A decade ago my husband, Cortney, asked me to be his wife.
How we got to this place is a story that I am asked over and over because it is very much one of the “meant to be” stories. The short version is that we grew up in the same small town, went to the same elementary school, middle school, and high school. Became close friends in high school, and then went to the same university. We were never high school sweethearts. We were friends. Friends who talked long into the night about relationships, parents, school, and life. It wasn’t until we found ourselves both back in our small town and since in our mid-twenties that we started dating and realized we were meant to live the rest of our lives together.
There are funny parts to the story that leave people asking, “and you NEVER thought to date EACH OTHER?” There are sad moments as we both went through difficult break-ups (including a set of parents). But in the end, people love the story because it is truly a story that seems made up…if it wasn’t completely true.
But our “love story” is not where our story ends. Our wedding day was not followed by “and they lived happily ever after,” with a book closing on our story.
We do not have a fairytale marriage. In fact, most fairytales end at the wedding, as if getting to the altar is that hard part and from there on it’s cake, so I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a fairytale marriage.
As much as people swoon at the story of how we met, they cringe at the rest of our tale. Two months into this marriage, we lost Cortney’s dad to cancer. Two years later we lost our first pregnancy. Then another pregnancy. When we were finally able to sustain a pregnancy, the birth was traumatic, leaving me scared with PTSD and postpartum mood disorders galore. Then Cortney lost his job. As a teacher in a district with declining enrollment, my job was always up in the air as well. We juggled uncertainty and heartache.
Even my therapist shakes her head with a small smirk when I rub my eyes and question why I have still have depressive episodes. Has struggle just become my default for how life should be, she wonders. Others who have listened to me tell our journey ask “how” as well. How do we do it and still seem to be not just surviving as a couple, but thriving?
I don’t know if I can pinpoint why we work down to one simple thing, but I do know that it has a lot to do with our attitude of teamwork. In fact, our motto has always been Team Sluiter, even when it was just the two of us.
When overwhelm takes over one of us, the other person jumps in and helps out to relieve stress. I’ll take one of the boys out of the house with me on a couple errands, or Cortney will unload the dishwasher and vacuum the house on his lunch hour. Cortney has probably changed far more dirty diapers than I have in our five years of being parents, but can probably count on one hand how many times he’s had to clean the bathroom. I’ve never ironed anything, but he has never dusted. That is how our teamwork works.
But it’s bigger than that too. Sometimes when someone shows up for you in a way no one has before, it’s easy to start apologizing for being a burden. For causing plans to go awry because of your problem or emergency. I have apologized more times than I can count for the stress I feel like is “my fault” in our marriage: miscarriages, mental illness, job uncertainty. Every single time Cortney has held me, listened to me, and told me that I have nothing to apologize for. That we are a team.
When he felt like a failure after getting laid off and wondered how we would make it with a three-month old baby in the house, I listened to him and then told him, “It’s Ok. We will make it. We are a team.”
When Eddie had colic and I thought I had lost my mind (turned out to be postpartum depression and anxiety), Cortney would assure me that the phase would pass and we would work through it together as a team.
When I look back to every time either of us has ever questioned how we were going to make it, the answer was always because we are a team.
It is an incredible thing to go through life knowing you are never ever alone. That there is at least one person out there that will not let you fall all the way to the bottom without going down there with you to sit and comfort you as you go through your pain.
Because of our team mentality we have pushed through all the struggles and managed to laugh while doing it. We have caught each other, picked each other up, and cheered for each other through success and victories.