Thursday, January 9, 2014

On Marriage

Just give me a reason
Just a little bit's enough
Just a second we're not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again
It's in the stars
It's been written in the scars on our hearts
We're not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again
-Pink, Just Give Me A Reason

K and I have been together for over 24 years, with 18 of those as a married couple.  We have actually known each other for even longer since his sister and I were friends in high school and played soccer together.  I'll never forget the phone call I got from her a few months after we started dating asking increduously, "Are you dating my brother???"  We really got to know each other in college where we both played on the soccer teams and happened to have a few history classes together.  We clicked right away with a very similar upbringing (big family, Catholic school, etc.) and similar sense of humor, but more importantly, in my opinion, enough personality differences that we bring out the best in each other. We started our romance first as very good friends and I think it's that friendship that has sustained us over time.  Outside of stress, work, parenting, etc., we really like to hang out together.

Marriage can be hard.  You not only bring to this new partnership your own needs and wants, but the legacy (whether good or bad) of the marriages you each have experienced.  My parents were pretty old school with my dad being the provider and overall "fixer" in the house, with my mom taking care of us, cooking dinner, carpools, school, etc.  With all girls in our family, my dad defnitely "took care of us" and we depended on him heavily to help us through our transitions into adulthood.  Throw in some pretty serious health issues with my mom and I was definitely provided a strong, take care of everything "husband/father" model.

K, on the other hand, is the oldest of a very British family.  He is the eldest boy and treated a little special, but as the oldest of 9 he had to constantly stake out his independence and fight to get his needs met.  I joke all the time with my sisters about how K and each of his brothers and sisters (some more than others) are all inherently a bit selfish in order to be noticed and heard.  My mother-in-law did (and still does) everything for her kids.  My father-in-law, while a lovely person, was definitely more hands off and much better with the kids as they got older.  He travelled a lot and worked very hard in order to provide for his large family.  In some ways, K is an awful lot like his dad.  Brilliant intellectually, but not the most practical (or handy) of people and a bit clueless when it comes to noticing or understanding the needs of those around him.

My family is also a very boisterous, talkative brood with lots of both verbal and physical expressions of love.  I end most conversations with my sisters with "I love you."  I enjoy to give and receive hugs.  K comes from a stereotypical British family with no real outward signs of affection.  There is definitely a lot of love there, but it's not spoken of and expressions of feelings are kept at a minimum. 

That being said, K has certainly broken the mold in some ways.  He is very affectionate with the boys and M (E keeps him pretty much at a distance which is a entire post in and of itself).  He is much more hands on than his dad in terms of childcare.  Our life before the accident entailed a pretty good balance of efforts and, while sometimes challenging, we worked things out without too much drama.

So October 2009 happened and our life turned completely upside down.  This horrible thing occurred and it not only sent both of us in a tailspin emotionally, we found ourselves having to parent our kids through a very difficult situation, dealing with my family and struggling to take care of the girls.  It was rough.  Really rough.

In the last few days, I've been trying to step back and think about how all of this has affected K.  First, our loss in all of this is very different.  I lost my sister.  While he was and still is sad about it, there is a difference.  It's hard for him to understand my loss.  His loss is more centered around our family. He has had to watch his wife change and not for the better in many ways. As documented in this blog, I have struggled with my grief and depression while trying to be the mom I want and need to be. He has had to watch his little boys go through a pretty awful thing.  Not only losing Jeanne and Mike, and adjusting to the girls moving in, but struggling to find their footing in all the instability and trauma.

On a practical note, we also added two kids to our household.  This means a host of additional financial, logistical, emotional and parenting burdens.  They are girls, which as those of you who are parents to both boys and girls, is very different.  They are two very needy, greiving children who have lost their parents and siblings.  One of them can be considered special needs with her ADHD, learning disabilities and anxiety.  The financial responsibilities alone are huge.  All of the legal nightmares of the first year were horrific and timeconsuming.

He also almost died a year ago October.  The result has been a shock and huge lifestyle change for him.  The coumadin regimen (and constant testing), uncertainty about the causes, etc.  have been a huge stress for an active, athletic 44 year old.  He no longer can play softball, soccer, ski and other things that could risk a bleeding episode.  This has been a hard pill to take for him.  I have worried about him and depression in this last year (according to lots of websites this is very typical in his situation).

All of this for a guy who grew up not sharing feelings, not being overly affectionate, and the oldest of nine kids who pretty much took care of himself.  While we had our share of difficulties prior to the accident (miscarriage, work losses, parenting challenges), nothing prepared us for the strain of our new normal. 

None of this excuses his behavior.  It does not make my feelings invalid or take away the hurt he has caused. But it does put it in perspective. He desperately wants things to go back to normal (pre-accident) and sometimes that means for him to run off with his dorky buddies for a long weekend or a bachelor party.  Or when things get tough and emotionally difficult at home between us or with the kids, he often defaults to hiding out and not wanting to deal with it, or irrationally exploding at me (his safe place).

The last few days have found us slowly working our way back to each other.  It's nearly impossible not to with five minions who need us (both of us).  When you love someone, understanding and forgiveness are part of the package even when doing that takes you being the bigger person.  Beneath all of the layers of hurt, grief, anger, stress and fear, still sit two people who love each other.  Those two college friends are still there.  Sometimes it just takes a little more effort for them to find each other.

p.s. thank you so much for all of the messages of love, support, and insight for the past few posts.  You have no idea how much they help.  This blog has been a space for me to get a lot of stuff out, but it certainly has turned into something where I get a lot in return.  So thank you.  Really, really thank you.


  1. I'm really glad you've sorted through it. It sounds like you and K have a very beautiful friendship which I think is the basis of a strong marriage.

    I thought of you yesterday when I found these two articles on the website "The Good Men Project". They're on the communication styles of men and women and the differences that we need to be aware of. If you have a moment you should check them out. One is titled "Why we as women need to ease up on men" and the other "Why men need to give women a break too." I think you'll enjoy them. xo

  2. This is so beautiful. Your relationship has endured so much, and both of you have had your needs buried in an avalanche of burdens. The fact you can still see your blessings and treasure the good times is such a sign of hope. Wishing you the very best at this tough time. x

  3. This is very insightful. We bring so much to the table in marriage under ordinary circumstances, and then of course life adds other things we never could have anticipated. It's hard.

  4. This post was so very sweet. You both are fortunate to truly like each other - so that even when you don't love each other, that underlying connection is there. Hang in there.

  5. Marriage is one of the hardest things I've ever done. You are very insightful here and have laid it all out well. Seeing it all written out surely has to help you, as I know it would help me.

    I'm a big fat extroverted feeler and Brien is a big fat introverted thinker. There are clashes because of this. He withdrawls and pulls away (because he *needs* to) just when I'm feeling the need for hugs and discussion (which *I* need). Balancing those two completely opposite needs can be tricky.

    That said, understanding doesn't mean you have to be any less grumpy with the situation. :oP Forgiveness is an amazing tool, isn't it?

    Hugs, my friend. Big hugs.

  6. P.S. The photo of the two of you really brought a smile to my face. You have a lot going for you! :o)

  7. Marriage is hard. I'm so glad working working back together :)

  8. I have tears in my eyes reading this post. Marriage is so hard - so very very hard. And so very wonderful. This was my favorite quote: None of this excuses his behavior. It does not make my feelings invalid or take away the hurt he has caused. But it does put it in perspective."

    Perspective is so often what pulls me out of a funk.

    How very fortunate K is to have you as his wife.

  9. So, so happy to read this post. I think life may get less stressful when E goes to college. Maybe that will help K feel less of a need to escape. I hope he appreciates what a great spouse he has.


  10. This post reminds me of an interview I heard once a long time ago with someone who did marriage counseling. He said he always started by asking them how they met, and the couples who (despite whatever current troubles) still lit up when they told the tale had a real chance. The ones for whom contempt had contaminated even that memory did not. I can imagine you smiling as you describe those early days, so even from my limited vantage point out here as one of your readers, I think things will work out. It's hard, but you know a thing or two or a thousand about dealing with hard.

  11. So much admiration for your insight and level head in the midst of chaos. Also, for your relationship! Glad things seem to be looking up a little bit