What do you do when you are struggling in your marriage but there hasn’t been any one catastrophic event that has caused the trouble?
When there hasn’t been cheating? When there hasn’t been addiction. When there hasn’t been abuse?
What do you do when you and your spouse have just reached a point where you cannot get along?
Where you are starting to despise almost everything about the person you are married to?
When you are approaching The War of the Roses status?
What do you do when you keep fighting over the same things? When you can’t let things go? When you are waiting for your spouse to come to his (or her) senses?
When you are fighting so often that you don’t even remember what the fuck you were fighting about in the first place?
What do you do when your ten-year-old daughter says to you, “I hope when I get married, I don’t fight all the time with my husband.”?
Or what do you do when your five-year-old daughter sees you and your husband hugging, and she innocently and genuinely says to you, “I thought you guys hated each other.”
Yes, my daughters have recently said both of those things.
Those two comments stung.
But they were also eye opening.
The last eight months have been rough. Really rough.
One of my biggest challenges with the kids is getting them to stop the “getting to be right wars.”
Continuing to argue, just for the sake of arguing, it seems.
And I often find myself reminding them either not to engage or to just nod their head and agree with the other person. That if it isn’t a matter of life and death, there is no need to keep going until someone is declared victorious in the argument.
Just let it go.
Last June, shortly after school ended, I spent a week at my parents’ house with the kids when things had gotten to (a then) all-time low.
After five days at my parents’ house, Number 4 said to me, “Mom, I want to go home. Why can’t you just do what you tell us to do? Why can’t you just tell Dad that he’s right and then we can all go home?”
I was crushed.
But also immediately defensive.
I wanted to say to her, “This is different. It’s complicated. You don’t understand. It’s not the same thing.”
But in reality, it was.
In reality, the problem wasn’t infidelity or addiction or abuse.
It was a complete inability to communicate at all any more with my husband.
It was our complete inability to communicate at all with each other.
And the reason why the kids were having such a hard time stopping these getting to be right wars became glaringly obvious.
They had some pretty good (or bad) role models.
Number 4 is the reason why I didn’t leave for good last June.
Things continued to be up and down.
And I found myself wondering how on Earth I could keep going.
There was no way this marriage could work. It was hopeless.
My husband wasn’t happy.
I wasn’t happy.
The kids certainly saw it.
The fact that Number 7 thought we hated each other was not only disturbing, but also a pretty good reflection of the state of he union.
I continued waiting.
Waiting for my husband to get it.
Waiting for him to understand.
Waiting for him to see the light.
Waiting for him to make the first move.
Waiting for him to do something differently.
Everything, our future, our marriage, our potential, was hinging on him.
And then I pulled my head out of my ass.
I have spent 13 years pointing fingers.
13 years waiting.
13 years focusing on the faults of another person.
When the person I should have been focusing on was me. As far as my marriage is concerned, anyway.
I want to point fingers at someone else. It’s so much easier than pointing them at myself.
I tell the kids ad nauseam that they cannot make someone else do or say anything.
They can only control themselves.
I also tell them that the way they talk to and treat other people affects how other people are going to treat them. You know, that whole do unto others thing.
But I totally suck at remembering that myself!
The truth of the matter is, if your marriage is in a Mexican stand off where neither one of you is willing to make any sort of move to make things better, then your marriage is pretty much fucked.
About two years ago, we started seeing a therapist we both liked. She practiced Imago therapy, and it was the first kind of therapy that had really helped us to make any progress.
Imago therapy, unlike other types of therapy, doesn’t treating the individuals. It treats the relationship.
And because of this, you don’t ever go see the therapist separately.
In fact, you don’t even step foot into the office separately. My husband and I had to enter the room together.
But at one point, my husband and I were struggling so badly in one of our Mexican standoffs that the therapist, in a last ditch move, told us she wanted to see each of us individually.
It was a major break in protocol for her.
It was that bad.
But when I went to that individual appointment, she said to me, “I see a lot of pricks in this office. Guys who I know are not going to change. Guys who don’t get it. I know those relationships are never going to get better.”
I felt relief.
She was going to tell me my husband was also one of those pricks. It would be my okay to leave.
I sat there waiting for her not just to give me permission to file for divorce, but to recommend it.
But all she said was, “I really like Daryl. And he’s not a prick. He’s a good guy. And if you can take care of your things, there is a good chance he will follow suit and take care of his.”
I was not prepared for that response from her.
It really wasn’t just him.
So here I am, two years later.
Ten days ago we were heavy in another Mexican standoff. It was the worst one to date.
We weren’t budging.
We were holding onto lots of baggage.
Rehashing the same things. Playing the same tapes.
In the middle of it I went to a friend’s house with a bunch of other moms.
I knew what was going to happen.
I was going to drink a glass or three of wine, and then I was gonna lose it.
That’s exactly what happened.
I had one (or three) too many glasses of wine and spent the rest of the night unloading my biased version of events to my very supportive (and patient) friends.
I left my Mom’s Night Out crying inconsolably.
I knew my marriage was over.
I knew there was no hope.
Three days later I had an appointment with a new therapist. A friend of mine highly recommended her. She was a ball buster, which is exactly what I wanted.
I don’t need to waste time (or money) with a bobble head.
I needed someone who was going to get shit done. And I was going to see her just for me.
She’d help me see things clearly. She’d help me figure things out.
That first meeting with a therapist is always a challenge, because you want to make sure she (or he) knows and understands your whole entire life story but you only have and hour to tell it.
But the other thing I know about therapy is that you get out of it what you put into it.
And if you aren’t totally open and honest, you might as well stay home.
So I put all the big stuff out there.
She asked me what I really wanted to get out of therapy.
And I told her, I needed to deal with the stuff I’m doing that is affecting my marriage.
I didn’t know what she’d say. Maybe she’d tell me I was doing okay. That there wasn’t a whole lot I was doing wrong.
And when our appointment was coming to an end, she said,
“You’re gonna need to come in at least once a week.”
For all of you who are saying, It’s been 13 years. You’ve been doing this for thirteen years and things still suck??? It’s time to throw in the fucking towel!
Maybe for some people, or even most people, it would be.
But I left the therapist’s office knowing one thing.
I have not done everything I can from my end to make this marriage work.
There is work to be done in the therapist’s office. And there is work to be done at home.
Marriage is work, even for the best marriages. But I have been off duty. I have checked out. I have been waiting for the effort to come from the other end. Even though I have given the other end reason to maybe not want to make an effort.
I have been sleeping on the couch for years. I have not been especially nice to my husband. I have held onto grudges, rolled my eyes repeatedly, called him terrible names and said horrible things to him (in the heat of a stand off, but still — that shit leaves a mark).
I have operated under the, he did it first, so I’m doing it back.
So after I left that first therapy appointment, I made a decision.
I’d come home and end the stand off. I’d tell my husband I loved him. I’d ask him if we could wipe the slate clean (or as clean as possible) and start over.
My husband replied with,
And that is why thirteen years is not long enough for me to try before throwing in the towel.
I want to give him some more reasons to keep trying.
Because he’s not a prick. And he’s worth it.
I know there are no guarantees.
I don’t know where we will be three days or three months or three years from now.
But I do know my husband still loves me.
I still love my husband.
He’s not ready to give up.
And neither am I.
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