretty good, just when you’re recovering from the latest challenge to be a decent partner-in-crime and in life, along comes another bunch of floating logs coated in bacon grease that you have to skip and slip across to meet your better half on the other side.

But, I think that maybe that’s what makes marriage something worth fighting for, right?

Nothing empowering or rewarding comes easy in this life now does it? There is no easy way to the big summits we try to climb in our time here on Earth and marriage is certainly one of the highest peaks we ever glance up at and say,” I’ll have some of that.” For a guy like me, it takes a lot of work to move from being an independently minded bachelor to someone whose very existence is suddenly stapled a trillion times to another person’s heart/soul/smile/dreams/ambitions/finances/and toothbrush holder.

Over the course of the last 8 years, I have been both a witness and a player in the game of marriage and I have come to spend a lot of time contemplating what it means to be ‘happily married’. I’m no expert, mind you, in fact, I’m far from it. But, like anyone else who believes two is better than one, and who believes that their own marriage is a puzzling shape-shifter worth working on day in and day, out I truly enjoy crawling up into my own head to spend time pondering what it is exactly that brings couples together.

And what it is that makes them last.

There are no easy answers, of course. Truth is, there are far more questions than easy solutions. But that’s what makes it so wonderfully challenging at the hardest points. And so damn awesome when things are going good.

So, pull up a chair, crack a beverage or three and – by all means – chime in when you feel so inclined. We’re talking marriage here today, people, and your answers are at least as good as mine.

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Searching For 'Happily Ever After': 10 Marriage Questions

Meant To Be

Do you believe in meant to be? Is it something real or is it an idealistic vision? And if it is real how often do people actually end up with the person they were 'meant to be with'? I think that I believe that it IS something real and that I DID end up with my proverbial soul mate, but I struggle with the reasons behind why I feel that way. Is it just a way of convincing myself that things are the way they are supposed to be, that I'm living the right life for me...or is it my guts telling me that I made all of the right moves when I got married?


You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.

And on Facebook and Twitter.

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More from Serge:

Big Daddy: The Life And Times Of A Beating Heart

No Neckties/No Cologne: 20 Father’s Day Gifts I Really Want

25 Things About My Daughter, Violet

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10 things you should never say to your husband…but probably do
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7 thing I wish I knew about men before I got married
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About Serge Bielanko


Serge Bielanko

Serge Bielanko writes about fatherhood for Babble Dad and about marriage stuff for Babble Voices at He Said/She Said. His writing has appeared in Esquire and The Huffington Post, as well as on his personal blog, Thunder Pie. He lives with his wife and two kids in central Pennsylvania. Read bio and latest posts → Read Serge's latest posts →

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7 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Marriage Maintenance: 10 Questions About True Love

  1. another monica says:

    wow, great questions… i’ve only been married (almost) 4 years, but these are issues that i recognize because they weigh so heavily on my own mind… i’m going to give this chiming in thing a try:

    soulmates: both my husband and i come from cultures where the idea of a soulmate is very important. it can cause crazy expectations of perfect understanding and marital bliss. i really don’t know if i married my soulmate, all i know is i married the guy who made me feel at home.

    redefining marriage: i don’t know if it’s the institution of marriage that needs redefining, or our own expectations of it. in the end, marriage is whatever the two people in it make of it. i come from a broken home, whilst my husband’s parents are still married, and most of my cues on how to work things out come from that example in my husband’s life. i have such a sense of “let’s get out of here before things turn really ugly”, and such a self imposed duty of not repeating my parent’s mistakes, that it makes it really hard for me to say “you know, things are bad right now, but there’s a lot of good and it’s ok to stay and figure this out”. my parent’s divorce has made everything very much all or nothing in my mind. am i being fulfilled? am i living the best version of my life/of myself that i can? is my partner happy?

    i feel like all of these potential issues for incompatibility, like money, or sex, or irritating habits, come from this very ingrained notion that unless we’re in the most active, aggressive pursuit of happiness all the time, we won’t be happy. it sounds idiotic seeing it in writing, but it’s like unless you’re a go-getter, always aware, always working on the endless array of issues and flaws, the ever elusive sense of fulfillment and contentment will remain permanently out of reach.

    it’s ok to not feel like soulmates all the time.
    maybe it’s more important to be on the same wavelength than on the same page.
    thinking of each other as equals, with respect, is more important than splitting everything 50/50 and keeping score. maybe thinking of fairness is more important than equality?
    change will ebb and flow over the course of a lifetime, and that’s fine.

    and it’s ok to hang in there and see what happens. there’s so much that is ultimately beyond our control.

    thanks for the food for thought! you’re a wonderful writer.

    1. Serge Bielanko says:

      Hi Monica. Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. Nice to read some other ideas…

  2. Kim Q says:

    I am just going to stick with the question about soul mates. I don’t believe in the idea of soul mates, because to me that means that our lives are not our own, that we have a pre-planned “destiny.” Is there one specific person I was destined to be with? I think not.

    Who I choose to be with is a choice, every single day. I have been married 12 years now, and while some days I like my husband more than others, I love him everyday. That is my choice. Is he my soul mate? I would say no. He is my life partner, not somebody that the universe thrust onto me. I think that makes it all the more special.

    1. Serge Bielanko says:

      I like the way you think, Kim Q. And I agree with you…it does make it all the more special. Thanks a lot for chiming in. Have a good one.

  3. Mary Barbera says:

    I agree with Kim Q. There are billions of people on the earth. To think that out of those billions just one will be the right match is wrong-headed. Certainly, some marriages should never have happened in the first place, but mostly, marriage is a promise to commit to one person for better or for worse, etc. I’ve been married for nearly 40 years. I was engaged at 19 and married at 20 to a guy who has doted on me from day one. We’ve had our ups and downs, gone from rags to riches, reared three wonderful kids and are enjoying our grandchildren. Although I worked a few years during our marriage, I was mostly a stay-at-home mom. I’ve done plenty of volunteer work, though. I think the younger generation worries a little too much about who is bringing home how much bacon. My husband made me breakfast every morning and packed my lunch when I was working. Often he helped with dinner. He also pitched in with laundry and other chores without me asking. He was a lawyer and later a CEO, but he never considered any job beneath him. I chose to stay at home when child care took most of my private school teacher salary. It was more economical to be home with the kids. My daughters are the major bread-winners in their families, but they are married to wonderful family-oriented men who are terrific fathers. Couples need to find out what works best for them and to value the person they married.

  4. Rachel V. says:

    I find the question of Soul Mates to be quite interesting – mainly because of how my husband & I came to be together. We met for the first time via email, through a college class assignment early one spring semester. We had to email students from other class sections as part of one of our Elem. Ed. classes. I arrived for class and had a note from him ( he had the 8:30 class – I had the 10:00). I had no clue who he was. He hadn’t even signed his name to the friendly little note he sent. An odd feeling washed over me – I instantly felt that I had to know this person for some reason – something strange that I had never felt before. I even told my roommates about it when I got home from class. We continuted to email back & forth for class, and a month or two later, we ended up assigned to the same field experience group with elementary classrooms right beside one another. When I attended our first group meeting, I saw his name on the list posted at the door. As I entered the room, I immediatley knew who he was without ever having any sort of description to go from. I zeroed in on him without even looking around the room. It was as if someone/thing was guiding me to him. We became friends through hanging out for lunch times & car pooling to our assigned elementary school from campus. Even the other girls in our car pool group and our feidl supervisor noticed something and joked about our uncanny connection from day one. We didn’t start dating until July of that summer break. After having been apart with no communication for nearly 1 1/2 months, I got a call from him out of the blue. We’ve been together now for nearly 18 years (married for 12 1/2). I still feel that attraction to him as though it was the day I read his first anonymous email in college.

  5. amber says:

    I think, maybe, the primary difference between us and older generations is, perhaps, we think about it too much. Back then, it just “was” (as my grandma would say). That is to say, we over analyze the situation.

    I don’t think too much has changed about the actual institution of marriage, but the values society emphasizes have. We are much more me, me, me than older generations were. That’s a hard habit to break to when we become a we, we, we instead.

    I think 50/50 is an ideal to reach for, but needs to come with an understanding that there will be a constant flopping back and forth – sometimes it may be 70/30 or even 80/20 depending on situations/work challenges/emergencies etc., but as long as it flips the other way too – it’s fair. Personally, I prefer not to go with a 50/50 thought process but with a strengths and weakness model instead.

    We are the sum of our experiences. As marriage is a part of our experiences, it is reasonable to expect that marriage will change you to some degree, and that’s ok. We are not static beings. It’s a natural progression of life. But as long as the destination you both want to arrive at is still the same place – differences in how you get there can be worked through.

    I hate that money seems to be the breaking point for so many couples. My boo is a firefighter and I’m student advocate/learning specialist/special needs tutor in private practice that works kinda sporadically. We are no strangers to the “butt pucker” effect living paycheck to paycheck brings. We have 3 kids in a 900 sq ft 2 bedroom house. There are plenty of things we’d love to have, love to give our kids, love to do, but it’s not realistic. The toughest personal battles we fought were learning to want what we have and be happy with it. It can be done. I found when we turned off the cable, that everyone was happier. It took a few months, but the kids stopped asking for things, and asked for our time instead. We stopped comparing ourselves to fake version on a tv and are much, much happier for it.

    Kids. Yes, they change everything about you. About us. In our case, I think for the better. We had a few health challenges with our oldest and it served to unite us in a purpose, and goal. We were now examples so we found ourselves being kinder and more considerate of each other. We spoke more lovingly to each other, more respectfully of others, and were more joyful in general. Not to say we don’t bicker anymore, but we wait until the kids are asleep…and often by the time that much time has gone by, we have decided it wasn’t important and moved on, or we discuss it – but aren’t completely inflamed by it.

    I agree with a previous poster. The most important things to remember are to show love, and respect everyday. Be trustworthy and give trust to your spouse. And most importantly — honor the commitment you made.

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