Before you get married, everyone loves to give you unsolicited advice. While it’s understandable for married couples to want to pass along their wisdom to unsuspecting newbies, it often falls on deaf ears. When you’re in the googly eyed stage of getting married, it’s hard to imagine the life that will come afterward. It’s all wedding dresses and honeymoons, as opposed to losing a job or dealing with depression. The day-to-day business of being married can be messier than your single self ever imagined.
My husband and I dated for a number of years before we got married, but we were still relatively young when we tied the knot. Once we got into the messy business of actually being married, I realized how different, and sometimes difficult, it was going to be. A good friend told me in our first year of wedded “bliss” that marriage was a choice you woke up and made every single day. For some reason this really struck me. It helped me frame marriage as a daily commitment and effort. I liked it. I needed to hear it.
Fast forward some kids, and some years later, and we have been through things that would have younger me trembling in her boots. I know all marriages have ups and downs, but some of our downs have been more serious than I expected. One aspect in particular was something I never imagined.
I will never forget the day I answered the phone, upset because he was already going to be late and the kids were driving me crazy. He cut me off mid complaint and said, “I’ve been arrested, I need you to come get me.” My immediate response was “Be serious.”
Some years into our marriage, I noticed my husband didn’t seem happy. I had known something was up with him for a few months. He was stressed out, drinking more, not being forthcoming, and things just seemed off. We began marital counseling, but I thought it was nothing too big. I was wrong. He told me he was serious. Immediately I found out where he was, turned the car around, and went to get him with our kids in the car. I couldn’t cry or go to pieces because I had the kids. I wasn’t even angry; I was only scared. Bone deep, pit of the stomach terrified. The entire course of our lives had just changed, and I had no idea what was going to happen next.
I didn’t know how far from our original path we would go. From that moment we embarked on a legal process that we knew nothing about, a job termination, a scramble to find something else — preferably local so we didn’t have to move — an alcohol abuse and education program, more counseling, and a whole host of other items. What started out being chalked up to stress and more of a one time incident was slowly recognized as a pattern of behavior, leading to multiple mental health diagnoses and medications.
At times, the stress of it all has been close to unbearable. I am often emotionally drained from taking care of my kids and worrying about him. When things are good, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’ve had to pay more attention to tiny actions that may indicate things are slipping again. There are days when I wonder how much more of it I can take, physically and emotionally. I question if I am making the right decision for my children to live in a house that is occasionally ripe with tension, knowing they pick up on my unease and feelings of uncertainty. I worry about the day when things fall apart and they are old enough to really understand. I ask myself if it would be better if we separated.
Constantly wondering if you’re doing the right thing for your kids, yourself, and your spouse adds weight to an already heavy burden. The strain shows up in every moment of those down days. Instead of taking it day by day, I may find myself taking it minute by minute. I look for the smallest moments of smiles or connection. The end of the day might find me counting highs versus lows. Is this the point where the effort of sticking with our relationship will be outweighed by concern for my own mental and physical health? Will I have to choose: me or us?
Each time things get so bad I start to wonder if this is my breaking point I go through the same routine, asking myself the same questions:
- Do I love him? Always a yes. I’ve loved him for a very long time, and even when things have been at their worst, I have never stopped loving him. I have also never doubted that he is a good man. He is not perfect and he struggles with many things, but he is undeniably a good man.
- Do I like him? This one can be more difficult to answer and normally gives me a few seconds of pause. However I’ve never answered it negatively. Life can be pretty bad, but there are still moments of laughter, of a smile or wink that help me remember how much I do like him.
- Is he still a good father? That answer is also a resounding yes. Our children adore him, and he is an excellent parent. He has never taken any liberties with their safety or well being. He is not abusive in any way, shape, size, or form. He enriches their lives daily in deep and important ways.
- Would leaving help? When I get here, I mentally work through the practical aspects of leaving. Financial concerns, co-parenting choices, the mental/physical well being of each of us individually while apart, the effects on the children. Thus far, each time I have reached the conclusion that leaving wouldn’t solve any real problems. Our lives are linked forever through our children, and we both function better together than apart.
When I get these answers, I wake up the next day and choose to be married. I choose to fight for a relationship that has made me a stronger person and gifted me with beautiful little human beings to raise. So far, it has always been the right choice for us. Maybe one day that will change. The answers to my questions may look different. Our struggles may go deeper and the smiles may be lost completely. But not today. Today, I choose us.