My marriage is really fucked up.
It is unhealthy and troubled, and it has been that way for a long, long time.
My husband and I go through varying levels of dysfunction, and the past few months have been at like Level 10 Fuckupedness.
There hasn’t been any infidelity. There is no addiction.
Just an absence of communication. Or perhaps an inability to communicate at all.
There have been arguments. We don’t talk to each other. We don’t really interact unless it is absolutely necessary.
We are certainly not soulmates.
We are, at this point, simply housemates.
Housemates who do nothing together, don’t address each other, and only speak to each other when absolutely necessary.
It’s not a fun place to be in.
It’s not what I envisioned fourteen years ago when I said I do.
It’s not the example I want to set for my children of what they should expect from a husband.
Or a wife.
By sharing this, I am taking a gamble.
Because my husband is much more private than I am.
So putting this out into the world could make things worse.
But I am at the point where I don’t really think things could get much worse.
So I am choosing to talk about it.
Because up until yesterday I had no hope that things would ever get any better.
And they still may not. Especially once my husband reads this.
But on the other hand,
maybe they will.
I listened to something yesterday that gave me hope.
Every time I go for a run I listen to a podcast. Yesterday it was an Oprah podcast.
She was talking to Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer, social justice activist, and author of the book (afffiliate) Just Mercy.
I had never heard of Bryan Stevenson before, but I chose that particular episode to listen to because its title was The Power of Mercy and Forgiveness.
And I have been so angry in my marriage that I was looking for something to help me find a way to forgive my husband.
Because being angry and resentful is no way to spend hours of your day, every day.
I didn’t realize Bryan Stevenson was a lawyer, and when I realized he was talking about people who had been wrongly imprisoned, or people who had committed crimes and received punishments that did not fit the crime, I almost started searching for a different episode to listen to.
But then I heard him say this:
You are not the worst mistake that you’ve ever made….
He was referring to criminals, but that really struck a chord with me.
Because I think so often when there are problems in a marriage, we get laser-focused on that thing (or those things) that our spouses have done or said to us. And then they become that thing to us. When they say something hurtful, that’s what we reduce them to. A hurtful person.
So I kept listening:
My clients have taught me that each person is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done…. if someone tells a lie they’re not just a liar. If someone takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they’re not just a thief. Even if you kill somebody you’re not just a killer. And what a just and evolved and compassionate society has to do is to kind of figure out the other things you are and make sure we understand that part of each person.
I was kind of floored by that.
What a just and evolved and compassionate society has to do is kind of figure out the other things you are and make sure we understand that part of each person.
Because you could easily apply that to your marriage.
At least I could. I immediately substituted a few words in that sentence.
What a just and evolved and compassionate wife has to do is figure out the other things her husband is and make sure she understands that part of him.
I have made a lot of changes over the course of our marriage.
I have come a long way.
When I married my husband on my 35th birthday, I was a heavy smoker who drank too much and who did not take care of herself physically or mentally.
It would take me a good five years of marriage to really start making some healthier changes.
Now, fourteen years later, I’m really proud of how far I’ve come.
I’ve worked really hard on myself, and I’ve worked really hard within my marriage.
Do I feel like I’ve worked harder than my husband?
Is that a fair or accurate assessment?
I don’t know. Maybe.
And it doesn’t really matter.
It’s not a Who’s Worked Harder? competition.
Because at the end of the day, there are two people in this house who don’t really interact with each other. And while my husband doesn’t make an effort to talk to me, I don’t make an effort to talk to him.
Do I have a right to be really angry?
But so does my husband, if I’m going to be honest.
I’ve said some really shitty things to him, and I’ve done some really shitty things to him.
I’ve been justifying my stuff by saying things like, it was only in response to what he did/said.
But you know who says that kind of stuff?
“He did it first!!!”
That’s not evolved behavior, is it?
So while I don’t know if there is really any hope for us in the long run, what I do know is that if I walked away tomorrow, I would forever have the feeling that I had not done all I could.
And not all I could meaning all I could to influence my husband and hope he’d change his behavior/words/whatever, but all I could to be just, evolved and compassionate.
And then toward the end of the podcast, Stevenson said this:
“Mercy is not something we give to people because they deserve it. Compassion is not something we offer to people because they’re owed. It’s what we do because it’s the way we find mercy for ourselves. You can’t get mercy unless you give it. You can’t receive compassion unless you give it…it’s made me want to understand the people who are unhappy with me, who are hostile to me, who sometimes act as if they hate me…it’s really fear. And when you’re afraid, you do things you wouldn’t do that are just and right.
There’s something redemptive, powerful, transformative about catching the stones that people throw at each other unfairly…”
And then finally, Oprah asks him, “How would you define mercy? Mercy is…”
And he answers,
“Mercy is like a mirror. I think mercy is what you give to others with the hope that it will come back to you. It’s what you give to people who don’t deserve it. It’s what you give to people who haven’t asked for it.”
That really, really, REALLY spoke to me.
But there was something else that spoke to me.
Not something else, actually.
Number 7 is seven years old.
She is the baby of the family, but she is, as all the kids are, smart and perceptive.
And I know that all of the kids realize what is going on between me and my husband.
Even if they never heard a negative word exchanged between us, they see it.
Or they don’t see it.
They don’t see us hugging or even interacting, really.
On Thanksgiving, Number 7 was adamant about doing an activity her teacher did with her class on the last day of school before the break.
Every kid in the class wrote their name on a turkey, and then all the kids put their turkeys face down on a table, and you had to draw a turkey and then write something kind about that person on the turkey.
Number 7 really wanted our family to do this at Thanksgiving dinner. She and my dad traced and cut out a bunch of turkeys.
She wrote my name on mine while I was busy making dinner, and then instead of having everyone draw turkeys, she decided to just hand them out.
As luck would have it, I got my husband’s turkey.
And as luck would have it, he got mine.
I don’t think it was luck.
In fact, I’m positive it wasn’t.
And so, my husband had to write something nice about me.
And I had to write something nice about my husband.
We all took turns reading what our turkeys said before we ate dinner.
When I read what my turkey said, there was an audible awwwww from all the kids.
When my husband read what his turkey said, there was an audible awwwwww from all the kids.
It was the first time they had heard us say anything nice to or about each other in a long long time.
I thought about this after dinner was over.
Number 7 knew exactly what she was doing. She wanted so badly for her mom and dad to just be kind to each other.
And then on Sunday she showed me this again.
It was a brief little interaction.
On Sunday we decorated our Christmas tree.
And I usually take a picture of the kids, but in an effort to get in more (any!) pictures with the kids, I have been asking people to take my picture with them.
My husband offered to take the picture.
But my parents were also at the house, and Number 7 said, “I WANT MOMMY AND DADDY TO BE IN THE PICTURE WITH US.”
And she grabbed my hand and my husband’s hand, and she positioned us so we were next to each other in front of the tree.
And then my mom took a picture. All of us together.
It was forced and it was slightly uncomfortable, but we did it.
So yeah. My marriage is fucked up.
I could point fingers and blame and wait for my husband to come to his senses.
But when we are both doing that, nothing will change.
And like they say, when nothing changes, nothing changes.
So this Christmas, I am going to give my husband the gift of mercy.
Does he think he needs my mercy?
Will he give me mercy?
I have no idea.
But I am almost fifty years old.
I’m way past the age of I’m only doing it if he does it, too.
And I am giving my children — especially Number 7 — the gift of a mother who treats their father with kindness. A just and evolved and compassionate wife and human being.
And what about me?
I deserve a gift, too.
And I’m going to give myself the gift of hope.
Because the alternative just isn’t an option for me right now. An existence without hope is not much of an existence at all.
So I will hold on to hope.
Because ultimately, that is what the Christmas season is all about, after all.