My wife is one of the best people I know. And hot.
Still, marriage is one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted. It’s that way for everyone. I’ve never met anyone who’s been married longer than 10 years who hasn’t considered divorce at some point.
There were a few times in the early years of our life together that I thought I had married the wrong person. There were things about my wife that took me completely by surprise – things that I had a super hard time dealing with.
It’s that way for everyone. I’ve never met anyone who’s been married longer than 10 years who hasn’t run into something about their spouse that they really don’t like.
The picture of marriage that our culture paints over and over again drives me crazy. You fall in love with your soul mate and enter eternal bliss where you fall more madly in love each sparkly sun-filled morning. I’ve never met anyone who’s experienced that. I have however met a ton of newlyweds, or folks who’ve been married less than a year, who have this vision firmly cemented in their minds.
I’m now almost 20 years into this marriage thing and finally discovered something that I wish hadn’t taken almost 20 years to discover.
What I hate most about my wife has almost nothing to do with my wife.
At multiple points in my before-married life I was mistreated by people close to me. If you’re an earthling, you’re pre-married life went the same way. It’s impossible to make it to adulthood without getting hurt – really bad, really frequently.
The majority of us don’t deal with this well, and enter into married life with a mountain of accumulated, unaddressed damage. And when someone comes along and rubs their finger in it (enter our lovely spouses), we feel pain.
For a long time, I thought it was my wife who was causing this pain. I didn’t feel it before I was married, and it seemed like the closer I got to her, the more she hurt me. Who wants to stay in a relationship where they’re constantly getting hurt?
The friendships that I had before marriage were good, but I never let anyone in range of my unhealed parts. I had unwittingly learned how to protect myself, how to keep people at just the right distance – close enough to have fun, but not close enough to cause me more hurt.
It was easy for me to believe that I didn’t have any hurt, that I had dealt with it all. That’s what men in our culture do with emotional pain. “I’m not hurt,” we like to say. “I’ve risen above it all.”
“I’m too tough to get hurt.”
That brand of cluelessness is responsible for more general male suckyness than anything else on the planet.
And when marriage comes along and exposes these hurt places, we draw the very incorrect conclusion that marriage is responsible for the pain, and we start thinking of a way out. We can’t deal with the real issue because our tough-guy bullshit can’t comprehend what’s actually happening.
I’m finally realizing that the biggest problem with my wife is the fact that she, with annoying unintentional regularity, rubs her finger in my unhealed broken places. The majority of our fights have nothing to with what I think we’re fighting about, and more to do with things from my past that I haven’t managed to stow.
As a result…
I get angry when I feel like I’m being controlled.
I get angry when people express their expectations of me.
I feel a mountain of shame when I screw something up.
Then I get angry when someone tells me I screwed up.
When Your Closet Anxiety Runs the Show
People who are healthy say things like:
“I know you want me to do ___, but that’s not what I want to do.”
“I’ll agree to the expectations that make sense to me, let’s talk about the ones that don’t.”
“Sorry, I screwed up, everyone screws up. I’ll try my best not to screw up.”
No shame. No anger. Healthy people tend to be very peace-forward folk.
They’ve dealt with a big chunk of their past, their hurts. They’ve expended a TON of energy on the long, painful journey toward healing. And they didn’t do it alone. In the shadow of every healthy person is a healthier person who’s helped them along the way.
There’s stuff they weren’t able to reconcile to be sure, but they know it’s there, and much less likely to let their hurt places blow up their relationships.
That’s why healthy people are so few and far between. Healing requires humility, emotional suffering, brutal honesty, and hard work – not things we tend to value in our culture.
For the rest of us, we’ll take a mountain of pain into our marriage – and it’ll run the show. Half of us will throw up our hands and look for a new gig, taking our mountain of hurt into that one too, which might be why the divorce rate for second marriages is so much higher.
I can’t say that I’m a healthy person, but I am healthier than I was last year. I’m dealing with past pain, and more aware of how it’s affecting the way I see things. If I can get just a little bit better at this in 2018, I’ll call it a victory.
My wife’s been doing some work here too; not just with her own stuff, but with mine. She knows where I’m hurt, and while she doesn’t dance around it, she’s compassionate. We talk about it. She listens, asks questions, takes my side when appropriate.
I feel heard, seen, known.
It’s unfortunate that she’s so many times been the victim of my past. But her desire for my healing, and the work she puts into it, has been the chief agent in whatever healing I’ve managed.
I started this journey convinced that she was the problem, only to take 16.5 years to realize that just isn’t true. The more ground I gain in getting rid of this hurt, the better my life with Elaine is.
It’s been the surest path to a good marriage.