When Marriage Feels Heavy

by Allison Barrett Carter
Originally Published: 
A woman looking worried as her marriage starts to feel heavy

We live in Wilmington, North Carolina, a historic, quaint riverfront community that is Southern but not thick. There are sweeping views of the Cape Fear River, beaches in stumbling distance and a healthy nightlife. Accordingly, we live in a land of weddings. Riverboats have dancing parties with brides swirling in white, and we stumble on merry-goers happily drunk in their designer dresses and ballet flats.

Two weekends ago, my husband and I sat outside with our boys, enjoying a sunshine beer at a local brewery, when a caravan of revelers joined us. They were arguing about what time the ceremony started and where they were to be. They were young, beautiful and charming.

I remember being them.

I looked at my husband and said, “Do you remember when we had a wedding a weekend? Do you remember when that was us?” We lightly touched fingertips before our 3-year-old tried to throw a rock at a truck.

Fast-forward a weekend later and I was hanging out with friends, having meaningful and heartfelt conversations for two days straight. I felt happy to connect, and it was a gift to accept their lives as they opened up. But, yet, my heart also feels sad. The word of the weekend across all conversations was divorce.

My various friends echoed each other, and quite honestly, much of what they said started to echo ugly in my own deep thoughts. It made me realize that as women, we are in a state of change.

We have gone from blissful, carefree weekends of being entrenched in coupledom to the heavy weekends of trying to decide who we are and if our marriages are irrevocably damaged. I am at the age when the women in my life are asking themselves two questions: 1) Would I be happier outside of this marriage at this point? and 2) Am I modeling a healthy relationship to my child(ren)?

We are scared and confused.

Marriage feels heavy right now.

At our age, we are looking forward to a future, trying to imagine it, while still holding on desperately to the past. Past mistakes and any mean words thrown against us are still fresh and clinging, but we hold tight to a future full of hope, with exotic vacations and the lifestyle we always wanted. We are aging up to those golden years, so close we can almost feel the warmth of free time, but we still don’t have the ability to get through a book.

We are changing with each year of motherhood, and our confidence in ourselves is growing, yet we are scared and want nothing more than for someone to hug us and say, “You are wonderful. I love you so much. Don’t change. You are perfect the way you are.”

Our lives aren’t fun right now: They are full of drop-offs, and pickups, and teams, and schedules, and demands, and baking frozen chicken nuggets, yet we desperately want nothing more than the person in our life who loves us the most to make it fun.

We have been through many major transitions, and we feel exhausted, as though we simply can’t give anymore. Then every day there is another emotional demand to be met, a lesson to be taught, and a Band-Aid to apply.

We want to feel sexy, desirable and passion-inducing yet we carry muddy children in from the rain and wipe snot with our shirt sleeves.

Life is just hard right now. It is beautiful and the most gorgeous, blessed adventure I will ever go on, but it is messy. In all of the mess and confusion, our marriages are swept into the fold and, unfortunately, sometimes are more dangerously swept out.

Transitions are always challenging, and at this stage of parenting, moving from the in-the-trenches newborn stage to the where-now-is-that-freedom preschool and early elementary age, is a transition. Parenting is always a transition.

The only thing I know is that marriage is work, required from both partners. At some point, marriage becomes the newborn child: You have to nurture it, feed it, change its crap for a clean start (and yes, it will probably crap again), and sometimes you have to go in and just make peaceful noises even though you are exhausted.

Like raising a child, marriage requires a commitment. You have to commit to plow through the rough times while exercising patience and belief that at the end of the journey your relationship will be deeper and more powerful.

I wish the men in our lives understood all of this. I wish there was a way they could feel the changes we are going through in our hearts and heads, the changes we can’t verbalize. Sometimes I want to shake them and say, “Just hug us more, make dinner once in awhile, and love us. Just love us. Ask us questions, be interested in us, and love us.”

I don’t know what the answer is for my friends. Unless abuse and infidelity are involved, it is hard to know if it is time to leave. Like the riverboats that go by, the most blissful unions on top can leave some murky waters a few levels down.

I know that I am in a loving relationship, one where we are both in-it-to-win-it, but even that, if I am honest, feels heavy at times. But my marriage can also make me feel more light-hearted and successful at this business of life than anything else at my disposal (even, indeed, if marriage is considered disposable). I personally plan to hang on in the transitions, tend to my baby and see what happens at the light of our golden age. Then I want to shake the husbands and say, “Love them, please. Make marriage your new child.”

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