The Darwins write about the work of marriage:
Used to be that when people would make a remark about family size or me being pregnant again, I'd say, "Oh, what's one more?" In a sense, that's true -- if you have a crowd, one more isn't going to make much difference. And yet one more person makes a lot of difference. When you have teenagers trying to talk to you about teenage problems while a ten-year-old and seven-year-old are sparring and a six-year-old has her own complaints and the two-year-old's new hobby is sitting inside the fridge, and they all want to tell you about it at one time, then one more is an awful lot. One more activity, one more drama -- it's a lot.
For years I used to scoff at the notion that marriage was work. But you know? It is work. Not bad work, but necessary work, if one isn't going to sink in a sea of daily fuss and busyness, and emerge on different life rafts, floating near each other but not quite together. To stay united is work. To maintain a family is work. Everything this side of heaven is work, the daily bread earned by the sweat of our brow.
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Before I got married, I was warned that it would take a lot of work, this marriage thing, to succeed. In fact, I was told not to expect my marriage to last very long at all.
That warning turned out to be overkill.
On the other hand, I don't feel I was adequately warned about how much laundry there would be. I am a great ignorer of laundry. But then, it turned out that my husband is not an ignorer of laundry. He very kindly refrains from complaining about it on Saturday mornings, while he carries baskets about and sorts. I should remember to say "thank you for doing the laundry" more often. I thank him for many things, but not enough for the laundry, probably because I have forgotten it was ever there, because nobody warned me about it.
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In my experience, the people who usually write or say "Marriage is hard work" are almost never talking about the rolled-up-sleeves work of supporting and running a home and a family. Which is funny, because from my perspective -- that is where all the work has been!
It's unusual these days, the belief that the purpose of marriage is to create and maintain a home where children and adults can thrive, and -- should they come along one way or another, unexpected or no -- to give those children in particular what they need to thrive. For those of us who still hold to it, the "work" of marriage is or should be consubstantial with the work of supporting and running that home and family.
But if you google "marriage is hard work" you find that people mean "weathering stormy periods," "making life-altering decisions," "recognizing that you have to accept the good and the bad."
Oddly enough sometimes they seem to mean "going out on dates" and "having meaningful conversations." A good gig if you can get it.
I'm paging through articles -- you can do the same -- even for articles that are written by parents who mention how tough it is to care for a bunch of little kids, they aren't dignifying their daily work by identifying it with the "hard work of marriage." By that phrase they mean things like "ridiculous fights over nothing" and "talking our relationship out of a hole" and "hours wasted angry at my spouse." They don't mean settling squabbles and cleaning up the kitchen.
The work that brings in the paycheck that feeds and clothes the children doesn't get a nod either, but how can that not be "hard work" that is part of the work of the marriage?
It's like the term "hard work," applied to marriage, is actually just a metaphor for managing stress and anger and interpersonal conflict.
Don't get me wrong, that is a necessary part of making the home and family a place where children and adults can thrive. But really, the kind of work that marriage requires is mopping the floor, and cleaning the toilets, and trying to fix the garage door, and calling in a professional to really fix the garage door, and sitting in commuter traffic, and mowing the lawn, and standing at the stove, and holding people's hair while they vomit, and updating the budget spreadsheet, and teaching the children. Marriage requires hard work that is actually work in the sense of economically productive labor, the purpose of which is always and everywhere to support families.
It isn't a freaking metaphor. Or at least it isn't only a metaphor.
All marriages require work. Some marriages also require frequent management of interpersonal conflict, which is not at all surprising because people are involved. Pretty much every human relationship requires some management of interpersonal conflict, of course, but for lots of us -- with the help of aligned values, grace, and habitual respect, gratitude, and good will -- the so-called "hard work of marriage" isn't actually the hard part.