Chapter 6 gets the “last word” in the Kate-Pete story! It’s not because there aren’t a million more little lovely moments we could share (double pinky swear promise: Kate and Pete’s story will make future appearances as postscripts). This is the perfect last chapter because it punctuates the story of all relationship, and does so with a big old beautiful exclamation point then ellipse (because there is always more, right? …). Marriage/partnership isn’t ever about getting “happy”and then expecting it to be so always. No big newsflash here: Relationships take a lot of work; and just when you think things are working well, the wheels fall off again. And again. And we have to keep putting them back on. The news, and rather intensely interesting to me at least, is how couples go about the sometimes ugly/sometimes beautiful (fighting, arms flailing, relationship flat tires, voices raised) work. Here’s how Kate and Pete see it:

Fighting for Us

by Kate Woodman Middlecamp

My previous “chapters” in this series have primarily focused on the highlights of our relationship: the many ways Peter and I celebrate, reconnect and strive to be fully engaged and truly happy partners. We are indeed happy, and gratefully so. But even the happiest of us twosomes have good days and bad, and the reality of our marriage – like most – is that it takes a whole lot of work, everyday, to make it work.

More often than not, the daily work for us is fun: love notes, garden time, artistic endeavors, puppy snuggles and bouts of “stop-I-can’t-breath” laughter. This playful foundation is really the heart of “us,” and each joke, song, new ritual or nickname gets added to our store of love and happiness. In the rough moments, we rely on them all to find our way back to each other—to reconnection. Often, all it takes is a small reference to a long-running joke, or that simplest of all endearing signs: a loving smile. The small, often quiet actions re-affirm our affection and remind us of our playful core.

But sometimes the foundation of loving fun isn’t enough, and the stress, hurt, or frustration we feel might lead to a fight (yep—happy couples fight!). For Peter and me, these challenging, emotionally-charged, and sometimes downright exhausting moments are where the work of marriage really feels like work. And even as playful, ritual-laden and overall happy as we are, it is a struggle at times to keep these conflicts from devolving into negativity. It’s hard—like it is for every couple on the planet—to remain true to a kind and loving core. We are passionate, highly charged, expressive and sensitive individuals; when we fight, we fight hard. And sometimes loud. And I flail my arms. A lot.

But although it may not always look, or sound it—and in the heat of the moment it might take us a few minutes to remember it—we are always, ALWAYS, fighting for us. Fighting to get back to a place of connection; fighting to be better partners; fighting to be heard and to listen; fighting through failed repair attempts (sometimes searching to simply find the one that works!); fighting because, even in face of the harshest conflict, we would still choose each other. And we do. Over and over.

Years ago, before Peter and I were married, we read the book Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse—an exploration of the difference between games played to win and games played to ensure infinite play. His writing has given us a transformative awareness not only in life, but for sure in marriage. We’ve come back time and again to his idea of the “infinite game—a metaphor for our marriage, especially the “I’m so mad at you I could flail my arms all day” part. We’ve decided we want to play the game of marriage/conflict/fighting to ensure infinite play—a lifetime of it (marriage), in fact.

There is no winner in this ever-changing, ultimately-loving game of ours; and there is no end. Our marriage rule: that we just keep playing.

And like most games I’ve ever played, it requires practice and patience—plus a big dose of kindness. The outcome? Our marriage will not just survive; it will thrive! …