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What giant step did you take where you hoped your leg wouldn’t break? Was it worth it, were you successful in walking on the moon, or did your leg break?

The biggest risk the majority of people take is getting married. It’s a giant step to decide that you want to spend the rest of your life with one person, excluding all others. It’s risky entrusting your heart and soul, feelings and beliefs, to one special person. It’s hard to let yourself be vulnerable to another human being. Of course, the other person is doing this, too. So there’s risk and obligation.

Marriage starts out with a victory. Hopefully each person feels that he or she has won what he/she wants most: the heart and hand of his/her beloved. Some people have already lived together, or have known each other a long time and know the other person well enough to minimize the risk. Knowing each other’s faults, habits and quirks, and accepting them unconditionally is a big first step. Does that mean one won’t work to get his/her spouse to stop biting his/her nails — no, not if it’s out of concern for the other, and not oneself.

While believing marriage is for life, I’ve suffered some emotional bumps and bruises along the way, and wondered sometimes if a lifetime was too long. I’m sure my husband has, too. I think it’s rare if that doesn’t happen. You have to make some changes to get along in a relationship, but you can’t change the essential self that’s YOU. Nor can you expect your spouse to change to suit you. Life and marriage are a constant series of compromises, subtle changes, and winning and losing at times.

A good marriage allows each person to develop his or her own talents, capabilities, and dreams as far as possible — to become the best person she or he can be. That “best person” does include being a good spouse, being caring, considerate, involved, and saying “I love you once a day,” and bestowing hugs. Some days just feel too full to do this; we get wrapped up in our own world, and when children come, as they usually do, the days become longer, fuller, and more complicated, and the moments a husband and wife spend concentrating on each other’s wants and needs, more rare.

Children can also strengthen the bond: you’ve created something unique together, and while you sort out who the baby most looks like, whose personality he or she has, or where the red hair came from, you discover that you’ve got a whole new person on your hands with his or her own personality even if she looks like sweet Aunt Sally.

Discovery — as you discover things about each other, and your children, your life changes. As you become a family, there’s more we than I, and more common goals emerge. Also more arguments arise, but I’ve found that the balance of two parents and the development of their roles in raising the kids is usually beneficial. (Arguing should never be in front of the children or within their hearing range.)

Happiness — so hard to achieve. And even tougher to realize that each person is responsible for his or her own happiness. In a marriage or any relationship, we have to cull out the best and “leave the rest”. We have to find out what we need to make us happy and go after it, not to the exclusion of others in the family, but with their support and encouragement. That means making it clear what one needs, and what help is required to achieve personal goals and happiness. A spouse is not there to make you happy (though it’s great if he or she is able to do that just by being there), but to facilitate the other’s growth within the framework of the family.

We all ran into this with parents — your extended family once one is married. They can give you what you need to succeed, but they can’t make you do it. It’s easier to appreciate this in hindsight.

Marriage: it is the best times and the worst of times, to paraphrase Dickens opening to A Tale Of Two Cities. Marriage is a microcosm of life on intimate terms. You have to go with the flow, fight for what you want, give in now and then, be strong, be unconditionally loving, be respectful of the other as a unique person, listen to criticism taking to heart what’s valid and trash the hurtful.

As we have grown older together, the sharp edges have been smoothed away. Now with grandchildren, family has taken on a deeper meaning. It’s been worth the work, the love, and occasional hard times to get here, and I’m glad we are.

On a lighter note, recently I went on a short cruise to the Bahamas with my sister in Florida. I asked my husband if he minded if I went, and he was pleased to let me go. There is another dimension to this: he knew I would enjoy a cruise, and he is sure he would not. Good compromise. While on the cruise, we disembarked at Nassau, and after leaving the ship I spied motor scooters. I’ve always wanted to ride one, and they’re common in the Bahamas. I cast fate to the wind (at age 66), convinced my sister we could do it, and off we went for two hours after 15 minutes of instruction. What a joy it was trying something new, slightly scary, and living through it. No broken limbs either! Thanks, dear husband, for letting me try new things!

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