A year ago, I had no idea where my marriage, let alone my life, stood. I was an emotional wreck and had just moved back home with my parents at the age of 30. I had no idea where I was going to be a month from now, let alone a year.
Yet here I sit before you, having made it through the past 12 months. Alive. Well. Peaceful. Happy.
This post is a reflection back on that time period as a testimony that time really can heal all wounds and it’s ultimately our decision how we move forward in this life.
Here is my story.
Don’t get me wrong – my relationship was rocky to put it nicely.
When I first left, I was a wreck. I didn’t know what I wanted, who I was, or what I was going to do with my life.
Everyone has a dream job that they want to do. When I was in first grade, I said I wanted to be a teacher. I pursued that dream after realizing how much I wasn’t a natural at math and science in college. I couldn’t wait to be a teacher, despite the jabs by my college communication professor who first claimed I didn’t have what it took to teach because I couldn’t give a speech without having full-blown anxiety and then at the end of course told me I would leave teaching because it was nothing like I imagined it to be. While he was right on the profession being very much unlike what I pictured it to be, that wasn’t solely the reason I left.
My next big dream was to be a mother. I left teaching unexpectedly when I dislocated my knee one winter. Nothing like nearly sitting on a brand new student in your classroom just days after winter break. I was terribly overweight and this accident was a wake up call. I was unable to return to work for nearly 3 months and when I did, it was an assistant in my own classroom (talk about degrading). After being away from the profession for 3 months, I realized how stressed and unhappy I had been. I took this as a sign from above that it was my time to leave.
Was I ready to be a mom? Hell no. Shortly after the school year ended, I broke up with my alcoholic boyfriend and was beginning to pursue a new career in physical therapy. A large reason I left my ex was because I didn’t see a future anymore. I had gained a good 40-50 lbs. while dating him, largely from eating like crap and drinking large amounts. But when you date an alcoholic, drinking is really the only way you get to socialize or spend time with them, or can tolerate them. Being sober, overweight, and on bedrest for the first month opened my eyes to what was going on in my relationship. He wasn’t an awful guy – he rushed down to pick me up the day I fell and helped me around to my appointments that first month when I was incapable of driving. I was thrilled at this behavior because the guy I’d dated before him would never have done any of this (I know – a real winner). But as time wore on and I began to see what he did on a daily basis while I had been working, I realized I just couldn’t see him as husband, let alone dad, material.
And so I let the dream of being a mom go, once again. Each time I got into a serious relationship, that’s where I saw it heading. Otherwise, I didn’t get into a serious relationship with you. Ask any of my exes and they’ll tell you how crazy I was to talk marriage and kids within the first year. If those topics made you squeamish, then what the hell was I doing with you?? I had a dream of being a mom to at least 5 kids and I didn’t want to be 30 when I started this dream family.
And then I met my husband. Within the first month we had discussed the normally taboo topics of a dating couple – divorce, marriage, children, kids, parenting styles, houses, religion, schooling. You name it; we discussed it. He had to have been the most open guy I’d ever spoken to and it was refreshing… Now I didn’t agree on everything he brought to the table, but we saw eye-to-eye on most things. And like with my exes, I made it very clear I wanted to be married and start a family.
Flash forward four years, an engagement and a wedding later. We were not so open and conversational as we’d been in the early days. In fact, we barely spoke at all in the final months. We were, as my therapist liked to describe it, “ships passing in the night”. We were physically together, living together, cleaning, watching movies, eating dinner…. but mentally and emotionally detached.
I look back at the Facebook memories that pop up from two and three years ago and I see the stark difference. Three years ago, we were still newly engaged and planning for our wedding. We were about to move apartments and getting a somewhat fresh start. The world was our oyster and we couldn’t have been happier to just be together. Sure we had issues, but nothing a couple wedding planning doesn’t encounter. A year later, though, you can see the difference. Less posts of the two of us and more posts about finding peace, solace, and happiness.
So what triggered the change? Was it the wedding? No – I never felt it was the wedding and to this day hold true to that. It began slowly. About two months following our wedding, my husband began a rigorous study program for a big exam. He worked full-time and then spent his nights and weekends studying… During the first 3 months of his studying, I happily kept house and planned for our upcoming move. Once we moved into our new, larger home, I took on the role of doting housewife who cooked meals and decorated our new home. I went through a very crafty phase and kept myself busy with DIY projects. I spent time with friends so I wasn’t always alone on the weekends.
But during this time, we began to lose touch. We rarely had meals together and rarely went to bed together because he was up late studying. We shut off the cable because it was an added expense that no one really used. What had once been a fun pastime a few nights a week – cuddling up to watch one of “our” shows or a Redbox movie – became a thing of the past. The rent of our new home was higher and I had decided it was time to start saving for a baby, so we had less fun money to go out on dates or go to the movies. I withdrew more and more as time passed and so did he.
About six months after our wedding, I called it quits on my birth control. I announced that I’d waited long enough and that I was 6 months away from turning 30; it was time to start trying. My husband, like most men, wasn’t all that giddy about it but followed suit because, well, happy wife happy wife. And so we embarked on the new journey of trying to conceive. I was confident that we wouldn’t have any issues, so as each month passed and I wasn’t late, I sank deeper and deeper into depression. I don’t think I realized what it was back then, but looking back I realize that’s what it was. I lived for that time of the month and prayed that I would be late. I obsessively tracked and took ovulation tests, looking for that holy grail window.
But it never came. After 3 months of trying and realizing I had gained 15 lbs. in the last year, I realized I had to snap out of it. I started running to help distract myself and lose some weight. In the beginning of our relationship, running had been our nightly pastime! We would run to the church down the street or the community college on the corner. But since he was still studying, I did this on my own. As with most things over that first year of marriage, I learned to do many things on my own. At first it was lonely, but I became fond of my weekend trips to Michael’s and Hobby Lobby, followed by some new craft project.
When the test was finally passed and my husband emerged from his dungeon (I’m sorry, office), it was exhilarating! We began to have dinner together again, watching movies again, and going out just to be together. The conversation seemed to come back between us, which was something that had been lacking for a year. But as time wore on, the newness of our life together wore off as well. It was spring and early summer, a particularly stressful time for his line of work and it showed. We began to bicker over silly little things (things that seriously didn’t matter as I look back now) and I think we both seriously began to question if we were happy together.
We both had our ways of coping with the stress. I continued running because I got me out of my head. I have a very overactive brain that never seems to shut off, and when stressed or anxious it goes into overdrive. I would overthink a simple conversation from work and for the entire night until I went to bed, replay the conversation in my mind and with a running commentary of me judging myself on how I’d handled it. I had once confided in my husband, but after dealing with this sort of anxiety for days and weeks on end, I could tell it exhausted him. And when he wasn’t around to confide in, I was really stuck in anxiety central. So, when I took up running, it was a welcomed escape even just for 15 minutes. I continued running after he passed his exam, hoping he’d want to join me like old times.
But no, he was dealing with his own stress. And his way of blocking out the running dialogue in his head was to drink. It started off small – a drink here or a beer there, maybe two a night. He would chill out on the couch while I would cook dinner or work on a project, and we were content. I was ok with this at first because it seemed to calm him down. As with my anxiety, he would cycle through the worry aloud over and over and I could never find the right advice to give so he would remain anxious or aggravated. When he drank, the anxious thoughts would be pushed aside and he could actually talk about something else funny or not so serious.
But over time, it became worse. The stress built and things that had been promised weren’t fulfilled. The number and frequency of drinks began to increase and with it came the pleas for me to drink with him. When I turned them down because we were trying to get pregnant, he didn’t quite understand. I think he felt isolated and like we could no longer connect. This is when the parallel lives really begin to emerge. Living side-by-side in the same house, but not really interacting. He would drink and zone out while I would find something else to entertain my attention. As I had learned with my ex, it’s no fun to be the sober one interacting with a drunk, so I would often seclude myself to another area of the house. He picked up on this and took to leaving the house to have drinks, adding to my anxiety when he wouldn’t come home…
The fighting escalated. Don’t get me wrong, it had always been there. We are both rather stubborn individuals and genuinely feel we have the right opinion, so we very often butt heads. Early in the relationship, I would just agree on most minuscule things to keep the peace and appear easygoing. I think most women do this early on and as things get serious, you let your true self show. I’d been burned by doing this in the past, so I didn’t hide much from him. As I mentioned, he was the first open guy I’d dated and I felt comfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions. In the past, we’d agreed to disagree on topics that really didn’t matter and on serious topics we would often compromise.
But now, everything seemed to be a no-win situation. We found ourselves going in circles, having the same fights over and over. I would share with my friends who would tell me to stand up for myself, which I would. He would share with his friends who gave him the same advice, and so we would reach an impasse. To avoid fights, he just wouldn’t come home and would drink. I would run and disappear on the weekend running errands so I didn’t have to be around when he woke up from a stupor. And so round we went around the merry-go-round, pretending that things would solve themselves.
Not once during this did I reach out for help. As the fights wore on, I stopped sharing with friends and my mother because I was embarrassed that we couldn’t resolve such simple problems. I never suggested we go to therapy to get some guidance on how to communicate. Sadly, I just pretty much gave up. We weren’t having any luck getting pregnant and I began to wonder if us being together was a mistake. Had we really not thought things through enough and just dove in head first? Had we each really concocted an image of the other in our mind and now we were just fighting to make the other conform to our desired partner image?
When it all crumbled, that’s what it came down to. We each had our own image of what the other should be, but had never bothered to fully communicate this to the other. We had partied and had fun the first 2 years of our relationship, so when we got engaged and then married, he assumed we would continue the fun. In my mind, marriage meant we were finally settling down and going to start a family – to be adults. That term alone brought very different opinions. I viewed married adults as couples who were saving for a house and planning to start a family. I think he viewed it as a chance to travel and have fun while being in a committed relationship. Nothing was wrong with our ideas; we just didn’t communicate them to each other and in doing so, were just assuming the other one would follow our plan.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth the lack of communication for 9+ months dredged a valley as wide as the Grand Canyon between us (or so it felt like to me). As the dust settled from the crash to the valley floor, I demanded we see a therapist. But unfortunately, I went into therapy completely broken and untrusting. I had every right to feel this way, but I know for a fact I went in with the mindset that this wouldn’t help. It would be good to talk, but if already made my mind up – I was leaving. As our therapist described it, I was done with the ride and jumping off the merry-go-round. My mind was made up and frankly, it seemed to be the only solution.
When I moved out, I had no plans of going back. I made it clear I would never return to our home, the site of so much anger and pain. I took most everything with me, leaving behind a few framed photos of us in hopes it would stir some emotion from him. The day I moved out, he’d left notes all over the table, asking me to reconsider what I was doing. But I was Fort Knox – I wouldn’t be broken.
We spent the remainder of the year in flux between arguing via texts, angry phone calls whenever one of us was overcome with all that had happened, or silence. It was the first year we spent the holidays apart. I hated him for having this all happen at the end of summer. Fall is my most favorite time of the year and I was no longer in my own home able to decorate and enjoy it. I moved home the week of Thanksgiving and was miserable. I didn’t regret my decision, but I began to deal with the realization that my marriage might actually be over.
The following months were brutal and a roller coaster of emotions. On any given day, I could be happy or feeling as if the world was ending. In my mind, it was. My dream of being a wife and mother had been so close to my grasp, and then like always, ripped away. I briefly toyed with the idea that I was the one screwing up in the relationships and unknowingly sabotaging myself so I would never be happy. In order to avoid these thoughts, I threw myself into work and self-help books. I prayed on a daily basis, asking God to show me the way. At one point, I cried out to Him and asked for a sign if I was to try and work things out with my marriage. Within a few days, I received a sign and it brought me to tears.
There was hope.
It wasn’t easy. I was in therapy once a week, working through my personal issues. For the first time, I began to uncover years of hidden memories that I’d buried so deep inside of me that I nearly forgot them. Week after week in session, I would break down in tears as we uncovered areas and thoughts that I had formed as a young college student, naïve and new to dating. I had experienced more than most women would put up with and taught myself hat I caused it; that I deserved the treatment. I thought so little of myself that it would take a severe wake-up call to jolt myself awake.
For months, all I did was work on me. I continued to read books and pray. I continued to run every morning because it was the only way to keep the depression and tears away. I went for days without talking to my husband because we’d had some fight or I stated I needed space to figure things out. Prior to the new year, I had struggled to verbalize everything that I was feeling. He knew I was in therapy and I think he believed that I would come out a man-hater. Surprisingly, I spent the first three months of therapy barely talking about what had happened between my husband and I. All we worked through were past relationships and scenarios, and the baggage that it gave me and how I’d carried said baggage through years of relationships.
Sometime after the new year, I wrote a letter to my husband stating what I felt I deserved and what I expected in a husband. It was the first time I’d ever written anything like this and I had little to no faith that it would be read with care. As we began to talk (and argue) more, I would constantly refer back to this letter and what I wanted in a marriage. It became my mantra and I wouldn’t back down from it. I began to believe for the first time in a very, very long time that I deserved this. That I wasn’t crazy for expecting these things and that as a man who loved me, he would see that they made sense.
Slowly, the fighting subsided. Maybe we both tired out from arguing via phone and text. Maybe we both decided we just wanted to make a positive turn. Maybe God touched both of our hearts and asked us to look for anything that might still be there that resembled love. I remember going to visit a friend in New York and still feeling so lost. All I did was hike and think that weekend, but it was probably the best thing for me. I experienced yoga for the first time and cried in my second session of hot yoga as I tried not to throw up the margaritas I’d drank the night before. I hiked in the snow and battled in my mind with how freeing this was and yet how I missed being able to share this with my husband. It was that weekend that I was asked if it was the last day on earth, what would I choose to do in my relationship.
Without hesitation, I said I would stay.
I had been given a sign from God that was I was supposed to work on my marriage for the next six months. That meant that through June, I was going to give it my all, but I was going to stand firm in my truth. I had uncovered a lot of pent-up hurt and anger that needed to be released. I learned that I’d carried multiple scars and misconceptions from my early relationships into my marriage. I began to see that when something that faintly resembled an old, buried experience, my mind leapt into replaying that experience in present day. My husband would become the alcoholic ex who would leave me and hang out with the guys. My husband would become the ex who would choose watching late night TV over coming to bed with me. My husband would harbor the thoughts that I was a pain; that I was the bitch; that I was bringing all of this on myself.
I was doing a lot of this to myself in my own head. My husband was merely the actor playing out the story I’d already projected out into the universe.
And so, I would repeat the story and the situation from years ago. And I would cry to myself, “why is this happening again??”
Now – let me be very clear that on his own he did what he did. He handled himself in poor fashion at times (as do us all) and in his mind, he was playing out his own fearful stories. Situations that he’d experienced long before he met me would resurface whenever we fought or whenever I would be so angry that I asked if we should just end it all. I became the actress in his own movie and I began to play the parts in the scenes he’d seen far too many times before. And trust me, being 3 years older than me meant he’d repeated these scenarios more times than I had.
And so, we became trapped in this world where neither one of us felt loved, safe, or in control. We couldn’t seem to control our thoughts and no matter what we said or did, it wouldn’t stop the scene from continuing on. Eventually he said and did things that my ex had down all those years ago. And with those actions, I left like his ex had done so many years before me.
Our ego got what it wanted – for us to replay our stories and to wind up being right. For me, it showed me that no man would ever be different than the one who’d started this mess for me. For him, it showed that no matter how sweet you were, the girl always leaves.
And around the merry-go-round we went, stuck in our stories.
And then I jumped off. I broke the cycle. I broke the hamster wheel; the routine; I went off the script.
And I started my own new story – one where I was happy, no matter what.
Did I want him in the story? Not at first. No, I thought he would never change and that in order for us to be together I would need a completely different person.
That has been my coping mechanism for as long as I can remember. Every time there was a fight, I wanted to break up. My total type-A personality screamed and died a little each time that I made up with someone because to me, there was now a dent in my perfect story. I wanted a fairytale and fairytales don’t have dents. And once I accrued enough dents, I would finally call it quits. I couldn’t ignore the dings and dents in my story any longer and I knew it was time to start over.
And so I would. Sometimes it would only last a few dates. Sometimes a few weeks; maybe a month. Once I found a “good one”, I would stick around for about two years. After two years, if there are too many dents I would jump ship, headed for land and new shores. I remember doing this around two years with my husband. We went through a particularly rough patch of time, marked by my increased level of drinking. We fought more often than we were happy and I began wracking up dents on my own. I was building a case so that I could say “see, too much damage – we’ve gotta break up”.
But he stuck it out. He put up with my drunken antics and my displays of absolute idiocy. He put up with the emotional breakdowns where I would scream, cry, and throw things. He would remain calm when I drove off angrily, only to return to apologize and beg forgiveness when I realized how much of an ass I had been.
Typing this now, I realize that a lot of what he’s put me through, I put him through as well. It almost became a battle of wills – who would push who to the brink. I honestly don’t remember how, but I got my drinking under control. Shortly after that, we were engaged and I realized that this guy wasn’t kidding – he loved me no matter what. I began to do anything and everything to try and make up for the chaos I had caused. It probably came across as fake, but I was genuinely sorry for ever trying to push him away.
And then it was his turn. And in the beginning, I think I recognized that he was repeating a lot of the behavior that I had already displayed. My displays of rage and insanity had set the bar in our relationship and his tolerance for it showed the we were in a committed relationship. And being in this committed relationship meant that from time to time, you had to deal with the other ones crap. Keep them in check and all would return to normal.
Until I chose to not keep things in check. Until I decided that I was too good for the behavior and that I didn’t have to put up with it. Was I within my rights early on when things first started to get carried away? Probably not because he was merely mirroring things that I had put him through. But unlike him, I chose to ignore the behavior and act as if I had nothing to do with him. In the times where I’d been drunk and screaming at him for Lord knows what, he wouldn’t abandon me. He might leave for a bit (usually instigated by me telling him to just go), but he always came back and checked on me. He always made sure I was ok and that things were ok. He would reprimand me and tell me that this isn’t how adults treated each other and we would work through things.
But what did I do?
Threw up my hands and said you’re nuts – you better figure this shit out on your own.
And then went back to whatever I wanted to do.
Yes, he went off the deep end and really screwed up in a lot of ways.
But so did I by not being a supportive partner – by not trying to work on things in the good times and resolve any underlying issues.
It wasn’t until I left and I examined myself did I realize that I had failed him as well. That in a teeny tiny way, I had caused some of our problems.
It took a lot for me to come to that realization and to actually admit it. But that was the turning point of my marriage. That was the point when I realized that we both were in need of help and making this marriage work.
And so, at some point this spring after being apart for nearly six months, I made the decision that I would choose our marriage. That I was still in love with this man who had done some serious damage to me, but had endured the damage I had tried to do to him. I decided to give him a second chance, as he’d done with me early on in the relationship.
I never formally announced this to him. Instead, I infused my feelings into all of our interactions – phone calls, texts, emails. I didn’t change my expectations, but I began to express things in “when” versus “if” scenarios. “When we move to ______” instead of “If we ______.”
Maybe he picked up on it; I’ve never asked. We spent our birthdays apart, but we made plans to see each other for Memorial Day weekend. In the meantime, we kept ourselves busy. He was gearing up to start his graduate school courses and I was well into my marathon training. Although there was talk about re-locating, it was still too early to tell where or when this would take place. Some nights it was overwhelming and one would message the other how much we missed them.
I remember that weekend like it was yesterday. We both drove about 5 hours to meet halfway for two days together. I remember choosing the destination and wondering if it needed to be at the beach so we had somewhere to go. My friend jokingly asked, “do you really plan on leaving the rom?” I decided she was right and didn’t bother looking at beach locales.
I went into that weekend with a game plan – talk about what I was looking for and get it out early on so I could relax the rest of the time. The top of my list: holding off on starting a family due to both of us being in school. I expected this would be the make-or-break conversation for us, considering how much I had pushed for it the year before. If we were going to argue, it was going to be over this.
I didn’t launch into this conversation as soon as we were reunited (after all – we hadn’t seen each other in about 2 months), but it was still within the first few hours. When I stated my case, his only reply was, “Ok, but I can only wait 2 years. I’m older than you and time isn’t on our side here.”
Really? That was it? I agreed to not actively trying to have children for two years so that we could focus on finishing school and buying a home. I wanted to be in the best possible position financially when we brought our babies in the world. This also gave us two years to work on our marriage and re-build the foundation that we had lost.
I went on about our getaway weekend, content that we had agreed on something for the first time in nearly nine months and that we were being responsible adults. This was going to work out.
Little did I know, God had other plans in store for us.