Today, my husband and I celebrate 4 years of marriage. This was our first official year of homeownership, and we celebrated 7 years of being in love this summer. All the dangerous years of marriage wrapped up into the perfect storm.
Coming into our marriage, neither of us really knew what we were doing. My parents divorced when I was 2, but both remarried. My dad and step mom remained married until the day that she died from cancer and he followed her a year a half later with a heart attack and my mom and step dad are still married to this day. I wouldn’t say either of their final relationships were perfect, however, despite the split of my family the stability that was birthed out of it was probably the best of a bad situation. I remain grateful for that. However, this bred a deep rooted fear of divorce in me and my inability to confront our real problems that were beginning to grow between us. I was drowning in my issues and the waters were rising fast.
My husband’s parental situation was completely different. He was raised by his grandparents because his mom was a chasing a meth high for the first fifteen years of his life. His father had always been absent, though later he would attempt to contact John after being released from prison. His grandparents marriage was an absolutely committed necessity. Between their mentally handicap son who already lived with them, and my husbands siblings and cousins all making corners of residence in their small home, there was no room to even consider whether or not we like each other enough to keep this going for the long term. Though, in good faith, I’m sure they loved each other because of the beautiful memories my husbands tells me of their Monday night bingo dates, and the special tuna casserole she made only for him. It was a simple partnership that was driven by their need to be a united team carrying the burden of feeding all these hungry mouths. However his mom’s consistent inconsistency was reflected in the consistency of my mental illness and my growing habit of protecting him from the truth of certain things we were facing started to trigger his alarms that I was leaving him the way his mother had lied and left him all those years ago. Suddenly, he was unable to trust me and his insecurities became gail-force winds.
Our marriage are explosive yet nurturing, encouraging yet critical, a whole lot of chaos stitched together by our best attempts at order. We have this undeniably strong connection. From the moment we met our souls just knew. There was never a doubt in my mind that we were perfect while we were still kids. We created two beautiful children who have the most amazing hearts and minds. The things they teach us are priceless treasures beyond words. John and I tirelessly sew their gardens with stability and comfort and understanding, things we both grieve as missing from the memories of our childhoods. But this year, so much changed for us.
See, my husband is like the wind. At his best he is the cool spring breeze that gently tosses your hair, his laughter is gust of wind carrying a bouquet of red balloons away. He is silly, and loud and a deep well of wisdom and care. And me, I’m water. When I’m good, I can cleanse wounds, I clean the feet of muddy children, I bring a peaceful purring, serenity, tranquility. While a breeze and a river, would be the most picturesque version of what we really can be, a violent windstorm and a heavy rain is the hardest place to find peace. Add in a dense amount of heat (or in our case, passionately pursuing our dreams for the first time) and a massive amount of pressure (financial problems, mixed with growing issues in our current careers, and my mental illness) and that’s how you get a Hurricane. And we were forming off the coast for a long time.
The best and worst thing about hurricanes is once they hit land, the destruction can be massive, just depending on how much pressure was really forming over the oceans, however land is what slows the hurricane down and brings the storm back down to a steady rainfall. This too shall pass.
This year, my husband and I bought a home. The perfect home. Every corner is filled with possibility. Getting this home taught us how to dream. While we rented for 4 years prior were kept our heads above the rising waters of my mental illness by fantasizing what our perfect home would be. All that dreaming drove us right to the front door of a tiny little house, in the quietest family neighborhood, filled with kids and joggers and Christmas lights. The little white house on Hurricane Way was ours within 10 hours of seeing it for the first time.
I was coming to the end of a 4-5 year long existential crisis in which I lost my religion and was inspired to maybe write a fictional novel based on the incredible lessons I learned in that time. Suddenly my whole life made sense. Suddenly I saw the story line of every terrible thing that had happened to me. I was deep in the depths of depression, learning to heal from some painful wounds I had been wanting to grow away from, and it’s like a rope dropped down and I was able to see myself out of this half of my mental illness. If I could tell the whole story, I could understand, heal and forgive. So i began writing, and writing, and writing, I was learning so much about myself.
More than half way through the year my husband has an idea. He’s always wanted to be a comedian and it seemed as if the universe was just screaming at him “Now is the time!” He was lonely, depressed, and overwhelmed. My once happy glowing husband became an anxious ghost who floated from bed to couch to work every day. Comedy gave him goals again. It gave him something to think about, a project to fill the empty chatter of anxiety, it gave him a tool to break through the hardened layer of callous that had formed around his heart from a childhood filled with severe amounts of abuse and neglect. He wanted to be able to make people feel happy because he was so very unhappy. But happiness requires the heart to expand and grow and a heart thats been hardened has a difficult time doing that. So he began tearing open the callouses and revealing the layers of hurt and abuse that he had been hiding deep inside. More times than I can count I found myself sobbing and begging him to stop telling me the stories of his abuse. I wanted so desperate for my healing waters to cleanse him and heal him but suddenly his trauma was so huge, I ended up becoming consumed in him.
The stress reached a dangerous level for me where I nearly collapsed because I hadn’t been able to eat or drink for longer than I want to admit. Our storm was approaching the coast and we were about to make landfall.
The best part of comedy was the socialization that John so desperately needed. The laughter was filling him with air to breathe again. It’s air he needed as he continued to embrace his past and try to understand himself. Meanwhile, I was entering a manic episode, induced by all the stress and lack of sustenance and sleep. Then we met a someone who was grounded and stable and wanted to be our friend. It was like we were floating over the lands and slowing down. Things were improving for us, until this new person got a little too close and our storm reached catastrophic levels.
Before I realized John was coming to terms with things that had happened to him, he was just a mean husband. In defense, I became a critically cold wife. I knew more was happening than just his attitude on the surface, but like it normally happens I realized too late. I kept forgetting that I knew something was going on inside of him. My defensive and sensitive nature started to take his healing all too personally. I began complaining to my friends about feeling mistreated. I was starting to become that friend who only ever complains about her marriage, the one you think “I’m sure glad I’m not as miserable as her.” The friend who makes you appreciate how easy your love is. All my complaining started to bring the wrong people too close to the eye of our storm and if you know anything about hurricanes, being just outside the eye is the most dangerous place to be. We hurt some people and some people hurt us. We made some messes but thankfully nothing was truly destroyed. Except maybe a few bridges…
I learned this year how hard years in marriage really require keeping the rest of the world at arms length. No one knows what really goes on between the four walls of your home unless they are committed to you. The wrong people will judge you, especially if they aren’t married! We all know marriage can get mighty messy, and incredibly complicated, especially when you are two free spirits like my husband and me. Thankfully though, I have a best friend, stable like the ground you walk on, she is everything I needed to help calm this storm back down. She helped both of us remember the love we had when we reached our final threads. The sun peaked out for us, one night as I waited outside my husbands job to prove to him, despite his abusive past telling him I was leaving, I never was. My best friend stayed with me on the phone while I waited for him for three hours. She reminded me how strong our love is for one another, and how we could make it through. She helped me feel strong enough to try once again to love someone so hurt. Bless the partners who hold on to their spouse when the worst of their worst comes to a head. And bless the partners who decide to let the storm die by going separate ways. Either way, let love win.
Thankfully, my husband found a therapist who has been greatly helping him and I have been committed even more to my writing which seems to be helping me. Both of those things are solo, self-reflecting activities we are dedicating ourselves to in order to keep our winds and rains from growing too violent again. Things are not all good, but on today, the day of our commitment to one another, I see the full story and I understand us a little better. Marriage is not bliss, and if you marriage is, I’m not jealous of you. It’s probably boring as hell. My marriage is a green house. It’s hot and humid but the strongest love I know grows here.
I told my husband I hate him this year for the first time and I meant it. But after the worst of us came and went I was able to humbly apologize and know without a shadow of doubt in my heart that I love this man more than any soul on the planet. Come what may, let the worst of the storms of life blow, I know as long we are huddled deep in the center, we will be ok.
We aren’t the simply easy couple because everything that has happened to us is so complicated. Our love is a mess of the all the wrong choices that led us to this wonderful magical gift. There is so much here that I treasure, and despite all of this hell this year, choosing to love my husband was the hardest and best thing I have ever done. I will choose him again and again, I will always choose him.
The storm has now passed but it’s not like life will ever be a perfect day again. In fact, we are settling into a very cold winter. My writing is frozen in fear right now and I am waiting on the spring to come and thaw me out again. I have been discovering things about myself I never knew, and that has all come up so fresh and raw for me in this season. Soon I’ll be back in therapy too.
I never expected our relationship to be easy, I knew I was far too fucked up to ever have that luxury, but I’m thankful that the person I am with is just as messed up as me. Everyone’s a train wreck and he’s my favorite one.
Important marriage advice that helped us survive this crazy year.
1. Take a hot shower when you are depressed and have to be something for someone.
2. When you argue, assume a relaxed position, stare at the same wall and don’t make eye contact. This will keep you from focusing/misreading the emotions on your partner may not be able to control on their face, this keeps you focused on the same problem and not each other, and its hard to yell when you are lounging on your bed or couch.
3. Tend to your own garden. You need to give yourself water and fertilizer and sunshine. Your partner is doing enough to keep their garden growing and blooming as well.
4. Think before you respond. Be patient, let your points go, wait until the other person is finished, and acknowledge their side of the fence.
5. Therapists are for your problems, your partner is just a quiet witness. I’ve been to therapy and it was helpful, John’s therapy has been life-saving. Do it, prioritize it. A lot of my husbands past has given him trust issues and fear of abandonment, I’m the wrong person to ever try to help him with that because it directly effects me. This is why a therapist has been absolutely necessary.
6. Love is a choice. When tensions are high and love is not easy, that is the time to choose to come close when they push you away, to sit outside the door when they slam it in your face, to choose to chase them when they start running. I never knew the depths of how much I could love someone then when my husband became the worst he had ever been to me. I had to choose to realize he is healing from pains I have never experienced. I had to choose to stop taking his worst so personally and reactively defensively with my weapons drawn. I had to lay down my defensives and let him hurt me if he must. I know its not my fault what happened to him but I’m here for better or worse.