A gap year is typically used to describe the year high school students take to find themselves. During that time, they work or travel in an effort not only to discover themselves but to figure out what they want to do with their lives. But when we inadvertently applied that same logic to our marriage, it brought us back from almost getting divorced.
We didn’t start with the idea of taking a gap year. Our marriage wasn’t working. And if I’m honest about it, we hadn’t been us for years. Our relationship was plagued from the beginning with every issue that people go to marriage counselors for.
We had difficulty blending our families. There were financial difficulties from having such a large family to take care of on one income. Not to mention all the baggage we bring with us as a result of our pasts. We love each other just as fiercely as we fight, but ten years of arguments and words that should have never been said had taken their toll.
We didn’t want to divorce.
We knew that, if we could get ourselves together, our marriage would be fantastic. Because at one point, it was everything we ever wanted. But we were both mentally and physically exhausted. A short stint in counseling only made the situation worse. It was clear to both of us that we were going to end up hating each other if we continued on the current path. Neither of us wanted that, but something needed to change.
I moved out.
At first, the kids were happy. The arguing had stopped, at least around them. It only resumed through text messages and phone calls out of earshot. But over time, that stopped as well. Not being around each other stopped all of those petty squabbles we had over unimportant things. All of those stupid arguments ensued because neither of us wanted to talk about the more significant issues.
We wouldn’t talk about them until we were halfway through a year of living apart. We only saw each other briefly — a quick visit with the kids or a run-in at the local supermarket.
In the first three months, I was angry. I beat myself up over leaving and not being able to figure out a way to fix us. I read lots of books on relationships until I finally found one that made sense to me. “How To Have A New Husband By Friday,” by Dr. Kevin Lehman. I plowed through the book and his other books in the series and realized that the way to change any relationship, is to improve yourself and how you react.
I spent the next three months working on myself. I started lifting weights as a form of anger management. I gave in to my doctor and started taking medication to manage my fibromyalgia symptoms, and I began to feel better.
Being able to sleep at night was a game-changer for me. Not getting enough sleep was impairing my ability to think straight. When your brain isn’t working at its best, everything feels like a fight-or-flight situation.
I started writing again and found other hobbies, like gardening. There were a lot of things I stopped doing when we got married, like playing video games and bullet journalling that I now had time for because I was alone.
I always felt like I had to be there for my spouse 24/7, and when I did that, it didn’t leave any time for myself. I felt resentful because I didn’t feel like I was appreciated.
But it was my fault that I lost myself. Just as it was also my fault that I dropped off the face of the earth with my friends. And I used that time alone to get reconnected with them. I stopped being this moon that orbited my spouse and instead became my own planet again.
After six months had passed, we reconnected. We both missed each other, but not in the way where you’re just lonely and want to be around whoever is willing to suffer your presence. It was that longing for the other person’s company because they bring something to your life that you can’t find anywhere else. I never tried to find it. I know that what we have is one of a kind, and no one could ever fill his shoes or the void he left in my life.
Our life together wasn’t perfect, but once I got over the expectation that it had to be to work, I started seeing the perfection in it. It was perfect for us and what we needed. It was the everyday life stuff that we let get in the way of it. Everything became more important than our shared love for one another. Once I could look back and take stock of our situation outside of all the anger and hurt, I could see that what we needed wasn’t divorce but a conversation.
I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person, but my husband is. I hate being surprised. So it should come as no surprise that when we finally sat down to have our conversation, it went like a board meeting. It was like a Festivus airing of the grievances. Only it wasn’t all accusations but more about how situations made us feel. I let him know how I got to this point, and he told me all of the things that he felt.
It was oddly calm. I went into our “board meeting,” expecting it to devolve into an argument and tears, but it didn’t. Because by that point, all of it didn’t matter as much and didn’t hurt as bad as it used to. The point of the conversation wasn’t to pick the scab until it bled again but to finally say our peace and let it heal.
In counseling, I felt attacked, constantly. I always needed to state my case. But alone, in the apartment I lived in while we were separated, I felt on neutral ground. I wasn’t depressed and angry anymore. I was willing to listen and to say the things that were silently killing me by holding on to them.
We continued to live apart and work on ourselves. I continued to read self-help books, always seeking to learn more. A venture that I never attempted before.
I was forty years old and had no idea what I wanted, but I was willing to figure it out. He never stopped working on himself to become a better man for himself and me. And as our gap year comes to a close, I can see that the person he was when we started it and the person he has become are two completely different people.
He’s changed the game by increasing his emotional IQ. He’s able to monitor his emotions and label them appropriately. He can navigate the changes in my moods and now understand completely that it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. He always had amazing social skills when it came to working a room, but now he’s learned that emotions aren’t for fixing, they’re for feeling.
But I’ve changed as well. I’m more patient and understanding of his feelings. I understand that being a man doesn’t negate that. I allow myself to have all of my feelings and share them without censorship. I understand the importance of self-care and how it’s not selfish but supportive of our relationship in the sense that it allows me to bring my best self to him.
Now, I can’t wait to move back in and be together again. We’ve proven to each other over the last year that we have learned new skills to deal with conflict and can employ them when needed. But most of all, we have a renewed love for one another. We see each other for the first time in quite a few years as those same people we fell in love with.
But we’ve also broken our codependence. We’ve learned over the past year that we won’t die if we’re alone and that we can live and enjoy ourselves without the other. The important thing is that we don’t want to anymore. Our gap year helped us become better people so that we can be great together.
I’m looking forward to the future in ways that I never have before, and all it took was a year apart to gain a little perspective.
People will tell you that the key to a successful marriage is choosing to love the person you’re with every day. Love is a choice that one makes every day, no matter what happens. But a strong foundation for a good marriage is built on the unwavering fact that you know that your partner will be there for you no matter the distance between you. Even if that distance is more emotional than physical, you know that they will never leave you. That’s the foundation for an unbreakable marriage that leads to a lifetime of happiness.
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