When I first met my now husband 15 years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What started as a high school crush on a handsome, incredibly charming college student quickly evolved into a long distance relationship that resulted in us getting engaged, married, and starting a family eight years later. And while there are still times I catch myself stealing glances at him and feeling those all too familiar butterflies in my stomach, there are also times when the best word to describe our marriage is simply “hard.”
That’s why a now viral post by Nikki Pennington, of Grief to Hope, has not just me, but married couples everywhere nodding along in agreement as she expertly debunks the myth that there’s a “one-size fit all” secret to a successful marriage. Pennington, who has been with her husband since they were teenagers, explains that she’s often asked what the secret to a happy marriage is, and her answer is simple — there isn’t one.
“I know the typical responses,” she writes, “from ‘don’t go to bed angry’ or ‘always say I love you before you leave.'” But that’s when she gets real: “You guys, do you know how many times in 11 years Jer has taken residency on the couch prior to us having kids because we were mad? Do you know how many times he’s left without us saying ‘I love you’ because kids and life. His way of saying ‘I love you’ some mornings is letting me sleep in when he leaves and everyone is still asleep.”
Pennington tells Babble that she felt inspired to write the post “after seeing everyone post all the highlights and picture perfect parts of marriage on social media.” She wanted to write something that spoke to the reality of marriage, because as anyone who’s married truly knows, “marriage is hard.”
As the post continues, she points out that maybe, the true secret of a successful marriage is to simply try — as hard as you can — every single day.
“It’s a get up and try again over and over every damn day [thing],” writes Pennington. “It’s hanging on tight when you are young, newly married and living on frozen dinners because it’s all you can afford. It’s staying up all night in tears with your first newborn child because you both are over tired, overwhelmed, and scared to death but you are in it together. It’s counting pennies when you are young so that you can build a life together for your future family. It’s about knowing that nothing is going to turn out perfect, that your marriage won’t be a highlight reel because that’s not real life. It’s about being deep in the trenches of so many obstacles that life could throw you and getting to look over and know that you aren’t alone and that your best friend is walking it with you. It’s about knowing that you can never be prepared for the burdens you might have to help your partner carry but you do know you are willing to be there when they need rest from the burden. Just try every single day, in the trenches and on top of the mountains don’t ever stop. Because stopping, that’s one thing that isn’t a secret, it will make you fail.”
As someone whose been with my husband for almost half my life so far, Pennington’s words resonate with me deeply, and bring up so many memories of just how far we’ve come together — the excitement of being newlyweds, the stress of being young and broke and struggling to buy our first home, the terrifying, beautiful moment we became parents, and the countless times one of us had to be strong so the other could fall apart.
“I hope that people see that just because something isn’t always picture perfect, doesn’t mean it isn’t really amazing,” Pennington tells Babble. “I hope they see that just because their marriage doesn’t look like someone else’s, it doesn’t mean it’s not great in its own right.”