Be sure to check out Part One before reading!
We weren’t experiencing anything the average marriage wasn’t. Our struggles were typical in most marriages. That’s what I told myself. But typical or not, my feelings were slowly wearing me down.
I avoided talking about my feelings with my husband. Partly to save us from arguing, and partly because we didn’t always feel the same way. He tried encouraging me by telling me what I already knew: yes, we have some things we can work on, but who doesn’t? These are typical problems in every marriage. This is normal.
My feelings felt small and insignificant. Was I crazy? Was I being ungrateful for what we had? It could be much worse. Maybe he was right. What if I was just being dramatic? – All feelings I struggled with.
I wanted to talk to someone about all of this. I wanted some answers. If I was being crazy and just needed to get over it, I needed someone other than my husband to tell me that. And if he was wrong, I really needed someone else to tell him that.
Whenever I brought up the idea of marriage counseling it was usually after a fight. Typically, we landed on the fact that our feelings were heightened. We said some hurtful things, but it was just a fight. We’ve gotten over plenty of these. It wasn’t like we were in danger of the “D-word.” Therapy would be a real commitment: a sacrifice of time and money, crossing things off of our schedules, or, heaven forbid, our kids’ schedules (gasp!). Unless we were in crisis mode, it would be unwise to make these types of sacrifices.
What I’ve come to learn is that the word “crisis” in marriage usually refers to things like infidelity, separation, and divorce. Of course, without question, those all fall into the category of crisis. But what about:
- Constant bickering?
- Feeling completely disconnected?
- Yelling and fighting in front of the kids?
- Lack of intimacy?
Commonsense would tell you that maybe, just maybe, these “typical” problems in marriage are the very ones which lead to the ones we consider to be a crisis.
I wish I could say that we realized this quickly. For us, it took a few years of ups and downs. And for me, the downs felt deeper every time. At home with the kids, everything was a reminder of us: who we once were and who we had become. My husband was able to escape in his work where, not only did our problems seem to be forgotten, but who we once were years ago in that car seemed to be a distant and foggy memory to him. I know with all of my heart it wasn’t intentional, but life and all of its distractions just has a way of doing that. I know now, without question, that my husband has never stopped loving me. However, we had loved each other so intensely in the first years of our relationship that in my low moments, I doubted whether he really still loved me or he just felt stuck with me. I wanted to have the same sure feeling I once had, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t.
Sharing feelings even remotely close to this really just brought us down further. My husband was defensive about my unhappiness. He was working so hard to provide us a happy life; how could I not be happy? I felt guilty even saying it because he did and does, work incredibly hard for us. So those feelings didn’t come out very often, and probably never in their entirety. I’m not sure what it was, but I guess I hit a breaking point. The feeling that we weren’t fighting for us, for what we had promised, was too uncomfortable for me to sit with. Despite my husband’s reservations, I told him I was making an appointment to see a marriage counselor, and that I preferred that he would go with me, but if he declined, I would be going without him.
A few weeks later, we sat together at our first of many appointments. I won’t lie. Those first couple of sessions weren’t all peaches and cream. Tension was high and defenses were up. But we were there. And we were there together. There’s something about being in a room with an objective, third-party person while having tough conversations with your spouse. The presence of this person alone changed not only how we spoke to each other, but also how we listened.
My husband, even with all of his initial hesitations, made the very intentional decision to work incredibly hard at being a better husband and a better father too. I, in turn, realized I needed to turn my focus away from all my resentment and away from trying to figure out all the things HE could do differently and focus on the things I could do to love him well and be a better wife. Over the course of several months, we were both challenged and humbled. We began to peel back the layers of crud we had allowed to build up, and we started to see our core again. We saw each other again, and we remembered how much we loved what we saw.
We aren’t perfect by any means. We are still learning and working hard at improving our marriage. The work is never done, and we love and appreciate each other all the more as we both see one another’s efforts being put in for our relationship’s sake. My hope is that our story might encourage others not to settle for the average marriage. You don’t need a crisis to ask for help. Being unhappy in your marriage constitutes a very good reason for seeking healthy changes. Remember why you said “I do”, and fight for it.