The Secret to Happily Ever After is Not What You Think

My husband, Ryan, and I have been married for almost 6 years. I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say it’s always been sunshine & rainbows. I’ve wanted to kill him. Several times. That being said, I have no doubt God knew exactly what He was doing when He put the two of us together. I’ve never met a more devoted, selfless, caring, funny person. He makes me laugh and keeps my serious side in check, while always striving to be a better provider for our family. Needless-to-say, I’m proud to call him my husband.

But, what do I love about him most? He pushes me to be better. In everything.

No matter how well two people may be meant for one another, the fact of the matter is relationships are hard. You’re not always going to agree and you can bet you’re going to have some serious come to Jesus meetings.

Enter counseling.

Ryan & I at the Tough Mudder finish line.

Ryan & I at the Tough Mudder finish line.

Being Catholic, naturally I wanted to be married in the Catholic church. To do so, we were required to attend a minimum of 6 months of marriage preparation (a.k.a. marriage counseling) where we talked about all kinds of issues married couples fight about – money, kids, sex, death, etc. It was an eye opening experience, to say the least. Surprisingly though, we both enjoyed it.

The biggest takeaway for us was communication.

If you want to make it marriage – or any relationship – you better learn to communicate, & do so effectively. Sometimes, it’s knowing how to say something – be it using the right words or tone. And sometimes, it means learning when to shut up and when to apologize. (I might still be working on those.)

Bottom line: learn how to talk to those you love.

I’ve often joked that if Ryan and I were able to survive our first year of marriage, we have this whole marriage thing in the bag. (Except I’m really not joking.) Our first year of marriage wasn’t the typical honeymoon phase. I made it no secret that I wanted to divorce him everyday. (It was rough.) We managed to fit most of the hard things married couples fight about into our first year – like buying a house and having a baby. Throw getting used to “wedded bliss” and shared bank accounts out the window. Let’s do all the hard stuff. Now. And let’s not forget about the fact that I already had a 3 year old.

The good news is, we survived!

Ryan & I jumping the fire at Warrior Dash with our toys in tow. We carried these the entire race.

Ryan & I jumping the fire at Warrior Dash with our toys in tow. We carried these the entire race.

Fast forward a few years. We began communicating again, but on an entirely different level. We started running and doing obstacle races together – local 5Ks, Spartan Races, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash – you name it. And that’s when the magic happened. There is something humbling – yet magical – about needing someone. Really, truly needing them. This was a foreign concept to me as I had always proudly proclaimed myself to be the confident, self-reliant woman my parents raised me to be – man optional. You see, I saw need as a weakness. And I’m not weak.

Except then I realized I did need my husband. I do need him. In more ways than I realize.

During many trying times along the race courses, we learned to rely on one another. To tell each other what we needed. To communicate openly. When I was struggling, he encouraged me. When he was doing well, I cheered him on. Isn’t that how all relationships should be? At the very core of a person you’ll find the need for acceptance. For love. For trust. These are a fraction of the qualities you hope to find in a spouse, a marriage, or a best friend. And I found them in a mud pit of all places. When I was looking my worst.

Ryan and I have long since started referring to obstacle course racing as our personal brand of torturous marriage counseling. And oh how we love it. Though we still have our fights & we occasionally want to strangle each other (hey, we’re both human), I find myself amazed at how much we continue to learn about one another and how much better we have become at communicating. We’re not perfect, but we’re getting better everyday.

Ryan & I right after finishing a Spartan Super in May. We ran back-to-back races that weekend!

Ryan & I right after finishing a Spartan Super in May. We ran back-to-back races that weekend!

Mostly, I’ve learned that it’s okay to need someone. And, I’m so thankful to have someone like Ryan who really is everything I need. He has always been my cheerleader (only don’t tell him I called him that), supporting me in everything I do and pushing me to be better at each role I play – be it wife, mom, daughter, sister or friend. And, I like to think I do the same for him.

Running and obstacle course racing may not be your thing, but I encourage all couples – married or not – to find something you can enjoy together. Use that to learn more about one another, to find patience, offer encouragement, communicate better. And maybe you’ll find the secret to happily ever after is not what you think & “counseling” isn’t so bad after all.

My Spartan Journey: I Lived

My Spartan journey began in March of 2012 at The Gusher 5K. (You guys may remember Iram Leon who won The Gusher Marathon earlier this year & is also a recent Spartan finisher.) Having never run more than a mile in my life – if that – I signed up to run my first 5K at The Gusher since our office had a participating team. As it tends to do, life got in the way & I never prepared for the run. And, as luck would have it, a team member from our office ended up having to back out at the last minute leaving an open spot on the team. Genuinely thinking of backing out myself, I convinced my husband to join our team as a walker. Having had back surgery 3 months prior, I knew I was asking a lot of him, but I also knew it would be my “easy way out.” He would start the race running – that’s the stubborn man he is – but, I was convinced there was no way he would run the entire 5K. Which, of course, meant I’d “have” to walk the rest of it with him to show my support. *cough, cough*

Race day came and I was petrified. As we took off among the horde of people and my legs began to hurt almost instantly, it became clear there was no way I was finishing that race running. With only a ½ mile down, I looked over at my husband who was calmly running along and looked for some sign of him slowing down. Zero chance. (Must have been all those years in the Army paying off.) So, I continued to plod along trying to decide if I could somehow fake an injury. As we approached the 1 mile marker, I began to tell myself I just had to make it to the mile marker and then I could walk. (After all, that in itself was an accomplishment for me.) The mile marker came and went. My husband continued to run. Oh how I hated (and adored) that man. So we ran. And ran. And ran. As I crossed the finish line for my very first 5K, I felt like I had just run a marathon – mentally and physically. I was ecstatic! It was in that moment that a thought crossed my mind, “What if.” I hadn’t prepared and yet, I had finished my task. What if I had actually trained? What if I could really do this?

My husband, Ryan, & I after our first Spartan in Burnet, TX.

My husband, Ryan, & I after our first Spartan in Burnet, TX.

Fast forward 2 months and I found myself standing at the starting line of my first Spartan – the Sprint in Burnet, TX. Once again, I felt like I had made a very bad decision agreeing to endure such torture. The race started and I trudged along the course. My husband was with me every step of the way helping me over the walls, talking me through the running. I managed to only have to do burpees twice – the rope climb and the spear throw. Covered in mud from head to toe and completely exhausted, we crossed the finish line. As they placed a Spartan medal around my neck, I decided I could most definitely do this.

My husband and I agreed we wanted to go after the coveted Trifecta medal. We began to train and prepare by participating in as many races, bike rides and runs as we could. We even completed our first Tough Mudder and joined a local CrossFit box (shout-out to CrossFit Bridge City). We often joked that these races and training were our marriage counseling. (How true that turned out to be!)

We completed our 2nd Spartan – the Beast – in Glen Rose, TX that December. The day after returning home, I began to experience severe chest pain. Within a week, I found myself hospitalized and diagnosed with two pulmonary embolisms, commonly known as PEs – or blood clots in the lungs. The remedy? Blood thinners for a minimum of 6 months with the possibility of being on them permanently if they determined I had a blood clotting disorder.

Ryan & I jumping the fire to finish the Spartan Beast in Glen Rose, TX together.

Ryan & I jumping the fire to finish the Spartan Beast in Glen Rose, TX together.

As I lay in my hospital bed, the doctor tried to reiterate how much of a “big deal” my situation was. (Not being familiar with PEs, I didn’t grasp why they were acting like I was dying.) All the doctors and nurses seemed to say was, “It’s a really big deal.” Finally, the doctor decided to shoot straight with me. With a sincere look of concern on his face, he said, “You had two chronic PEs. One in the right that was completely blocking the artery and the left almost completely blocking the artery. We’re lucky we caught it. That’s usually fatal.” Later that afternoon, they sent in the hospital chaplain to discuss my will. (Let me just say from experience that nothing quite brings your life into perspective like the words fatal and will.)

These people are crazy! I am SO not dying today – I found myself screaming inside. What about my children? My husband? What about everything I haven’t gotten to do yet? “Can I still do obstacle racing?” I asked. With a look of surprise on his face, the doctor replied, “Well, I wouldn’t go climbing through barbed wire or anything.” Uncontrollably, the tears flowed. The idea of waiting my entire life to finally discover I loved something only to have it ripped away was devastating. Maybe I was dying. My husband stayed by my side, reassuring me that we would get through this together. And, get through it we did.

With only a month off from CrossFit and adjusting to life on my trusty blood thinners, I returned to the local box and began to push harder than before. In the beginning, every time I struggled to breathe, I experienced anxiety. In time, I began to distinguish the difference between the PEs causing me problems and me just getting my butt kicked by the WOD. But, with overwhelming support from my fellow CrossFitters and my husband and with my children as inspiration, I began to set personal records. Every day I grew stronger and more fit. Every day I got one day closer to that 6 month mark of required blood thinners.

My inspiration, Bryce (8) & Kade (4).

My inspiration, Bryce (8) & Kade (4).

Some days, reality liked to slap me a little harder than others. Like the morning I received a text from my co-worker telling me her sister’s husband died from a PE and that I’m “the only person she knows who’s survived it.” Or when we got the call that my husband’s great uncle had passed away from a PE. No one knows why God does things the way He does, or what His plan is for us. All I know, is that it wasn’t my time to die. For the time being, I still get to wake up next my husband and kiss my children goodnight. And for that, I am very grateful.

What feels like a million vials of blood later, we still don’t have an answer. The doctors have a few leads, but nothing solid. For now, I’m free of Coumadin and clear to conquer what I set out to do over a year ago – get the Spartan Trifecta medal. My husband and I are signed up for the Spartan Sprint in Kiln, MS. I have no doubt that when I find myself standing at the starting line, I’ll experience fear and anxiety. But I also know one thing for certain. I will finish the race. I will add another Spartan medal to my collection. And one day very soon, that will be the Trifecta medal.

Until then…..AROO!