What marriage really means: it's the little things

Marriage is not about the grand gestures of love or the vows of everlasting devotion. It's about the little thing, really.

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o you know the scene in that Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler movie – P.S. I Love You – where the two argue about whose turn it is to get out of bed and switch off the ill-placed lamp? The couple can’t seem to remember to do that last thing before getting in bed and neither want to deal with the inconvenience of dragging themselves out from underneath the warm covers to do this small favour for one another.

It’s certainly not the greatest movie, and it’s based on a dismal novel by Cecelia Ahern. But that scene has always irked me. It made it seem as though marriage was an ongoing, petty argument between two fed-up friends, which, I’ve learnt, is an inaccurate depiction.

During my pregnancy with Baby A, I developed the most ridiculous heartburn and acid reflux known to man; I am not exaggerating. The suffering continued throughout the entire pregnancy and would reach a peak every night, flaring up like a line of fire from exhausted stomach to fed-up tonsils as soon as I drifted off to sleep. The horizontal position, it seemed, was the perfect conduit for an acidic party in my innards.

Still, I always forgot to bring my trusted bottle of Liquid Maalox (the advanced one, maximum strength) to our bedroom with me and place it in the obvious location: my bedside table. I chugged that stuff like water throughout my pregnancy and would need it particularly during the helpless darkness of the night. But did I ever remember to keep it within arm’s reach? Of course not.

Every night, without fail, as soon as we had both drifted off to sleep, I would awaken thanks to the wave of fire threatening to erupt from within, and would turn to Mr T and moan: “I forgot the Maalox. I think I’m going to need some tonight.” And every night, he said “of course” to me in his sleep, stumbled to the kitchen where I insisted the bottle should be kept, and rushed it back to me. He would help me sit up and keep it out of my desperate clutches so I didn’t spill. Then, while I lay there, practically comatose and hugely pregnant, he would make me follow it with a sip of water, or wipe the white residue of the medicine off my chin, or give me a bonus back rub and help me get back to sleep.

Mr T and I argue in bed as well when we realise we’re about to drift off to sleep but the light is still on. Except I insist that he should stay in bed for a change and let me get it; it’s closer to me. And he argues that I shouldn’t move and he’ll do it in a second.

He’s the one who remembers to bring a glass of water to my bedside table every night, so I’ll have something to drink when I wake up parched in the night from marathon nursing sessions. He’ll bring Baby A to me, with her favourite blanket, although he doesn’t really have to wake up at all as I’m the one who feeds her.

Marriage, I’m learning, is not splurging on romantic gourmet dinners at the newest restaurant or nights out on the town with other couples – there is no place in our lives right now for these things, not with Her Dictatorship’s grip on our hearts and our time. Marriage, thankfully, is in the little things. The note left under a pillow. The bouquet of flowers arranged in a favourite vase. The willingness to get up out of bed and switch off that light, or get that heartburn medicine, or fetch a glass of water, tenderly and without complaint.

Those little thoughtful acts, seeped in consideration, are what keep any relationship going. That, I think, is what marriage means.

Hala Khalaf is deputy Arts&Life editor at The National


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