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There is no such thing as a bulletproof marriage

Chelsea Dyreng poses with her husband, Scott.
Chelsea Dyreng poses with her husband, Scott.
Courtesy of Chelsea Dyreng

So I started dating this new guy.

We’d known each other for a couple of weeks. He was tall, blond, funny and a little cocky. He told me he was good at tennis. So when he invited me one weekend to watch him play in the annual Fourth of July tennis tournament in his hometown, I tagged along. I was curious if this guy was actually as good as he said he was.

Of course, I didn’t know anything about tennis. So I sat on bleachers outside the courts, next to his 14-year-old brother, who was clearly amused by my vast ignorance. But he was nice and patiently answered my questions and kept me updated on the score. As the tournament progressed, I began to see that my date really did seem to excel at this sport. I smiled. I sat up a little straighter. I flipped my hair. If anyone asked me who I was, I didn’t bother with my name. I just pointed out to the court and said, “I’m his date.”

But the best was yet to come.

During one match, my date jogged up to the chain-link fence and said to his little brother in mysterious tennis language, “Watch this. I’m going to ace him on the next serve.”

“What is an ace?” I asked loudly, not wanting to be left out.

Whispering, (because that is what you are supposed to do when you watch tennis) the little brother smiled and said, “Just watch.”

I peered wide-eyed through the fence as my date prepared for his serve by bouncing the ball a few times and casting a piercing stare across the net. Then he tossed the ball up in the air, at the same time bending his knees and pulling back his racket. Time stopped for just a moment as he waited for the ball to make its decent. Then, when the ball was in the perfect spot, he whipped his racket out from behind him and pummeled the ball, hurling it across the court. Before his opponent had a chance to even wet his lips, the ball crossed the net, hit the corner of the service box and shot passed him, rattling the fence. Without his opponent even touching the ball, my date had scored.

Then he turned, pointed his racket straight at me and said, “That is an ace.”

Six months later, we were married.

Rising in love

Falling in love was so exciting. Scott was by far the most fascinating person I had ever met. But soon the “falling” part of love quickly got, well, impractical. Life happens. How are we going to divvy up responsibilities? How do we pay for the things we need and still have something left for things we want? Should we go into debt or wait till we can pay in full? Should we move or should we stay? Then children come along, and all of those fun, private couple moments are the first thing to be thrown overboard as each of us is just trying to do our best to keep the ship afloat. When all this is going on, who has time for each other?

In addition to that, those wonderful things that attracted you to each other in the first place can become unbelievably annoying. (“You are going to go play tennis again?”)

That is when you stop falling in love — and you start rising.

Falling in love is spontaneous, unexpected, surprising, a little reckless and oh so easy.

Rising in love is deliberate, thought-out, scheduled and sometimes very, very hard.

I don’t know why some marriages work and some don’t. I am only an expert on my own marriage (although Scott probably thinks he’s the expert). I don’t think anyone gets married with the expectation that the marriage will fail. At the beginning, every bride and groom intends for their marriage to last forever. After all, we are soul mates. Nothing will ever extinguish the love we have for each other. We are bulletproof. Right?

But before you know it, there are a zillion bullets zinging toward your marriage every day. Bullets from the outside, bullets from the inside, and you realize your marriage is anything but bulletproof. Often it is the small, everyday bullets that can do the most damage.

My husband travels a lot (leaving me with lots of time to write blog posts.) On this particular trip he was going to be gone over Valentine's Day. We had been having some Internet issues with the way our phone and Internet were set up. Sometimes the Internet and phone would both crash, and in order to get things working again, Scott would unplug a bunch of cords and push some buttons and plug cords back in, blow three times, say the magic words, watch little green lights come on, do the hokey pokey and turn himself around, and then the Internet would start working again. For some reason I could never get it work, and my greatest concern was that the Internet and phone would go out at the very moment one of my kids started choking (or some other catastrophe). I voiced this to him several times. Just before he left, Scott handed me a paper of detailed instructions on how to restart the Internet should it fail. Then as he picked up his suitcase rushed out the door saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry I didn’t get you flowers.”

I held the instructions to my heart. “This is better than flowers,” I said.

We dodged a bullet.

I remember one week when Scott had back-to-back sports activities. One night was church basketball, the next night was doubles tennis (mixed!), then he got up early and rode his bike with friends, then that night there was another tennis match. Meanwhile, I was languishing at home with three girls under three, gulping for some respite like a dying goldfish stranded on a counter gulps for air. Then came the last straw. He came home from school, went to put on a new type of sports outfit, grabbed a new type of sports paraphernalia, turned to me and said, “Do you have any cash, Mom?”

Ah, Mom?

Well, that was the end of his sporting events for the week. He felt so bad that Saturday that he surprised me with a light box he made himself that I could use for my art projects.

We dodged another bullet.

Then there was the time I was a week overdue with my fifth child, and I found out I had contracted lice. Yes, you read that right: LICE. In my HAIR. “The world is ending!” I told Scott. But he helped me wash everything in the house, and then he sat on the bench behind me and pulled every nit out of my very long hair. It was not romantic. But it was true love.

Another bullet dodged, which was a good thing because that night we had a baby.

There are other “rising in love” stories, most of which will only ever be known to Scott and me. And I know there will be many, many more in the future because we have a lot more rising to do.

Connected at the core

After we had been married for a while, one of the teenagers in our church youth program asked her mother a perplexing question, “Why did Brother and Sister Dyreng get married? They have nothing in common.”

What an observant child. Scott likes sports; Chelsea likes to read. Scott likes dogs; Chelsea likes cats. Scott likes to go to bed early; Chelsea likes to go to bed late. Scott thinks math is interesting.

But we do agree on some things.

When it comes to the important things, Scott and I are connected at the core. As for the things we don’t have in common, the things that make us opposites, well, that just keeps life refreshing.

Despite what you may read or hear otherwise, I believe marriage is still the best place to find happiness, the best place to give children the best odds for success and the best place to develop selflessness. It is hard to rise by yourself.

(Click here for a short video that shows a heart-stopping example of what I mean.)

More and more I am discovering that the key to success in marriage can be summed up in one word: generosity.

Giving what is expected and then giving more. And when that happens, marriage isn’t something that you are working hard to hold together; the marriage is what holds everything else together.

So there is no such thing as a bulletproof marriage. And that is good, since it keeps us on our toes.

This post by Chelsea Dyreng originally appeared on her blog, It has been published here with the author's permission. Dyreng is the daughter of a fireworks salesman and Miss Malibu, the wife of a Duke professor and the mother of five God-fearing, book-loving, adventure-seeking kids. In her free time, she writes novels and dreams about Mexico.