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My parents have been married for more than 40 years. 40 years. That's my entire life and then some. As my husband, Joseph, and I approach our 12th year, I can't help but wonder sometimes about how my parents have managed to make it work for more than four decades.
My parents don't have a secret formula. Their love isn't anything rom-coms are made of. They're an average, old-school Puerto Rican couple. My dad worked, my mom stayed home with the kids, and their roles were very defined.
As a kid, I spent whole afternoons flipping through albums filled with pictures of my parents and their life together before kids. My favorite photo was of my parents in midtown Manhattan, my mother's shoulder-length hair in pigtails, wearing fitted bell bottom jeans, a peasant top and platform heels, my dad in his meticulously pressed khaki pants. They were arm in arm, smiling, my mother's head leaning on my dad's shoulder.
Even then, I knew the loving couple in the picture weren't the people I lived with. My parents fought over money, family, parenting issues and all the little things that most couples fight about. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all bad. We did things as a family and there were moments when my parents laughed and reminisced, and I caught glimpses of who they used to be. But they fought often enough, that at 11 years-old, I asked my mother if she ever considered divorce. (I'll spare you my mother's response, but needless to say, she didn't like being questioned.)
Traditional or modern, marriage is still marriage. And marriage is work 'til death do you part.
What the hell did I know about marriage or what "for better or for worse" meant at that age?
My husband, Joseph, and I have had our fair share of fights. Raising a kid with autism adds an additional layer of marital stress. We fight about money, laundry and who's making dinner. We've gone to bed angry and stopped talking for days. There are moments in the midst of an argument when I think to myself, "dear lord, we've become my parents."
Well, that's not really true. Unlike my parents, our marriage isn't bound by defined roles. I consider us to be equal partners. But traditional or modern, marriage is still marriage. And marriage is work "'til death do you part."
My parents are now in their 70s and they've shared more than half of their lives together. As their daughter, it's been interesting to see how their relationship has evolved. They were always private people who didn't talk much about their hopes, feelings or even their childhoods. I learned about them through the family photo albums. As I got older, my parents (and other family members) shared stories about their early years together, the breakups and reconciliations. I remember family outings, my ears would perk up when I heard one of them say, "remember when..."
Falling in love is easy, it's the marriage and staying in love that's hard.
And as a married woman, I see my parents differently. I understand them. Over the years, they've learned to accept and respect each other's differences. They learned to appreciate each other's strengths and weaknesses. Looking back, I can see the unbreakable bond they shared — and it wasn't just about the kids. It was based on the life they committed to building together and the future they longed to have. I think that's what kept them together. Because even when they fought — even when they may not have been in love — they always loved each other.
Last month, we went out for dinner with my parents. I watched as they laughed and joked around. They talked about the movie they recently saw and their plans to go to the casino later that evening. I realized how different they were. They had become more like the couple in the photographs than the parents I grew up with. Or maybe they returned to the people they once were without the worry those first decades of marriage and parenthood can bring. I'm not saying my parents' marriage is perfect now that they've reached their golden years, but it's obvious they still enjoy each other's company.
Falling in love is easy, it's the marriage and staying in love that's hard. There are days when it's just downright exhausting. Days when giving up is so much easier than holding it down. As a kid, it seemed so easy for my parents to just give up. I know that not all marriages work out, and I recognize that not all couples can (or should) stay together. But I'm happy my parents did because seeing the ups and downs of their marriage has made me appreciate what it really takes to make my own marriage work.