We fell in love, dated for 10 months, were engaged for 6 months, had a beautiful wedding and lived “happily ever after”- NOT! Well, that was disappointing.
Because we never really fought while we were dating, I was convinced that although I agreed to “for better or worse,” we would always live the better part. I mean, we weren’t like other couples with problems. After all, we really loved each other. Talk about naive! I had no idea what was coming when I walked down the aisle. But I said the vows and was committed to them.
About a month into our marriage we had our first full-on fight. We had spent the weekend on a trip with his college friends, but entered it with different expectations. He thought it was time for him to hang with the guys and me to get to know the girls, but I thought it was a couples’ trip.
I felt like he completely ignored me the whole time. Among other things, he convinced all the guys to go play basketball, even though everyone else (myself included) was pushing for a couples’ campfire. While he played video games into the wee hours of the morning, I gave up and went to sleep, emotionally exhausted.
He also spent the long car ride sitting next to his buddy instead of me. I was noticeably upset and self-conscious that our new marriage was being judged by the others who knew I was peeved, while he wasn’t paying any attention to remedy the situation. He was either oblivious to all of it or choosing to ignore my feelings, neither of which lays the groundwork for a healthy, selfless marriage. I felt so small and unimportant to him.
After we separated from the group to drive home, I laid into him. I was furious and let him have it! He was defensive and then silent. Our approach to solving this just made things worse. At this point, I was convinced we were doomed. After all, we had never fought before and this one was bad. He didn’t seem to have any empathy for my miserable weekend, and I was convinced we were going to be unhappily married forever more.
Thankfully, a few hours later we were able to have a productive conversation about expectations, and how they weren’t met, to resolve the issues and plan for it to not happen again. The problem stemmed mostly from not communicating ahead of time, so we decided to make sure to detail out our plans for get-togethers ahead of time, including information about who we as individuals really wanted to spend time with, if we anticipated feeling awkward, and what time we expected to leave. It didn’t always go as planned, but it helped keep us on track. If I said ahead of time that I was anticipating feeling awkward and needed him to check in and plan to leave the gathering by 8pm, I didn’t feel disregarded if he got into a conversation and we ended up staying longer, as long as he checked in with me during the party. However, little did I know, that fight wasn’t the worst of times ahead in our marriage.
I think our worst year (so far) started about 3 years in. We’ve been married almost 6 years now, and 5 of them have been the happiest of my life. But that one…that one was maybe the worst. I didn’t want to throw in the towel (really), but I felt so taken advantage of and frustrated that it was tempting to simplify and just have myself and the kids to worry about.
How in the world did this happen? How could he not see how overwhelmed I was? My relationship with my husband became a drain, not something that was building me up. It just wasn’t working for me anymore (not that that’s what marriage is about). But our lives were so intertwined with kids and a single-income that I thought back to that first fight and I knew we needed to put in the work to get through it. Man, am I ever glad we did!
Looking back, I realize we couldn’t have done it without those first years of marriage, when we (perhaps naively) trusted each other enough to truly combine our lives. The more we lived our lives intricately woven together, the clearer it became that when problems showed up we really needed to stick together, and work through them together. So when things got bad enough that year, we decided to go on a date and talk through what was going on to try to figure out what to do next. We took turns expressing what we were feeling, listened to each other without getting defensive, and identified the most important changes we needed to make. We knew we were both trying, chose each day to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and checked in regularly to make sure those important changes were making the impact we’d hoped. They did, so then we were able to talk about smaller issues that needed addressed before they grew into larger ones.
Had we been pursuing our own interests, without including the other, this story could have ended very differently. We each have our strengths, and every year we perfect our ability to communicate and utilize each other’s strengths to make our family function and smoothly as possible. My husband knows me better than anyone. I can tell him anything, even things I’m ashamed of, without feeling judged. We’re vulnerable with each other because we know our relationship is a safe space.
I would never want to relive that rough year, but I think it helped us both trust each other and our commitment to our marriage even more. It’s never fun to work through problems, but it’s worth it when you work together to be a stronger team and a stronger family.
I wish I had entered marriage with different, more realistic expectations. I truly believed that people who really loved each other and were “meant to be” never fought. Now I’ve learned that the people who truly love each other are the ones who think about the other person first, act like they’re on the same team, and work through the rough stuff together no matter how frustrating or humbling it is.
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