It is my privilege to bring you a guest post from the talented and inspirational Shawna Ayoub Ainslie. Shawna is a writer and coach who teaches expressive writing for release and recovery. This post is part of her Survive Your Story Guest Exchange. Her work has appeared in Huffington Post, Mogul, Stigma Fighters, Role Reboot, [wherever] and The Manifest-Station among other places. When she’s not editing Open Thought Vortex Magazine, you can find on Twitter, Facebook or hosting #LinkYourLife.
I married my husband for two reasons. The first was that I loved him. And because I loved him, the second was that I had to.
When we met, we were high schoolers. I lived with an abusive and conservatively religious family. In order to love Nathan, I had to commit to him in God’s eyes (or reject my family and faith and be outcast). While we were raised under different religious ideologies, Nathan was taught he needed to make the same commitment to anyone he loved. So, at eighteen, we tied the knot under God and left for college together. Our union made a safe exit for me; a way to continue my life beyond my family home and begin the long process of discovering my own beliefs and desires and recovering from the ones forced on me.
Nathan was a way out.
My husband’s family is successful, stable and upper, middle class. They didn’t know my (her)story, but they fed me, clothed me and made sure I had extra money and transportation when I needed it. I think they did this for every child that arrived under their roof. I’m not certain they ever realized how much they were taking care of me, or how much I needed it. They just did it. Falling in love with Nathan was me falling in love with them because I recognized the potential for a long-term support system built on compassion, something I had only previously seen in movies or read about in books.
We have been together for more than half our lives. I asked him recently why he thought our marriage has lasted.
“We are willing to put the work in,” he said.
He’s right. We have put a lot of time into us. We always put our kids to bed between 7 and 8 so we can spend evenings together. We give each other a night off during the week. It’s just as important to spend time apart as it is together. We go to counseling
when we need it. We ask for help when we need it.
There have definitely been times when we needed it. After all, we married so young that we have essentially grown up together. We have three children, and both Nathan and I have been through a roller coaster of health challenges. More than once it looked like we would say goodbye to each other, but then one of us would pony up and ask, “Hey. What’s happening here? How can we fix it?”
While my family was an impetus for me to get married to escape, they have also become a support for us to stay married. Why? Because we have advocated for ourselves. As an adult, I am able to set the terms of my interactions and family dynamic. If my family chooses to oust me at this point, I am safe and able to take care of myself.
Fortunately, my family has chosen to work on ousting their negative patterns so we can all support one another in being as healthy as we are able. When possible, they give us a break from the kids or shoot a little cash our way to help us with unexpected expenses. Even better, they believe in our marriage and aren’t afraid to tell me if they see me being unreasonable. I wish I could say that it never happened, but it does. And it’s important that my parents point it out. They are intimate with their own faults and are anxious to see me not repeat them.
Possibly the most important piece of stability in our marriage is that I recognize the immense impact of those historical negative patterns on my present relationship with Nathan and I prioritize him. It would hurt more than a little to say goodbye to my parents, but I will choose a healthy relationship based on mutual respect and compassion over living their negative story.
I still remember trying to provoke Nathan to hit me during a fight early on in our marriage. He asked, “Why do you want me to hurt you?”
I said, “So I know that you love me.”
It’s strange, because my parents never struck each other physically, but they did their best to wound. Now they do their best to heal just as I am doing my best to move past their early example. Nathan’s parents continue to set a steady, positive example. When I start to lose my footing, I am grateful I have two effort-filled examples to lean on. We are all better off extending love no matter how much work it takes. And, in my experience, marriage takes a lot of work.
Please leave a few thoughts in the comments.
This Friday I will be guest posting on Shawna’s site: The Honeyed Quill – Look for my new post Just enough Shit to Bloom