15 things I’ve learned over 15 years of questionable marriage

by Janelle Hanchett

1. The top-secret trick to staying married is not getting divorced. (You can thank me later for that little gem.)

2. Sometimes, the reason you don’t get divorced is because the thought of going through this process with yet another human makes you want to bury yourself alive. And yet, that is somehow enough.

3. The thing nobody tells you though is that if you keep going for whatever reason, you may wake up one day and realize all the shit that used to plague you is gone, though it hasn’t necessarily been resolved. You just don’t care anymore and it’s freeing as hell.

4. I spent a lot of years trying to change Mac into more of what I had in mind. Eventually I realized there is one question to ask myself: “Are his flaws deal-breakers?” If yes, leave. If not, accept that shit and move on. HE WILL NEVER ORGANIZE THE CLOSETS, JANELLE. But you will probably always yell on Sundays.

5. Playing the “who’s a bigger dick/does more work” score-keeping game ends in nothing but hellish resentment (and somehow me always being the “better partner” even though let’s be honest I’m pretty much always the asshole). For example: “I did the dishes 9 times so you owe me 6 laundry loads also I birthed the children so you owe me your entire goddamn life but then again you have done ironwork for 10 years to support us but still I’m higher on the pole of marital glory because, well, from my perspective I’m the victim here. Also, I multi-task and you can’t find shit in the fridge. Ever.” No. This is a pointless routine. He sucks and I suck but we suck differently and therefore we will be perpetually annoyed. Cool. Now let’s watch Netflix. (Also, sometimes I AM in fact capable of doing more and sometimes HE is. There is balance, but never spreadsheet “equality.”)

6. It’s not about deciding how I need to be loved and punishing him for failing to meet my fantasy. It’s about opening myself to the ways he shows love, in gestures and songs and movements perhaps I never even thought of, and could never see before because I was too damn busy focusing on the ways he was failing. Mad love is built, not found.

7. In related news: I thought partners were supposed to “fulfill me” and “make me whole.” Now I know I have to make myself whole so I can love another completely.

8. You can base an entire marriage on friendship and it will still mostly work, even if you suck at being adult life partners (e.g. “sound decision-making,” general maturity, budgeting, “household organization,” keeping dog shit off the lawn, et fucking cetera). Last weekend we celebrated our anniversary by Christmas shopping for our kids, eating sushi, and hanging out in a hotel room naked watching movies and eating gummy bears in bed. We are really good at hanging out, and sometimes that’s all we’re good at, but it’s ENOUGH.

9. Which reminds me: Fuck Hallmark cards. Fuck Meg Ryan movies. Fuck commercials. Fuck the neighbor’s marriage. Fuck all the comparisons. We are us.

10. Kids don’t make a marriage better, but they sure as hell make it bigger.

11. When I focus on not being a dick, somehow my husband becomes less of a dick. (Weird.)

12. Once, Mac told me, “I can always trust you to be exactly who you are” and that’s the most romantic thing he’s ever said because he trusts me to be me and sticks around anyway.

13. The other day, after helping me the ten-thousandth time with the same ridiculous task, Mac teased me but said, “It’s okay, Janelle. I will always help you again.”

14. And I think that is what this whole thing becomes: Two people who say, “I will always help you again.” I will always come back, come near and come close, to be with you because you are you, and I am me, and together we have something worth keeping.

15. I always thought love felt like floating in the clouds. Now I know it feels like the ground beneath my feet, and the sense of a friend sharing the sunlight.

Happy 15 years, Mac.

I will always help you again.

oh, and you can start your marriage drunk, stoned, and too young, and still turn out alright. THEY LIED. ALL OF THEM. (Don’t do drugs, kids.)


51 Comments | Posted in cohabitating with a man. | December 19, 2016
  • Sherry

    Lots of great stuff here. I spend most of my days wanting to punch my husband in the throat. I need to re-evaluate my attitude. Thanks for the list of how to get my shit started!

  • Jennifer B. / Brooklyn

    Could you have described my marriage more exactly? No. Could I be bawling any harder? Maybe just a little, but not very damn much. Happy anniversary, you two. (Also, I’m pretty much always the asshole, too. Maybe that’s another secret? Probably not.)

  • Daria

    Yes. All the Yes. How do you know so much about my marriage?
    Thanks for making me feel less alone 😉

  • Ellen Ger

    Wonderful as usual. I realized after 38 years of marriage, I never knew enough about love to ever get divorced. Death took him from me and now I wish I could find another one just like him.

  • Kate

    Love this honesty, thank you, also makes me think of Joni Mitchell
    “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
    From up and down and still somehow
    It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
    I really don’t know clouds at all”

  • Aimee

    Well, that’s just fucking adorable!

  • Sara W.

    This is the realest thing ever. Completely true.

  • Peggy Miller

    You guys were/are crazy cute. It’s a good perk. Thank you.

  • Kay

    ^^^So much this!! Hubby and I just celebrated 10 years this weekend. We did a couple of things while out of town but mostly watched HGTV in bed, half dressed and shoving junk food into our faces. 2016 kicked our asses, not because of marriage but because sometimes life in general is a bitch. 2016 sucked. But we survived. And we decided to celebrate by sleeping and getting even fatter. You know what? It was just what we needed. Rock on.

  • Kristen

    This! I love this, thank you for being so honest. “It’s not about deciding how I need to be loved and punishing him for failing to meet my fantasy.” Makes me reevaluate my own attitude and my asshole ways that I treat my husband at times. Happy Anniversary!


    My wife and I believe #1 is a big part of staying married.

    But I love #2. It is so true! The idea of doing it all over with a stranger! AND HAVING TO SHARE CUSTODY WITH THIS PERSON?! Might as well just cut out the other person and make the marriage work.

  • Renee

    Do you know the old saying, “you always hurt the one you love?” After 43 years of marriage, I have to remind my husband of that daily. He brings out the worst in me but he always brings out the best as well. I really don’t know where I would be without him. Happy 15th Anniversary Mac and Janelle – may you love/hate each other for the next 50 years!

  • Dani

    I’m sending this to my might-as-well-be-husband. In two days we’ll be celebrating 12 years together – and by celebrating, I mean forgetting all about it until we panic-remember on the 27th because who the bloody hell can manage to remember a date so close to Christmas?

    I’m going to send this to him and apologise for my inability to behave and realise what you realised in number 5.

  • Beth

    So, thanks for the stunning analysis of my marriage. Are you friends with the goddamned elf and you’re spying on me or what?? The only reason I’m still married is #1. And a lot of #2. I mean, A LOT of #2. If we do ever go through with a divorce, I can’t imagine ever getting married again. We’re about 3 months shy of 15 years, and I’m more surprised than anyone I/we’ve made it this far. It hasn’t been easy, often has been shitty, we seem to be in a lull at the moment. I guess I’m glad I haven’t left, I’m totally amazed he hasn’t left this big jerk, but here we are. Stop fucking spying on me.

  • Ruth

    This is truth. Every word. I will come back to this myself, and point people in the direction of this post, for years to come.

  • Peggy

    With 41 years behind me and my darling husband. I must say! WELL SAID!

  • Debbie

    Well-written. Some good points to ponder. I have been married for 30 years and like you have 4 kids. Marriage is certainly not what I had expected it to be and my husband did not fulfil me like I expected him to. But despite all our arguing, bitching, insulting throwing and whatever else, I know that my husband too will always help me again. Sigh.
    Numbers 6, 7 and 11 really resonate with me.
    Happy anniversary.

  • Elaine Alguire

    These are all great but number 7 is THE key to it all, in my opinion. Take it from a divorced lady who had to find herself to find love again.

    Happy Anniversary.

  • Ellen

    LOVE this all. Especially “mad love is built, not found.” word. thank you!

  • Lee

    This is very timely. I love it.

  • Lisa J

    Happy Anniversary! Thanks again for sharing your life with us, always a good time.

  • Appreciative

    I have only been married 4 days and I needed this. I have been wondering why people do it. Nothing is wrong, but this agreement is not easy. Why do we get married? I am not sure that your article answers this for me, and I have not been able to answer for myself, but from you, commenters and even others I have been brave enough to talk to, I know I am not alone.

    • Gypsy

      Appreciative, I spent the entire first year of my marriage thinking I had made a terrible mistake. I was seething inside over so many of these things. Nobody warned me how hard it would be. Now, we’ve been married for 16 years, have 2 amazing kids, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Hang in there. It’s a huge learning curve, but worth it. <3

  • Kitty

    Thanks for a really lovely post – you’ve put into words serval things that I’m only starting to realize (a mere 10 years in), especially No.6: it was a real game changer for me when I realised exactly how much I was fixing what should and shouldn’t be in my head versus what I actually had. Also No.11 about being less of a dick- so hard to see when we’re in the midst of a pre-mens semi-rational fury, but so true! Great blog, great post, thanks again!

  • Melissa

    So tonight my 5 yr-old had an epic tantrum that woke her 2 yr-old twin sisters, who resoundly rejected me, wanting only daddy when I went in to calm them, and sent me into one of those rages where you seriously want to throw shit at the wall repeatedly because you’re like one of those cartoon bulls whose eyes have turned completely blood red. And when I threw open the sliding door to screech at my husband, who was innocently smoking a cigarette, to come tame our fucking raging insane children, do you know what he did? He calmly came inside and took care of business so I could suck down half a bottle of wine and get my shit together. That’s marriage, my friends.

  • Katy

    You’re brilliant. This is all true. Happy anniversary!

  • Cassey

    Happy 15 😀

  • Michael

    One of the things I do with my time is ultra-endurance bicycle riding. A hundred, two, maybe three hundred miles at a crack. People ask me why I do such things and I tell them I don’t know. But one thing I can tell them is that every ride that long has its high points, but also its low points where you’re wondering why you’re doing this or how you can be so stupid and you just want to quit and be done and get a ride home in a nice plush car to take a hot shower and have a cocktail. But you keep going even to the point of fixing your bike if it breaks and then you finish even though the rest of the ride kind of sucked and you’re dirty and starving but there you are, you did it. You got to see stuff that the people who quit didn’t get to see…the moonrise, the fog on the fields, the birds waking up, the peepers singing at the stars.

    The other day our yoga teacher reminded us that we don’t usually know what the real lesson is even going to be until after we’ve learned it.

    I really appreciate you reminding me that marriage is a really, really long ride to destination unknown.

    • Susan Carroll

      “We don’t usually know that the real lesson is even going to be until after we’ve learned it.” Your yoga teacher is really, really wise.

  • Carly

    Fuck. Stop making me cry at work.

    Also, beautiful words.

  • Steve Pearce

    God never said it would be easy, but a good marriage is the most wonderful
    and peaceful thing in the world. Problems? Darn right, but when they are solved together they become strengths.
    To face life alone one day, and most of us will have to, is unthinkable. Thinking upon this helps me/us get through the tough times.
    “And He created them man and woman”: Some make funny sayings about this, but I suspect “He” knew what He was doing. He sure did for me, and I hope for anyone who is reading this. Merry Christmas to all. Steve

  • Angie

    Just got to a year and a half of marriage and #5 has almost ruined our marriage several times. Finally, FINALLY, got to the point of saying we’ll just do everything together to stop the score keeping nightmare. I would add to this that retaliation for not pulling your weight (at least according to you partner) or when trying to point out the flaws of the other have equally detrimental results.

    Spot on, as usual!! Congratulations on your 15 years of slogging through the trenches and maintaining your grip on each other!

  • Marybeth

    Wow…thank you for the perspective. More importantly, thanks for the Christmas present for my husband. I, too, am often the dick, although I will adamantly deny that tomorrow.

  • Gault Falcon

    If only:

    1. Our parents taught us how to responsibly enjoy alcohol so that…

    2. We didn’t use it to fill the giant hole left in our soul by the fact that we left home without ever knowing love.

    Point number seven in your post alludes to the most important thing in life. You have to love who you are without anything or anyone else.

    When we are children love is like kindling in an unlit campfire. Someone, preferably two parents, has to light this precursor to what can be a roaring inferno of love. A fire so hot that it warms others in your presence and makes them want to know you.

    Alas, in most of us, this fire was only partially lit, or never lit at all, leaving a hole that we don’t understand or sometimes even know we have. So, we fill the hole with things that we think make us happy. Alcohol, drugs, food, meaningless sexual encounters, relationships with other loveless people, etc..

    Oh the irony. Let’s mix an unloved, inexperienced youth that doesn’t love themselves with drugs, alcohol, sex, addictive junk food and then have them start making decisions about what are supposed to be life long relationship decisions and procreation. Time to each get drunk and get matching tattoos of the other person’s name on a visible body part. Fun times!

    What a cruel trick life has in store for so many of us. Let’s not even get into the societal and cultural problems/decay this dysfunction at a personal level creates.

    What a coup that you have discovered number seven. Congratulations. You are a person now capable of self love and, most importantly, of lighting this fire in others. Based on many of the comments after your post I’d bet you probably are already a pretty good fire starter. One down. Five or six billion to go.


  • Sarah Dallas

    First week of marriage my DH awoke, or was awake because of me and my terrible sleeping habits, and said “this is going to be a long life!” It is and it isn’t. It’s nearly 18 years of exactly what you’ve so brilliantly described. Thank you. Best marriage advice I’ve read in a very long time.

  • Melinda Carter

    #11 = all the yes.

    Also, thanks for this blog. This is the first time I’ve really visited (for more than just reading one post that was linked from somewhere else) and I think you may have just inspired me to write my truths (damn, that is scary!). I’ve tried to anonymously blog before, but I think, now, that I just have to put myself out there.

    Erm…I did it. I posted a big honest post on FB, where all my family and friends can see and read it. Maybe that’s the start of something. Maybe not. But thanks for giving me my voice, at least for today.

  • Carolyn

    Thank you Janelle,
    Once again you hit the nail on the head…you just gave me the perspective i will keep referring to for years to come.

  • Susan Carroll

    Raw, Real and Right on. Thank you for baring your soul and sharing with the rest of us.

  • Miranda

    Needed this, timely and perfect, so much better than all the other self-help crap out there. And nice to know so many of us feel the same way. Not alone, yay!

  • lisa

    Yes to all of this, but especially #6. My husband is damn near perfect for me in every way. I’d choose him over anyone to hang out with. 15 years in, and we can still fill hours and hours of conversation (not that we have that kind of time, but if we did, we could). He’s hilarious, brilliant, genuine, creative and the hardest working guy I’ve met. His parenting makes me look bad. In so many ways, I won the fucking husband lottery. We’ve never even fought about money (doesn’t everyone fight about money? My parents sure as hell did). The one thing though… the one damn thing… is romance. The guy just cannot fucking do it. He’s pragmatic to a fault, and just does not know how to show love in the way that most women need to be shown love… or affection… or even really desire. It’s pretty brutal, and although he totally knows it, he can’t change it. Turns out that it can’t be forced. And I think you’re right… it’s not his job to do that. I don’t get to decide how he loves me. All I get to do is decide whether or not to accept him for what he can offer, and learn to see the subtle ways that he is able to show his love (and they’re there – I sense them every day. They don’t show up in the form of flowers or gifts or random compliments, but they do show up). So, thanks for this… for reminding me that I’m pretty damn lucky.

  • Geochick

    Such a great post. And you nailed it! We’ve been married 14.5 years, and boy did I identify with everything you said!

  • Tina Matteson

    25-year marriage veteran here. We are really good at hanging out, too! Thank you for this, all of it.

  • Ms Mahoney

    This isn’t the first renegade mothering post I shared with DH, but the first in which his response perfectly captures our 22 years of marriage: “I love you, and I will always try to help because you are most definitely worth sticking around for even with all your goddam warts, and perhaps even more so because even of all my goddam warts.”

  • Ceciel

    So beautiful. Thank you.

  • Mariek

    Was thinking that 15 years is such a crazy long time but then realized that while we are not married I have been with my partner for almost ten years now. We are not exactly were you are yet but we are friends and he is indeed the ground under my feet and smelling him is coming home. I needed this to make a start on the next 5 years, thank you!

  • Heidi

    Our marriages are twinning.
    11 hard years here. But I know just what you mean about trusting him to always be him and sucking at everything except just hanging out. The only piece on marriage I’ve been able to stomach in 5 or 7 years. So much is bs or unattainable.

  • Pam Moore

    You nailed it 100%. I was reading parts of this out loud to my husband. I wish more people got this.

  • Courtney


    (And reminds me of my fave book. Literally called: how to be an adult in relationships.)

  • Rachel Tuttle

    Loved this so much I cried!

  • Civia

    I thought you were mostly funny and sarcastic (I love that BTW) but I have fallen in love with marriage here and thank you for helping me with mine by sharing yours.

  • Angela

    Janelle, I love this the first time I read it but didn’t say anything. This time, it gave me chills. I’m not sure if that’s what you were going for, but this is really beautiful.