When my husband and I were married, we did everything very non-traditionally. We exchanged personally written vows at night overlooking a cliff in the freezing cold by gas lamps in an outdoor gothic cathedral, much to the chagrin of our guests whose teeth were chattering in an uncharacteristically chilly night in February. Our reception was very un-kidfriendly in the upper level of a happening club downtown. I spent the whole night destroying my wedding dress and barely making it up and down the treacherous staircase to use the bathroom in between enough shots to kill a small horse.
It was a magical, amazing evening.
And since we had family in town that was staying with us anyway (and we already had a child so the night away wasn’t quite possible yet), after we closed the danceria down we all piled in cars and cabs and brought everyone back to our house where I heated up leftover rehearsal dinner food and we all met the dawn with bottles of champagne and good spirits.
It was, hands down, one of the best nights of my life. Hands freakin’ down.
I remember the gentle light of dawn breaking over the horizon and turning to a friend and wistfully saying, “Chris and I will never get divorced.” And I meant it. Not because of my moral fortitude or bright-eyed idealism of a newlywed…but as a new wife of an old hand at our relationship. At our wedding, we had been together for 3+ years, had an 18 month son, and a house. We had gone through a multitude of hard times and we always found a way to work it out. Typically with a lot of humor. Our entire ceremony was based on our mutual belief that we were soul mates, in it for the good and the bad alike.
Then two years ago, Chris got sick. When you have a significant other that becomes deathly ill and you basically live in and out of hospitals…no matter how strong your marriage is, you WILL face major strife. It is inevitable. The time when you should be pulling together for the sake of both of your sanity, you will feel each other pull away. Resentments become the new sweet nothings and frustration the new goodnight kisses.
You will fight about money, about rasing your kids in an erratic environment, and you will fight with each other about mundane nonsense because you both are really just exhausted from the whole situation. Mostly at your bad luck at this being your new normal. You can’t be mad at the person that is sick because it’s not their fault…but you spend your mornings going over bills that you may never be able to afford and that’s stressful. They can’t be mad at you because you aren’t sick but they are in pain and feel like utter garbage all of the time so how can they not?
No matter how you look at it, Chronic illness will rock your marriage to the core; to it’s very foundation. After a year or so, it’s like looking at a stranger. And that’s scary. Part of you wants to go back, back to when everything was easy and you just loved each other because you were alive…but you can’t. You can’t go backwards because that isn’t the way that time, or life for that matter, works. You have to embrace your new life and relearn everything about each other all over again. Sometimes you need a person to stand in the middle and tell you how you are going so wrong about it, to teach you how to communicate again when you are both so weary and exhausted from the journey.
So you go to therapy.
Therapy has this stigma attached when it comes to marriage. You automatically assume that people go to therapy because their marriage is failing or it’s the final step before the big “D”. It’s a major part of why I resisted going for so long. What will people think? If we go it means we can’t do it on our own. People will think we’re a mess. I resisted because I felt like “good” couples didn’t NEED therapy. We were soul mates, dammit. We were just having a rough time and everything would be fine once we got him diagnosed. Then, when that happened, “Everything will be fine once we get him on the right medicine.”
And so on and so forth until the crushing reality of how much all of this had affected us showed up in a complete break down of communication. Everything was a fight. The bitterness and resentment boiled over like a cartoon caldron and every bad decision or miscommunication was thrown in the other’s face like a weapon.
We were living in a war zone. We created an environment of animosity where no one was safe.
Finally, I had to ask myself if it was better to be SEEN as a good couple, or to actually BE one again, because lord knows if therapy didn’t work I didn’t know how we could go on like this much longer. Certainly in front of our tender-hearted little son. He didn’t deserve to have two parents that weren’t even really trying anymore. He deserved to grow up in a loving and stable home. Not living in a battleground he couldn’t possibly understand.
So, terrified yet hopeful, we walked in to our first therapy appointment to see if we could find the love that made us say, “I do”, with such certainly all of those years ago.
What we learned was how egocentric we can be when it comes to how we communicate with each other and how little we validate each other’s feelings. We fought about things no one could ever really be “right” about and we used past hurts as fuel for minor fires. We may have still been in love but we were doing it all WRONG. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We were taking the purity of our unconditional love and testing it every single day looking for cracks in the foundation. We were shoving –not pushing, shoving violently– away the other person with our own selfishness. I thought, “I’m doing all of this work and going through so much…why won’t you just be nice to me?!” And he thought, “I’m always sick and you don’t seem to care about anything but what needs to be done. What about me? How I feel?”
Going to therapy taught us so much about ourselves and our marriage that I can’t believe we resisted it for so long honestly. Using the tools from our counselor has made all of the difference in the world when it comes to how we communicate, expressing ourselves, and asking and giving forgiveness for the flaws that every person has. It’s not always easy…hearing your spouse’s raw truth can sting sometimes but it’s always worth it when the next time an issue comes up we can recognize it and not make the old mistakes over again. When you see a cycle broken that was a major factor in sending you to therapy in the first place, it’s a victory that you can’t help but celebrate.
Now I view therapy as our reset for the week. An hour I know that no matter how difficult the topic is, we can approach it in a thoughtful way and find common ground. Therapy is the time each week to learn new things about each other and bond over our differences. It went, for me, from being a sign of failure to a maintenance tool for the most important relationship that I will ever have. The one with my husband. Because when Jp leaves the nest and takes flight on his life’s journey in a few years, Chris is going to be the one that is there with me. And, thanks to therapy, I feel really good about that again.
I'm just living minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day.