We got married in 2008, right in the beginning of the economy crash. Our income started to change before we even said “I do,” but we decided to make a few cuts in the wedding plans instead of canceling the wedding all-together.
Soon after getting married, things continued to get worse. Not only were we getting to know each other as newlyweds, we were dealing with real life issues that we had never faced alone or together.
Looking back, I can’t pin-point exactly what went wrong but for years, a series of small problems grew into big problems and deep resentment.
As individuals, we were a shell of ourselves, and as a couple, we were broken.
Soon after our eight-year wedding anniversary and in the middle of one of the worse years of our marriage, we agreed to marriage counseling. We had tried it two times before but this time we stuck to it. I think we both knew that without help we would be divorced, or worse, still together and living as roommates who hate each other.
Through the pain, we did agree on two things; we still wanted to be married to one another, and we didn’t want our children to be pulled in two different directions, raised in two different homes.
I believe this was the basis for where we are today – happily married and falling back in love and lust. The fact that we still had two things holding us together. Our love for one another and our love for our children.
I learned many things from marriage counseling but these made the biggest impact:
My spouse was hurting too.
I thought my pain was the greatest. That my husband had delivered the hardest blows. But I learned that he too was in pain. There were things that I had done that I had no clue hurt him so deeply. It didn’t take away my pain but it helped me to see that both of us needed healing. And it helped me to understand him and forgive.
Asking for help is a positive thing.
I’ve always been independent and showed this at a very early age. This was apparent in my marriage as well. I felt like I was too smart, too happy and too proud to need counseling. I’m so happy I finally accepted that we needed the guidance of a trained expert. And I realize how lucky I am to have chosen a husband who wasn’t too proud to admit this as well. Accepting help doesn’t make you any less of a woman or man.
Actively listening is a skill that many of us do not possess.
I consider myself to be a good listener but with my husband I was not. And I’m still working on this. I interrupted him, always had a response, made faces if what he said was “wrong.” But for me, I expected him to sit there, listen and give me eye contact. It is amazing what you learn when you shut up and really listen. I learned things that I’m sure he’d said before but only heard when I started actually listening instead of thinking of how to respond.
Being “soft” doesn’t make you weak.
I am a strong woman and was raised by a strong woman so being “soft” has always appeared to me as a sign of weakness. The counselor used a different word. “How about try to be more feminine?” I didn’t like that either. Women can be strong and be feminine, and I am both. It wasn’t until after counseling that this became clear to me. It’s okay to be strong at work, strong with the kids, strong out in the world, but at home with my husband, I didn’t need to be. He needed me to be vulnerable with him, to melt in his arms, to tell him when I was hurting and needed help. He needed me to take a softer approach. This has been the most challenging for me because it doesn’t come easily.
You can disagree without arguing.
Most of our arguments ended with nothing being resolved so we would argue about the same things over and over. Learning how to talk to one another is something that we’ll have to work on every day. And learning that we can disagree without hating each other for it has been one of the most important lessons we learned. What changed? Actively listening, not always feeling the need to respond, working on the tone in which you deliver information, deciding “Is this important and worth a conversation?” before you open your mouth, and realizing that we are on the same team, not enemies.
The in-laws will be okay.
This is a touchy one. I’m protective of my family and my spouse is protective of his. So like clockwork, if there was a conversation about our in-laws, it resulted in a heated argument. What did we do? We decided to focus on our own happiness and the growth of our marriage. And we’re learning to accept our family’s differences. I won’t lie. It’s not easy. But we’re confident that if we are truly happy, the problems with our in-laws will be less and less. So far, this has shown to be true.
You can’t reconnect without intimacy.
Human touch is powerful. When you are unhappy in your marriage, you stop touching each other. And then not touching becomes a habit. When you commit to improving your marriage, this is a habit you’ve got to break. Although I’m still always tired, I remind myself that my day isn’t complete until I’ve spent some time with him. Plus, I’m in a really good mood the next day when I got lucky the night before.
When you are in the worst days of your marriage, you feel hopeless and doubt that things will ever change. It affects everything. Your productivity, your other relationships, your decisions, your health. I know. But I’m living proof that it can change. But it takes two active participants, acceptance that help is needed, effort to research, interview and hire the right counselor and the balls to put your business out there. Good luck. Happiness is within reach.