Jackie Gingrich Cushman

When I was small, my family took many camping trips and spent many hours canoeing.

Before our trips, we planned where the canoe would go into the river and where we would pull out. We lined up people to drop us off at the start or pick us up at the end. We reviewed the river, looking for rapids, twists and turns, deciding if we were canoeing through the rapids, or landing the canoe and carrying it over the rapids. Finally, after a lot of planning, we would launch the canoe and our journey would begin.

Inevitably, the canoe trip was different from the one initially planned. The river was lower or higher than expected, affecting our ability to navigate the rapids. Traveling down the river, we determined whether to run the rapid or pull out on a case by case basis. Once the decision was made to go through the rapids, there was no turning back.

Right before we reached a rapid, my parents would begin to coordinate paddling direction and paddling speed. The shouting was fast and furious, similar to the rapids. As they began to work towards the common goal of making it through the rapids, we would begin to travel through safely.

A ride through the rapids was scary and thrilling. For a few moments, I would wondered if the canoe was going to turn over and all four of us (my sister too) would wind up swimming to shore. My heart would beat faster. I would leaned away involuntarily from where the river was pulling us.

Occasionally, our canoe would become beached on an outcropping of sand and rock. Then, my dad would get out, walk to the front of the canoe and push us back into the water.

After passing through the rapids, we would re-enter still waters, and take a moment to relax and enjoy the scenery and bask in our accomplishment. When the journey was over, the thrill of shooting the rapids is what we remembered, not the dread of approaching them.

OK, here’s my point: As there are twists and turns in any river journey, so too there are twists and turns in married life. Marriage, often thought of as a destination, is more like a great river trip. It is not the destination but the journey itself that is important.

There are twists and turns along the way. Like canoers who navigate a river that is full of sandbars and rapids, couples must navigate through good times and not-so-good times. Through having children or not having children, job changes, career changes, community and civic events, losses of parents and friends.

There are times when the journey turns into a float, where the way is easy and peaceful, and you can simply lean back, enjoy the smooth, forward motion and bask in the sun.

During other times, the marriage can become rough and tumbling, sometimes the result of one or both parties rocking the boat, sometimes due to tidal forces beyond the control of either party. Such times require intense concentration, watching for signs of what may be around the next bend, and most importantly remaining calm.

When the rapids occur, working together toward a shared goal is important. Working together as a team, making progress bit by bit and sharing the work and effort are critical. So too it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the partners so that adjustments and allowances can be made to ensure success.

It is important during the rapids to remember that nothing lasts forever, even if it feels as if a phase will never end – it will. The only thing constant is change, and change will come.

Working together and making it through the rapids creates a shared story that will help couples traverse the next set of rapids. The shared event builds strength, experience and understanding, providing additional resources to be used when the next set of rapids occurs.

My husband, Jimmy and I are celebrating our ten year anniversary this weekend.

Whether one views a decade as short or long, it is all the same amount of time. Enough time has passed that the relationship has traveled through both rapids and still waters. Anyone who has been married a decade will have gone through trials and tribulations, or is in high denial.

Possibly the best part of celebrating a decade of marriage is the knowledge that the waters will change, and believing that by continuing to work together through the next set of rapids we will find the journey to be exhilarating, fun and rewarding.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.