The Year My Marriage Almost Broke
I met my husband on my 24th birthday and over the next six years we became adults. We moved from the East Coast to the West, started new careers, moved back and started again. We got married, bought our first house, immediately had two children, moved to the suburbs, and welcomed a third child. We juggled one marriage, two careers and three kids, and we did it well.
We nailed it.
We were the couple everyone wanted to be friends with. We were fun and funny and laid-back, and we truly enjoyed each other. We gave our friends sound advice when they had marriage troubles. We were very wise. We had our shit together. We pitied other couples who couldn’t make it work. We were self-congratulatory. We were very proud of ourselves and even prouder of our marriage.
We were idiots.
Immediately after we had our third child, my husband was offered a promotion. It was a small increase in salary with a massive increase in travel. I thought he should decline it. Sure, it would be good for his career long-term, but it would essentially be a pay cut when all of the additional childcare was added in. Up until that point, we had managed both career(s) and family with only a part-time nanny. Full-time childcare for three children under 4 years old was upwards of $40,000 per year. His contracted salary increase was a single-digit percentage of that. Financially, it made no sense.
He took the job.
The next few years were hard. Really, really hard. We laughed less. We argued more. We were no longer a team. I resented being solely responsible for everything child- and household-related and working full-time while he flew first class city to city, safe from the flu and blissfully ignorant of the ear infections, night terrors and explosive crib-shits. I was angry. I was scared.
I felt like I was going to explode from being pulled in so many directions. I cried when I dropped off my sick babies at childcare because I couldn’t miss another day of work. I cried at work because I felt like I was failing at everything. Nothing got the best me. Nothing got 100 percent of my effort. My marriage, my kids, my job—they each got only what I had left to give. Some days I had nothing.
When my husband would come home from a week or two on the road, there was nothing between us. We were strangers who didn’t have anything to talk about. I didn’t care about his work dinners, and he didn’t care to hear about how terribly sick we’d all been when, clearly, he had just walked into a home of healthy, happy cherubic boys.
I would hand him the kids and get out of the house. Sometimes I’d go to a friend’s house for wine. Sometimes I’d just sit in my parked car and cry until I vomited. Then I would end my pity party, wipe my snotty face, and go home to see my husband, the man I had loved for years, the father of my children, rolling on the floor playing with the kids, laughing and tickling and singing crazy songs, and the expressions on the faces of my children was nothing short of pure unadulterated joy. And I would smile. And I would laugh. And everything would be OK again. Until it wasn’t.
The year of our 10th wedding anniversary, I quit working. My salary was 50 percent of our household income, and I just quit. I told my husband I just needed to catch up on the last 10 years. I needed a month. I needed one month to organize and regroup, and then I would find a part-time job with less responsibility, shorter hours and a smaller paycheck. After a month, I extended it to three months. After three months, I told him I was not going back to work.
Enter our old friends, Anger and Resentment.
He resented having the full financial burden of our family. I resented his inability to see that this was (in my mind) the best thing for our family.
He was angry that I didn’t talk to him about it before I made such a rash decision that affected our entire family. I was angry that he had done the exact same thing four years earlier.
He still traveled extensively, but now when he got home, I didn’t have to run out of the house for a “break.” When he came home, he came into my home. My children and I had a routine. We were a team of four. He was a soloist. He was a visitor.
Finding himself as the sole provider caused him to spend even more time working and less time with us.
He was selfish. I was selfish. He was pissed. I was pissed. He was unwilling to compromise and try to see things from my point of view. I was unwilling to compromise and try to see things from his point of view. He only cared about himself. I only cared about myself. He was wrong, and I was right. I was wrong, and he was right. We withheld from each other exactly what the other needed. I withheld my body. He withheld his feelings. I withheld conversation. He withheld affection. I showed him no interest. He showed me no kindness.
And so, after 10 years and 8 months of marriage, I decided to call it quits. But we couldn’t afford to separate. We barely had enough money for one household; we certainly couldn’t afford two.
On Thanksgiving Day of 2009, I told my husband that our marriage was over. I think my exact words were, “We can’t get divorced. We can’t even separate. We can’t afford to. But our marriage as we’ve known it is over. We aren’t a team. We aren’t even friends. During all of these years, whether I’ve loved you or hated you, I’ve always liked you. You were always someone whom, given the chance, I would choose to have a beer with on a Friday night. I can honestly say that I don’t like you. I don’t even recognize you. Whoever you are, you are not my husband. So, here’s the deal, now that I don’t expect you to be a husband, things should be much easier. I have no expectations of you; therefore you cannot disappoint me.” It was pretty harsh.
He said very similar things in return, but his words were much nicer. And his being nice to me (for the first time in a long time) made me sad. And my being sad made me less angry. And me being less angry made him be even nicer which started a whole cycle of hugging and ugly crying and snot kissing and I-love-you’s and Where-do-we-go-from-here’s.
2009 was the worst year of our marriage, and one of the most difficult of my life. After we decided that we needed to keep working on ourselves and with each other, we questioned how we had gotten so far off-track. We had been the best couple we knew! How would we get back to that? We wouldn’t. Instead we would move forward—together.
It’s been 20 years since we thought ourselves unbreakable. It’s been seven years since we almost broke.
We continue to drive each other crazy. We continue to laugh.
We understand now that anger does not equal hatred. We realize that frustration is different from resentment. We recognize that sharing our lives doesn’t negate the fact that we are separate and independent individuals with our own goals, our own moods and our own baggage. We get cranky and impatient, and sometimes we get so fucking angry with one another we can hardly stand to be in the same room.
We made it through 2009 because we were too poor to get divorced. We made it because walking away wasn’t a possibility. We made it because quitting wasn’t an option. And because we made it, we recognize (and even admire the beauty of) the ridges of our marital mountain range. We know that when we are in a valley, the trek to the peak is arduous and seemingly impossible. We also know that the view from the peak is worth all of the effort it takes to get there.
We made it. We’re still making it. We continue to climb, and when we fall, we fall together. We no longer give “marriage advice” to our friends. We no longer “pity the fools” who cannot make it work. We are still the fun and funny couple. We are still idiots.
We are still.
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