Two years ago, Hubby and I went through a transformation in our marriage. Some would call it a “rough patch.” Others would call it “marital growing pains.” I call it the scariest time I’ve ever lived through and, until about a year ago, I wasn’t able to write about our marital stress because it made things feel “too real.”
But, if I’ve learned anything through our therapy journey is that we joined a club the day we walked into our therapist’s office, a club I didn’t know existed until I slowly started to whisper to my close friends that we’d sought therapy to iron out our differences.
Turns out, marital problems and the stress that comes with being married long term are topics no one wants to talk about at cocktail parties. No one wants to post a picture on Facebook that says, “We are both smiling through gritted teeth because we just had a huge argument behind closed doors and we are pretending that all is well for appearance’s sake. #Blessed #TherapyRocks.”
Until I was brave enough to say something to my friends, I had no way of knowing just how many couples were dealing with the same stresses we were facing.
While I’ve written about our struggles for other outlets, this is the first time I’m writing about our journey here. It feels real, it feels raw and though it makes me feel exposed (even after getting to place where I’m no longer ashamed to admit we needed help to stay married), I know that I am not the only one who really didn’t like being married for a while.
And, if you are reading this, shaking your head in agreement, just know that I realize how hard it is to take that first step towards fixing your relationship.
You aren’t alone. Therapy is worth it, even if it’s because it helps you decide you are going to actually end your marriage. Just make the appointment. I promise, it’s worth it.
The realization that my son would be heading to college hit me hard one summer afternoon.
As the reality of my son leaving home washed over me, I found myself feeling panicky. Not because I was nervous about the inevitable tearful goodbye in his dorm room. My panic wasn’t because the thought of sending him off on his own made me want to sit on his bed and cry.
No, I was feeling panicky because I didn’t recognize my marriage.
Years of frustrations and stress from child rearing, job strain and a life of nearly 20 years together had left my marriage unrecognizable. Somewhere along the way, we’d lost our spark and our once close connection. Like most couples, our conversations revolved around carpools and bills and our evenings were spent dozing in front of the television.
We had become more like two roommates sharing the rent. More and more, bickering and hurt feelings replaced deep conversations and respect. Resentment hung like a heavy cloud over our marriage and most days, it felt like my husband had become a stranger to me.
And I wasn’t sure our marriage would be able to sustain the absence of children living at home.
When I took a hard look at what we’d become to each other, slowly and insidiously over time, I realized that I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay married to my husband when my kids left home for college.
And it scared me to my core.
I met my husband when I was 20, back when my thighs didn’t jiggle and my face wasn’t a road map of crow’s feet and sunspots. He was a part of almost every memory I have in my adult life and I couldn’t believe that I was seriously contemplating leaving.
But, if I was honest with myself, the thought of spending the empty nest years in a marriage full of resentment and hurt didn’t seem too appealing, either.
On a warm summer day a few weeks after my devastating realization, our marriage came to a crisis point. As a silly argument escalated hopelessly out of control, I hurled words at his chest that I never dreamed I’d say. Words that we both knew could never be taken back.
“I want a divorce.”
With those stinging words hanging above our heads, the sounds of our kids laughing at a ridiculous YouTube video on our patio floated into the kitchen. The reality of what I’d just admitted felt selfishly like a relief but I had stunned myself into silence with the enormity of what I was saying.
In aftermath, the quiet in the kitchen was deafening.
My husband looked at me from across the kitchen island, his blue eyes flashing hurt and sadness.
“So, that’s it? That’s all I get? 20 years together and you aren’t even going to help me try to put things back together?”
In my pain and confusion over not recognizing my marriage, it hadn’t occurred to me that leaving wasn’t the only option.
It also hadn’t occurred to me that he didn’t want to leave, too.
I had a choice to make.
And I made the harder choice that day.
I chose marriage therapy.
I chose to take the steps necessary to find the kindness in our marriage, the gentle reminders that we were still closely bonded, even if we couldn’t seem to remember who we were before two kids, a dog and a mortgage.
I chose to walk the journey of couple’s therapy in hopes that we could redefine what our retirement years would look like down the line.
Our story could have ended abruptly on that summer day in our kitchen.
Instead, we decided to rewrite the ending of our marriage. We realized that while we had cracked the veneer of our marriage, the foundation was strong. We could rebuild, slowly and carefully, each bringing new bricks and mortar we created together in our sessions.
At first, I kept our marital issues quiet because I felt ashamed that my “perfect” marriage had seemingly failed. And, it didn’t help that a few of the people I did tell immediately exclaimed, “But, you guys are so perfect together! You can’t break up!”
And so, we stayed quiet in our struggles, leaning on each other for support. Often, I felt like the only couple who’d ever had to take a closer look at the issues that had been swept under the carpet for so long.
But, slowly, I realized my husband and I have nothing to be ashamed of. The reality of kids leaving home can shake even the most solid of marriages to their very foundations. And I know we aren’t alone.
I’m proud of how hard we’ve worked to redefine ourselves as a couple. I’m no longer embarrassed to admit that we’ve struggled as a couple. In fact, I’m grateful every day for that moment in my kitchen.
Because marriage is hard. Really hard. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that have come with not only really facing your kids leaving home but also being able to rediscover who really I am after almost 20 years of laundry, carpooling and kid rearing.
The light is bright at the end of that proverbial tunnel, yes, but sometimes it’s so blinding that you have to step back and blink until you can get your bearings.
But, when you can see clearly again, when that light comes into focus and you can see your relationship at the end of the tunnel, walking towards it doesn’t seem hard.
I’m just glad I saw the light before it was too late.
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Eileen Goudge says
I love this post. It’s brave and honest and real. For those of us who’ve walked that walk, it validates our decision to seek counseling. Whatever the outcome, it’s all about finding your way to your own happiness in whatever form that takes. I’m happy for your sake that yours didn’t end in divorce.
My marriage went through a rough patch a little over two years ago, too. We didn’t seek counseling (although we talked about it and probably should have), but we spent a lot of time working through what we want and need from each other. I have already been through a divorce with my first husband many years ago, and I didn’t want to go through it again. I learned a lot and decided that our 20 years together was worth working for, and so did he. We have two kids together, and our oldest just went off to college. That’s been an adjustment in our family, for sure!
Thank you for this! I’m in the exact same spot. With the oldest boy getting ready for college, the youngest just a year and a half away from going to college and the onset of turning 50, I realized I wasn’t so sure my future included my husband. We’ve been in counseling for a month and are trying to figure out if we can see ourselves together for the long haul or if we should work on living together amicably until the last one has graduated. Either way having an impartial trained therapist has helped immensely!
This post really hits home. We too are in the midst of a “rough patch”. Knowing we want to stay together but terrified of how to make that happen and not fall into the same old patterns. Looking down the barrel at 50 and knowing we only have a few more years before our empty nest happens is daunting. No one ever teaches you the tools to make marriage work and all your friends are just as unhappy. So glad you found your way out onto the other side. But it sure is hard work isn’t it? I’m pretty sure that’s not in the brochure.
So funny, I always read what I need to hear. I’m not sure if me and my SO will make it through. We are just starting out the parenting journey but have been together going on 8 years. I was hesitant on seeking counseling but seeing that it possibly could work for us as well has made me want to take the leap. Keep me in your prayers! Thanks again for sharing this. It means more to me than you will ever know.
Nica Fleming says
With our youngest head to college in just a few months, my husband and I have found ourselves in this very spot. Your words couldn’t be more timely or more soothing. Thank you so much for this.
Dana Vance says
Late to the party on this post–so glad you and your husband were able to keep your long marriage together. Two months ago my husband of 26 years (we have two sons ages 20 and 22) told me he no longer loved me, wanted a different life, and oh yes–a divorce. BOOM–just like that. Was our marriage perfect? Of course not, but I did not see this coming. He moved out three days later, took almost nothing with him, won’t answer my calls or texts and hasn’t seen our sons in three weeks. I asked him to go to therapy-said no. Asked him to come home for the summer to see if we could sort this out–didn’t even respond to that text. Turns out the new woman, 12 years younger than me and twice divorced herself, is a lot more fun than we are. I would have done anything to keep our family together–literally anything. Please please do go to a counselor if you find yourself in this position–26 years is a lot of a life to walk away from.