Ahhhh…. Marriage. In my last few posts I started to touch on the subject. The subject is massive and I often debate as to how to include it in a valuable way on Blooming Betty. No doubt it should be included, as it is one of the most important relationships we have. It can’t be ignored when thinking about your own path and vision. Every choice we make affects "it". Based on the comments that I have received from these posts, readers are thankful that I have… the comments have been interesting. We all basically agree that each marriage is unique and work or don’t work for a million reasons. But what seems to have resonated most, has been that in order for a marriage to work, it needs a strong foundation. Things and circumstances change over time but the foundation basically stays the same. However, it needs to have two people committed to making it work and grow throughout, not just the expectation that it happens naturally. Maybe for some that knowledge is immediate (don't know many) but for most tit isn't (know many). Some times it even takes many many years and sometimes it takes “something”; a milestone, a juncture or crossroad, a crisis or maybe just some moment of clarity that comes with time.
A reader sent me this story last week and being especially emotional right now (don't tell me you forgot my kids are off to camp for the first time), it brought tears to my eyes. I thought it was worth sharing. It was honest, realistic and inspiring at the same time. Perhaps it will set some of you on a different path in your own marriage or make you hug your partner just a little tighter… Let me know.
My husband, let’s call him Sam, and I were at the juncture 5 years ago just before our 25th anniversary [although we’d been there many times before - just not sufficiently activated for either of us to call it quits.]
I was the energy behind this recent surge of hopelessness. I felt boxed in. Unable to “be” what and whom I needed to be. I felt that I would never be a whole secure person while in this marriage.
Sam knew that I’d been unhappy for years. Eventually, there was event that was my last straw and I told him that I was unequivocally done. It was a decision that he knew had been brewing for awhile, but had been in the making for 24. I now know, from lots of talking, of very few marriages where there haven’t been similar cliffhangers.
We began the process with a psychologist.
Just before the third session, I had an accident. I was exploring a new “me” activity –horseback riding – and suffered a bad injury.
Sam had to drive 90 minutes out of town to get me. He didn’t know how injured I was and had visions of paralysis. But he showed up. He took me to two different hospitals – the first a local rural hospital for evaluation. They didn’t have the capacity to deal with me – I had severely broken my right arm in 3 places – so they stitched up some big cuts and sent me back to Toronto. Even though he never ever challenges the rules or authority (as a couple conflict was my realm), he bypassed emerge, argued with the chief of surgery, got me admitted notwithstanding a hospital policy that you’d go home with morphine for up to 2 weeks until there was a surgery opening. Without asking the inevitable “Should I cancel my office hours?”, he sat there every day and night for 4 days.
One morning he came in and told me that he’d had the third session with the psychologist who told him, “This doesn’t change anything”. It was a defining moment. In my hyper morphined state, I said in my head, “No, this changed everything.”
He didn’t have to show up and there was real risk in showing up – it could have been a Christopher Reeve experience. What was his obligation then? The key for me was that he showed up and stepped up. He did everything that we had fought about in the past. He put me, not himself, not his family, not his work first. He challenged authority. He took care of me so I didn’t have to.
The main reason I fell in love with Sam in our twenties was unlike many guys I’d dated he was a “mensch” – which means a good, decent person. There are not a whole lot of people out there who’d sacrifice their lives for me. He would.
Here’s what we learned:
1. The marriage, our marriage, is uniquely ours. It wasn’t about him or me. He would not be the kind of husband he was if I hadn’t been the type of wife I was. We created what we had together. And until you reach that realization, that you have responsibility for what you’ve created, change is well nigh impossible. Responsibility for the past needs 4 broad shoulders, not two.
If there were things I needed, I had to make them clear and work to get them done and not stop working until we had clarity. Same for him.
We’re both working on that now – but change is difficult.
2. My therapist made clear that this was not about Sam. It was about me. If I needed to leave the marriage great; but that was not a solution to my future happiness. I had to address who I am and what I wanted. I felt boxed in and want to break out. But marriage wasn’t the box – it was my fear of recreating myself and us as a couple that focused my blame on the easier target – the relationship. I was overwhelmed and I needed focus, strength and clarity.
I found that this is not something you decide upon, but gain through honesty, trial and error.
Sure Sam had to make his changes, but for me to find happiness, the one who really had a lot of soul searching to do and changes to be sure that I got to a safer, happier place, was me.
3. Marriage is a marathon. What keeps us going is not the sense that we are the best people in the world for each other; we may not be. Both of us have choices. We are two good people. We had and still share values and a vision and goals. We made a commitment and we made choices. Of our 1000 points of similarity there are also a 1000 points of difference and our shared challenge was how to manage those differences, similarities and expectations.
4. Families are systems. Change one element in the system and everything changes. We are the parent founders – we created the values and behavioral norms for our family. If we split, the foundation of that framework would be irreparably changed in a variety of ways – some good, some bad – that we couldn’t anticipate. Everyone says that people move on; kids are resilient; yada yada. Change is risk. It can be good or bad and there’s no guarantee of outcomes. Our family is our mini family enterprise. It’s incredibly precious, irreplaceable and it’s a life project.
Sure we can make a new family but that foundation would be irreparably changed as well as every one of us.
There is one thing I’m positive about: in terms of making the best choices with me and with and for our expanding family, I’m laying my bets with him.
The first 2 years were tough, with each of us uncertain as to the underlying commitment to change and to stay. We both repeated our behaviours and still remind each other about the landmines. But incredibly, we are so happy. We watched our eldest son get married and it was the happiest moment of our lives, a crowning achievement to a 25 year project to which we’d both committed a lot of time and energy. Now that our childrearing is over we have relaxed, we are reverting to the more playful, adventurous, younger selves that we fell in love with. We’re having more fun. The kid, family, personal success, money stresses are largely behind us. We’ve never been so happy or felt so lucky.
What I like about this story is that it could be about anyone. This is not a sappy love story. It is about two everyday people that worked together. They recognized that they had choices. It is about a renewed commitment, a refocusing and commitment to change. They don’t pretend to have it all figured out and really, lets be honest, not many of us do… but they knew enough to recognize the need to stop and recalibrate and that I thought should be celebrated, passed on and learned from …
Blooming Betty will return the week of July 11.