Eleven years ago today, I married my handsome ogre with the promise of a beautiful happily ever after.
You’re probably expecting me to say something like, “and we’re more in love than ever!” especially if you’ve seen pictures of us. But, I’m not going to do that. We’re really struggling right now and I don’t think there should be any shame in admitting that. Don’t worry, we’re getting help and we are going to make it.
It’s sad that talking about marriage problems is taboo. I’m confident if there wasn’t such a social stigma, not only would speaking up about it help struggling couples get help, but I’m sure other young couples would be given more realistic expectations and hope before facing struggles of their own.
I never expected marriage to be easy; I knew many painful challenges lay ahead. But, I knew we were both good and honest people whose personalities and talents complemented one another. And I knew we were both committed to fighting for our marriage. Today, I still do not question any of that, yet here we are barely hanging on to that promise and hope, and struggling to put the pieces back together.
My vision of a happy marriage was one built on respect and honesty. I took great pride in how few fights we’d had without realizing that the lack of confrontation was a big part of our problems. For 15 years, you’d be really hard pressed to find a person who heard me speak badly about my husband. Not only that, but it seems I would rather internalize the responsibility for our imperfections than project anything on to him. I don’t think either of us were knowingly dishonest in all of those years and we had great respect for one another. We cared so deeply that I believe the foundation of our marriage became one built on responsibility and obligation to each other rather than a genuine desire. We both carried an immense weight on our shoulders as we attempted to protect the other and did everything we could to make the other happy. All the while, we avoided selfish demands, disrespectful judgments, angry outbursts and…well…consequently honesty. We went too far to protect the other from feeling hurt or uncomfortable and denied ourselves the opportunities to externalize some very important feelings. As one might suspect, there was plenty of miscommunication swirling around in this mess.
As we scramble to right wrongs and expose painful truths, I’m realizing the importance of valuing and respecting myself just as much as I do my husband. I don’t imagine he would be where he is today with an incredible career, a beautiful house and three amazing kids if it wasn’t for the sacrifices I made as a mom and wife, so I won’t say I regret my decisions, but I wish I had not allowed myself to lose sight of who I wanted to be. I wish I had a greater awareness of what I needed to be happy and fought harder to keep that on the agenda. I struggled to be the best wife and mother I could be (not to mention daughter, sister, friend, etc.) and had very little energy left over to take care of myself let alone do the things that allowed me to find happiness as an individual.
By revealing the previously well-hidden weaknesses in my marriage, I hope to take a large step toward healing both myself and our relationship. I feel even more determined to succeed, although my goal in sharing this is also to reject another brutal stigma in our culture. I think that the tendency to hide marital struggles from the world does a disservice to our own relationship as well as to everyone who looks at us and sees what I’ve come to believe is an unrealistic romanticism.
Each time another friend sneaks out from under a rock to admit defeat, I feel a physical pain for that failed marriage. I can’t help but question if anyone is ever truly happy in a long term relationship. And now each time someone publicly celebrates their wedding anniversary, I wonder just how much they are hiding behind their adorable pictures. I know that our own most recent family pictures show a cute couple beautifully disguising their disconnect.
As I continue this journey to rediscover myself, I’m struggling most with how to leverage the new found love for myself with how to love my husband. There is no point in our 16 years together that I want to return to as I believe I was always putting his feelings, his goals, and his needs before mine in an unhealthy way. We are tasked with creating a brand new relationship and I’m still trying to figure out how to balance this love and respect for myself with how to love someone else without once again losing my strength and sacrificing my happiness.
The things that we do for each other should be done because we truly want to and not because we feel that we owe it to each other. We are not two halves of a whole, but rather two wholes that find strength and happiness side by side. We are not responsible for our spouse’s happiness; that can easily turn into an overwhelming burden that slowly kills our motivation to act out of love. Success and satisfaction should not be measured in how many dates we manage to go on, how many times we have sex each week, or even how well we parent together. It should be measured in how genuinely excited we are to do all of those things together. And to maintain that, we must always be painfully honest with ourselves and each other.
Even if we succeed at that level of marital camaraderie, marriage will have its ups and downs, and those downs might seem utterly and irreversibly heart-breaking. We cannot be afraid to scrutinize our definition of success while remaining open to adjusting that definition as we grow and change. And we absolutely cannot forget who we are and who we want to be as we walk alongside one another.
As you celebrate your next anniversary, it is wonderful to use that as an excuse to focus on the positives in your marriage, but don’t be afraid to feel a little vulnerable and challenged. You may even choose to revisit your vows, but be mindful that we all grow and change and that often demands significant changes to our relationship. Regardless of the gift you give your spouse, give yourself the gift of introspection and honesty. Challenge yourself to be that person you want the world to see and then share that amazing person with the one lucky enough to come home to your side.