Today we’ve been married for sixteen years.
But the story I have to tell you happened two years ago, when we had been married for fourteen years.
We were sitting in a tiny cafe in San Francisco, California. We were taking a much-needed getaway, a chance to decompress and unwind and most importantly, an opportunity to connect with one another and have a break from the insanity of our schedules and lives as parents and new business owners. I was doing what I always do when I actually have time to decompress — I was dreaming. I was talking aloud about how cool it would be to own a restaurant one day. In my typical creative-minded fashion, I already had the restaurant named, the tablecloths picked out, and the menu planned from the cream cheese stuffed bacon wrapped dates to the individual little homemade peach cobblers in cast iron skillets that would be offered for dessert. I was in my creative dream world, just as happy as a lark. So imagine my surprise when I looked up and saw my husband’s face, contorted in a look of horror and panic. I realized quickly, that he was not sharing the dream I was having for the CC and Mike restaurant plans — not in the least. I paused, which gave him just enough time to finally insert his thoughts on the matter.
“I mean, the restaurant business is HARD, Carissa, and most restaurants fail.”
This interaction pretty much sums up our marriage — Opposites attract. I’m the dreamer. He’s the realist. I’m the gas pedal. He’s the brakes. It’s what makes us perfect for each other, and it’s also what can drive us absolutely bonkers and force a wedge between us, if we let it.
Truth be told, we got in a huge argument after his”Restaurants are hard” comment, and I ended up walking out of the restaurant in the pouring rain and getting my own uber to the hotel. We fought a majority of the rest of that trip, off and on, and I remember a low point was me screaming at my husband, “I wish I wouldn’t have named this business CC and Mike! I wish I wouldn’t have even put your name on it at all!”
What? Was that not what you were expecting to hear? Did you see the pretty pictures on our blog and Instagram feed and think we had our act together? Perhaps you thought we had the perfect relationship and never fight? We are high school sweethearts after all. We went to senior prom together. We got married and have three kids and live in a pretty house and we have a blog and a cute dog named Oscar and the perfect life and marriage, right? Is that what you thought?
WRONG. Pull up a chair and grab a cup of coffee, or wine, or whatever floats your boat. And get ready because I’m about to talk about something I haven’t talked about on our blog before — OUR MARRIAGE.
We get plenty of DM’s and emails asking us for our marriage advice. I’ve never answered them because, to be honest, I just wasn’t ready. Especially since my internal dialogue has been something like this: If they knew about that fight we had in San Francisco, they would think we had a terrible marriage. Why would they want advice from us? If they knew how I lost my temper with my kids last week, they would think I was a terrible mother. Why would they want my parenting advice? If they knew how hard starting this business has been on our marriage, how hard the change has been, how we’ve struggled to learn how to work together, they would think CC and Mike was a joke. If they knew….If they knew…
I have been vulnerable with you guys and shared personal aspects of our life in blogs about forgiving the man who tried to murder my mom, and moving Emmy to a different school, and choosing not to give our kids social media. I’ve even shared with you my advice for people before they get married. But I have never talked about after the marriage. And here is why….
Because we don’t have this figured out at all. Just like I don’t have parenting figured out at all. I’m not the perfect wife. I’m not the perfect parent. I’m definitely not the perfect businesswoman. In fact, I feel inadequate and flawed in all of the above areas. And my inadequacies as a wife, a mother, and a business owner are what make me feel unqualified to give any type of parenting or marriage or business advice whatsoever. So when you guys sneak into my inbox and ask questions like:
“You and Mike Miller seem so in love. Can you tell me how you keep the spark alive?”
“CC, can you tell me how you did it — started this design business, and blog and Instagram account? Can you please give me advice?”
You see, when I get questions like that I feel completely inadequate to answer them, because I know the behind the scenes. I know the day to day reality that we are living. I’m in the trenches working my butt off for my business and my marriage and trust me, the view isn’t always so glorious from where I’m sitting. I know about the fights at a restaurant in San Francisco and about me yelling at my husband that I wanted to take his name off our business (OUCH. I’ve apologized multiple times for that one just so you know). I know about how hard starting this business has been on our marriage and how we’ve had to fight (literally and figuratively) to accept the change that has come into our lives over the past two years. I know the truth— the behind the scenes; the nitty-gritty; the not so pretty — so who am I to answer any marriage or parenting or business advice questions?
But then it finally dawned on me — Maybe it ‘s those very imperfections, and flaws, and struggles in my story that I am meant to share. Maybe it’s the imperfections themselves that can inspire, and give hope, and make people feel like they aren’t alone in their struggles. We live in a world of pretty pictures and social media news feeds and plenty of people sharing their highlight reels on repeat. It can feel lonely, being imperfect, in a world that celebrates beauty and success and accolades. But the truth is, we all have our struggles. We all have our imperfections. And maybe, just maybe, part of this platform I’ve been given is to share my failures and struggles — the valleys and the dark places — just as much as it is to share the triumphs and successes and mountain tops.
“So what is our marriage advice?”
I guess I’m finally ready to answer that question, though, fair warning: It’s not going to be a pretty, compact, bulleted list of how perfect our marriage is and how we bend over backward every single day to make the other feel loved. Nope, it’s going to look a little more like a scene from one of the Hunger Games movies: the two of us scrapping it out for survival, side by side, while we try to adjust to being thrown into this arena that is preteen and teen parenting while simultaneously trying to run two businesses and adjust to being co-workers when we are total opposites in every single way.
MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR. Can I get an amen?
So if you still want my marriage advice. Here it is. It really all boils down to just two words:
I’m going to tell you guys another personal story. I was twenty-seven years old. I had just had my second baby in under two years and I was pregnant with a third. We had just built and moved into a new house. Michael was working in the corporate world and he was throwing himself into his new career. I, in the meantime, was throwing myself into my children and my new hobby — photography — and my other hobby, people pleasing. Which is a whole different story in itself. A chasm was starting to form between us. I could feel, each day, that I was standing on one side of that chasm and he was on the other, drifting further and further away from me. We talked less and laughed together even less than that. I was consumed with taking care of the kids, nursing in the middle of the night, hosting baby showers and play dates, and he was consumed with something altogether different — his career. About that time, I remember being in a weekly situation where I would see another man who was very complimentary of me as a mother. Oh yes, I’m going there. And this might get uncomfortable but I don’t really care. Because someone out there just might need to hear this before it’s too late. You see, I started wanting to be around this man because he complimented me. He said things to me that my husband didn’t. He told me I was a great mother and it made me feel valued. His words made me feel special.
I remember hearing that whisper. That voice that won’t be forgotten telling me how I felt was a problem. And I marched into our bedroom where my husband was and told him — “This is a problem. You and I are growing further and further apart and I find myself wanting to be around another man because he makes me feel good about myself.”
Today, I’ve been married for sixteen years and I look back on that moment and I realize how pivotal it truly was. I realize that when I marched into that room three things happened:
- I chose to tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or painful it was for both of us.
- I chose to PROTECT my marriage.
- That established a pattern of truth in our marriage that we have both recognized as vital to the health and protection of our marriage.
It’s all right there in the definition you guys. To keep safe from harm or injury.
To keep safe. To not let it happen. To prevent. To protect. We have to protect our marriages. We have to keep them safe from harm or injury. We have to march into that room and speak the truth, even if it’s hard or uncomfortable (especially if it’s hard and uncomfortable) and we have to take action. I look back on our sixteen years and I realize the importance of that word and the role it has played in keeping our marriage safe from harm or injury. When anything or anyone starts to threaten your marriage do not take it lightly. Do not excuse it. Do not ignore that voice whispering— gently nudging you, telling you that something isn’t right, that something isn’t ok. Listen, and take action immediately. PROTECT, before it’s too late.
Do you have a best friend who is needy and clingy and constantly causes fights between you and your husband? PROTECT YOUR MARRIAGE.
Do you have a job or a boss that is overly demanding and takes advantage of you and doesn’t allow you to put your family and your marriage first? PROTECT YOUR MARRIAGE.
Do you have a family member who causes stress between you and your spouse? PROTECT YOUR MARRIAGE.
No matter the situation, no matter the person, no matter what happens – you have to choose to PROTECT YOUR MARRIAGE. To put it simply, you have to choose your spouse above all else and put your marriage first, no matter what the cost.
PROTECT. After sixteen years of marriage, I now realize that is one word that will save your marriage. Now let’s talk about the second:
When I told you about the story above, I mentioned there was a chasm forming between me and my husband at that time in our lives. I can look back over our marriage and tell you very clear and defined seasons of life where this exact same issue took root in our marriage and threatened to separate us, perhaps permanently, had we not fought to reconnect. The first time we struggled with a lost connection, was after having kids. I highlighted that above. The second time was after Michael lost his dad and I had started my photography business. And the third…well the third is right now. The third is after I started an Instagram account called CC and Mike, and that led to a business taking off that neither one of us could have ever expected or prepared for. You see, the past two years have been a struggle for our marriage and I’m ready to finally talk about that openly. Because every marriage has seasons. Every marriage has highs and lows and valleys and peaks. And I just don’t know how to share parts of our story and not others. So I need to be honest and tell you guys that starting this business, this blog, this Instagram account, and all the changes that have come with becoming business partners, has been really difficult at times. You’ve heard me say it before. We are total opposites attract. That’s’ what makes us perfect for each other. And that’s what makes us absolutely drive one another insane. Bringing that into a business environment has been a challenge. Learning to work together and run a business together while simultaneously juggling three kid’s school and social calendars and emotional, mental, and physical needs — well, let’s just say it’s been HARD and at times, emotionally exhausting. It’s like we are business and life partners, but we are just ships passing in the night. Our lives are reduced to to-do lists and texts about who is picking up what kid from what practice and how we are going to divide and conquer the activity schedule for each weekend. Then you look up and realize you’re standing on one side of this deep chasm and your spouse is on the other, and in between you is this seemingly never-ending gorge stretching out between you — an endless void filled with life’s stress and pressures and parenting demands and job demand, and all of the sudden, you feel like you can’t even really see the person on the other side. Maybe you don’t even know who they are.
Wait a minute who is that.
I kind of recognize him.
I kind of recognize her.
But wait? Is that even who I married?
Do I still love her?
Do I still love him?
I don’t know.
Is this not the fairytale you thought you were tuning in to read? Sorry I’m not sorry. This is the true life behind the scenes version. This is what I want my kids to read before they make the commitment to marry someone. This is what everyone needs to know before they say I do. Marriage is a battlefield. There WILL come a day when you feel like you don’t even recognize that person standing on the other side of the chasm. There WILL come a time when you strain your eyes to see across the gorge cluttered with life and distractions and responsibilities that separates you from your spouse and you will have to make a hard choice….do I want to fight for this, or do I want to just let go and let him (or her) keep drifting further and further away until I can no longer see them at all?
When you reach that moment….FIGHT. Fight to connect.
Bring together. Establish a link. Reconnect. Throw each other a lifeline. Do whatever it takes. Step slowly, toward one another across that gorge. Find a way, even if its dark and lonely and scary and you feel like you’re never going to get back to one another. Fight to CONNECT.
Connecting is going to look different in every single stage. That’s what I’ve realized after sixteen years. What used to work in one stage, will no longer work when you enter a new season. As I type this, I’m sitting next to Michael at our office but I couldn’t feel further apart from him. We spend more time with one another than we ever have before, working together, but yet that could leave us feeling further apart than ever, emotionally. In order to connect with one another outside of work, that takes effort. It takes the effort to connect, to establish a link, to bring together, to make contact. Right now, because of our busy work and kid’s schedules, that means working out together. We go to the gym early morning and do a workout together. It might be 9 pm before we see each other again but that morning workout is a way to connect. That’s what it takes in this stage of life, so that’s what we are doing. Taking baby steps toward one another. And I encourage you to do the same. If you are disconnected; if there is a chasm between you; don’t ignore it; find a way to CONNECT, whatever it takes.
So there you have it. You’ve asked and I’ve answered. I’m guessing that wasn’t the feel-good marriage advice people expected when they asked questions like “How do you keep the spark alive?” “You guys look like you have the perfect marriage? What’s your secret?”
Nope. It’s not a bullet list of action items of how to have the perfect marriage. Instead, it’s just two words:
PROTECT AND CONNECT.
You see, this world will fight to pull you apart. You will have to fight harder to stay together. You will have to fight to PROTECT. You will have to fight to CONNECT. And the more prepared you are for that battle, the better off you will be.
Today I wrote out my anniversary card to Mike Miller and I put this Walt Whitman quote in it. It’s my all-time favorite.
One day at the end of my life, I envision myself holding his hand and looking into his eyes, knowing that we did it. That we weathered all of life’s storms together. That we protected our marriage and we connected even when life tried it’s darndest and threw everything it could at us to pull us apart.
What a beautiful day that will be. What an accomplishment. But then, sixteen years is feeling like a pretty amazing accomplishment these days as well.
Happy Anniversary Mike Miller. Love you long time. Like forever. Even when you tell me I can’t put the things I want in our flip house because they will break the budget and you hang large TVs everywhere that I want to put pieces of beautiful art, and you tell me that our future restaurant business is going to fail before it even starts…. I love you even then. And thank you for loving me when I’m crazy and emotional and flip out and tell you that I want to take your name off our business. Which is so dang rude. Thank you for loving me even when I’m unlovable.
From the moment I laid eyes on you in the Union High School parking lot, I knew you would be my forever. Happy 16 years.
Photos : Brass Penny Photography