At the end of this month my wife, Alex, and I will celebrate 12 years of marriage. We have known each other for roughly 17 years. We knew each other in high school, although we didn’t necessarily date. We ran in some of the same groups and had our moments but never became a serious item. I’ve felt conflicted at times about this over the years. She tells me that she knew from the first time we met that she wanted us to be together. I was, at best, a misdirected, foolhardy child, hellbent on never settling down or seeing my friend for what she truly was. I mention being conflicted because I get in the habit occasionally of falling in to the “what if” traps. I think, what if I would’ve just realized back then what an amazing woman she was, we could be celebrating 18 years instead of 12. Then I also realize that we never worked back then because I, if not both of us, had some issues to work through (I definitely had some maturing to do) before we would fully work as the cohesive team we are now. As life had it, after I left for the Army and returned home four years later, I was finally able to realize her manifest physical and spiritual beauty. I had finally felt what she did all along: Life would never make complete sense unless we conquered it together. As the day of our anniversary quickly approaches, I took some time aside to reflect on the idea of marriage and what it means to me as well as how we have managed to keep ourselves together amidst a culture that appears to be experiencing a shift in matrimonial and familial values.
So I wanted to reflect first on what a marriage is. I’m not referring to two people standing in front of some cleric or government clerk, yammering on through a scripted ceremony in which said two people listen to a plethora of bible verses, then repeat some nonsense because the guy running the show tells them to. I’m talking about the thereafter. You leave for the honeymoon or go back to your home to depressurize from the day, maybe sit on the couch, eat some food, and then fully realize that, in front of everyone you know who could make it to the wedding, the two have completely committed their lives to each other. The difficulties don’t set in immediately, but ultimately, they do, and boy can they be difficulties.
This will sound kind of weird, but do you know that feeling you get when you buy a new car? A car you’ve been dreaming about for quite some time. You’ve planned out how you are going to buy it, researched the insurance rates, figured out the best loan with the lowest APR that’s going to get you in that drivers’ seat. You get in and smell that somehow citrusy aroma mixed with the new upholstery smell and you feel instantly at peace. Everything you loved about this car when you were shopping for it is now completely in your grasp. One day not far from then, the check engine light will come on…something is wrong with your baby. You have a choice to make. You can take it to the dealership or mechanic, have it diagnosed and authorize repairs, or you can take it through a grueling legal process in which you separate all of your assets, slander each other, absolutely and willingly forget what made you fall in love with the car in the first place and end up scorned throughout the process; never to buy that brand of car again, hell maybe never even drive again.
Sounds idiotic doesn’t it? Why does it seem that some people are so easy to forgive mechanical defaults in inanimate objects yet when the struggles of a marriage get real, the first thought, and sometimes action, is to call it quits? If a person was able to recognize that initial spark that set ablaze a fire in their soul so intense that they vowed to spend the rest of their life with a person, then how could that same person be so frivolous with thoughts of checking out?
The day I clumsily got on one knee in front of Alex in the spare bedroom of our apartment, stuttering and sweating my ass off, my life changed forever for the better. I tell her regularly, and I firmly believe, she is the best thing that ever happened to me. Yes we have two awesome children together, yes they are supremely important to me, but if it wasn’t for her I would not have those children. Without her I would be lost.
But we are not without our share of difficulties, some fairly monumental. I struggled for most of our marriage thus far with a sometimes near deadly alcohol addiction (more on that in a later post possibly, some of the wounds are still a little fresh and healing). She asked me many a time to put the bottle down and evaluate what I was doing to myself and to us. I told her I did, only to continue drinking in a manner in which I thought I was hiding it…she knew. I’ve said before she is a fiercely dedicated champion of this relationship, as am I although it wouldn’t have looked like it.
Growing up, both at home and while first on my own in the world, I inaccurately learned that all of my problems could be solved with anger and aggression. I carried that with me in to our marriage. I was never abusive with her, physically or emotionally, but it definitely put a damper on us.
She often struggles with a pretty fierce anxiety; sometimes so bad she wants to recluse. When we were first married I wanted nothing more than to go out and socialize. I wanted to go to the club or bar, go dance, hang out and meet people. Her anxiety demanded otherwise. Most nights consisted of sitting at home watching and TV. I would often get so angry at her I could almost cry. I would just sit with her in the living room, fuming, until she went to bed; then I would drink my sorrow away.
We had to learn through experience that in order for us to flourish, we needed to communicate and be flexible with each other’s faults. I never really asked her about her anxiety, I was too preoccupied with being upset at her for never wanting to do much. Once I did, most of my anger turned out to be baseless. I was married to a complex woman whom, it turns out, I hadn’t taken enough time to understand. I was always so enamored with the physical being, and quite frankly my own selfish needs, that I hadn’t delved in to the complexities of who she actually was.
I also had to learn to listen to what she was telling me about my alcohol habits. She would sheepishly ask me to stop drinking and my immediate thought, like a damn defensive shield, was “you just don’t want me to have any way to unwind; this is my stress reduction”. I never considered the things she did: it was potentially killing me and I wasn’t able to fully commit to us when she had to share me with the alcohol.
I guess what I’m saying is a marriage can’t exist without both parties committing to the spirit of complete and total honesty. Try it, I guarantee that if you are two reasonable people with at least an iota of decency and common sense you would be able to see that the “problems” you may be having are mostly of your own devise. It seems foreign to me now that two people could share so much (their home, money (possibly), sexual lives and other physical aspects of this union) while essentially sharing nothing.
In the vein of total honesty, we have talked before about wanting to leave each other, not at the same time mind you, but those feelings have existed in the past. But knowing that these feelings were more than likely fleeting, we spoke about the issues causing them and worked through it. Instead of pulling the imagined emergency trunk release handle and bailing from a relationship we may feel trapped in, we choose instead to tell each other in a calm manner why exactly we feel the way we do and we commit to working through it.
But what would we have been left with? Temporary freedom from perceived sadness but also possible regret. I’ve never met somebody in my entire life who fully and completely understands me the way she does. I’ve also never met another person whom I absolutely felt to the core of me that I wanted to be happy. One of our inside jokes is me quoting trashcan man from Stephen King’s “The Stand” and telling her “My life for you”. I say it in a somewhat joking manner, but I swear to god sometimes it rings very true to me.
Although it’s not JUST about honesty and communication. I don’t personally believe in gender roles in the household. I was taught somewhat early on in life that a person, regardless of sex, has the capability to do their own laundry, dishes, cleaning etc. So why should a person expect the friend they married to be the only one to take care of the household chores or care for the children while the other pursues hobbies or just simply believes that those things are “woman work”. I didn’t marry a chamber maid, I married a friend. Like the honesty, give it a shot, try helping around the house if you don’t already. I bet you will see stress levels plunge a bit when the regular burden of household maintenance is split between two as opposed to shouldered by one.
Alex and I have come a long way in these twelve years, but we didn’t do it alone. There are times in a person’s life when he/she needs to realize they can’t go at it alone. That sentiment applies to couples as well. People have a tendency to get so buried in their own self-perceived misery or selfishness that they cannot possibly imagine a way to dig out. If a marriage begins to struggle and neither party can come to a reasonable agreement as to why, there is no shame in seeing a counselor. The stigma wrapped around counseling seems to be mainly negative: There have to be irreconcilable differences (a term I can’t stand by the way), so why even bother? Yet an impartial, outside view may be exactly the thing needed to show you that the metaphorical mountains separating the two of you are easily climbed. All you need is that Sherpa to guide you along your path.
I guess what I’m saying is if you have ever had that feeling toward the one you’re with, that weightless feeling; like you’re freefalling and your stomach is all turned in knots but you’re too captivated to care…If you’ve ever had that feeling about a person and now you feel it possibly ending over some fickle issue that requires something as easy as one half of the relationship, or both for that matter, swallowing their pride and getting a reality check the put on your big person pants, roll up your sleeves and work it out. I don’t really follow much scripture but occasionally I catch snippets here and there. One I think applies here is Proverbs 16:18. It says: “Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”. The lesson is don’t let your own ego or pride stand in the way of fixing a relationship that at one point made you so happy you promised that person you would be there until their last breath.
So I’ll address the things that I questioned myself on as I wrote this. What about an abusive spouse? Should you try to fix them or make it work? ABSOLUTELY NOT! It is not possible to truly love someone while also inflicting your will on that same person. If someone is suffering from physical or emotional abuse, it is likely that the abuser never truly loved the other, they lusted or saw an easy target. I would say that the abused can tell the abuser to get help and if/when they do, if the love is still there, you can accept them back in to your life but by no means should a person continue to act as another’s speed bag because of a misguided or misunderstood feeling.
I also feel very strongly about infidelity (I’ll say it’s easy to say this because it hasn’t happened to me in my marriage). It would take a lot of struggle on both parts in order to accept or forgive cheating. Stepping outside the foundations of what two have built in order to chase fleeting sexual gratification is, to me, unfathomable. Once again, if there is sadness or unfulfilled desires within the relationship, it is fairly easy to either talk about it and reach a reasonable conclusion or ask for a marriage interpreter (counselor) rather than step outside and torch the foundations of the house you two have built. I do think it is possible to recover from a single instance, but repeated offenses should show the other the true level of care the one has for the other.
The moral of the story is this: Life is a struggle. If you’ve found that one person with whom you can effortlessly navigate the tumultuous oceans of existence, why throw it away for superfluous reasons? Buckle down and weather the minor storms you’re facing. You’ll come out stronger on the other side.
Once again, if you’re still there, thank you for staying with me until the end. I hope you guys and gals enjoy reading what I slop down here because I damn sure enjoy writing it!