The Breakdown (and Rebuilding) of a Marriage

Ok...I really didn't airbrush this. It uploaded with a haziness (weird.) Mike says he's excited about no wrinkles ;)

Over the course of 8 years writing this blog, I haven’t steered clear of heavy topics.
I love blogs for their realness. Yet often they take us, the reader, out of reality with their overly whimsical view of someone’s supposed daily life. My life is quite whimsical (to me) but also quite real. Like nitty-gritty real….no one escapes nitty-gritty real, right?
The purpose of my blog has always been to document life here at The Smith Homestead….because I have a fantastically bad memory. The blog has been my source of memory-lane-walking over the years, a wonderful gift I’ve given to myself to keep it maintained and alive.
Mixed into this life of food and family and home renovations and backyard parties and crafts and entrepreneurial ideas…all of which are REAL stuff….is the other real stuff. The layoffs, the financial struggles, the failures and missteps, the spiritual questions and heavy life issues that weigh heavily at points in the journey.
Recently I’ve briefly shared about, but I want to dive in a bit deeper today, into something that hit our little homestead hard over the past 3 years.
The discovery of rock bottom in our 15 year marriage.
My brief mentioning’s have flooded my inbox and my FB messenger with notes from friends and readers who find that they too, are at their own rock bottom with their partner.
So this post is a bit of a journey through what I have learned over the past year in particular and a bit of wisdom I’ve stumbled upon that just might resonate with another struggling at this same point in the journey. I’m not going to dive super deep into details…because blogs aren’t the place for that. But if you want to grab a cup of coffee and sit down for a chat, let me know. I had an amazing friend that walked this journey with me and I am eternally indebted to her and happy to pay it forward.
Let me first say, I am learning more and more as I open up with others about this topic that this is really, really common. That isn’t to say it’s a good thing. But if you do find yourself in a place like I did….like we did… don’t ignore it. Don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t feel like a failure or wonder ‘what’s wrong with me?’.  Don’t run to the doctor for your first prescription of Zoloft and don’t start making drinks with friends after work the new norm.

       Name it.  

By all accounts, Mike and I had most every element that a ‘healthy’ relationship would have. There was plenty of hand holding and planned date nights and memory building with the kids and after-work chit chats about the day. There was laughter and silliness and game nights and late night conversations on the couch. But my heart and mind and spirit were struggling. I couldn’t even vocalize it because I felt selfish and bratty for not being completely content in a marriage that many yearn for.
A line from a silly indie film jumped out at me recently. “Some people get married because they don’t want to be alone. Others get married because they want magic.”
Nail on the head moment for me. I’m a ‘magic’ kind of girl. Always have been.  And I can’t apologize for it nor want to.  I didn’t really date much before Mike because I was never the girl that needed a boy. I have always been happy alone or with people. I prefer a mix of both, actually. But it’s the magic. It’s the belief that choosing to be with someone forever should always carry with it a desire to work towards something great together every day. That outside elements like kids and bills and pressures at work aren’t allowed to become the (valid) reasons for letting the magic wane.
A couple of years ago I finally mustered the voice to tell this to Mike. For him, it was like a sledge hammer to the head. For me it was a mixed bag of relief and fear in the unknown.

             Forgo marriage counseling.

The first thing we’re told when a marriage hits the rocks is ‘go to counseling’. We skipped that advice.  
When I finally was able to pinpoint some of what my heart and mind were struggling with, the last thing I wanted to do was to get into a room with Mike and a counselor and dive into our issues. Because, honestly, aside from my husband forgetting to buy the occasional birthday gift or plan an anniversary date, or falling asleep on the couch when he could be helping fold laundry or lacking that ‘zest for life’ I was desperately wanting him to have….he was, in every other way, a perfect partner.
I had no major gripes. No major issues to bring to a counselor for mediation. I just felt…

Unsettled. Unhappy. Unsure of why.

And for that I knew marriage counseling couldn’t help. I talk to SO many now who are finding themselves at this same point. Possibly it’s a season-of-life thing. Possibly it’s something more. Whatever the reason, don’t let it set roots. Take action.

Mike asked for marriage counseling. I asked for individual counseling. He agreed.

So we both found separate therapists and weekly, faithfully, went to our sessions. I have no idea what he talked about in his and he doesn’t know the details of mine. And that’s a good thing. We both understood that whatever point we were at in our marriage was not only a joint problem~ it was more importantly a disconnect we were having with ourselves that needed addressing. And whether we stayed together or parted ways, we had some self-care to do.
Almost overnight, those weekly sessions began transforming us. We each dove into books to nourish our souls. And they were not marriage books offered by Focus on the Family (not bashing…just clarifying.) We listened to podcasts, went on solo weekends away and invested enormous amounts of time and energy into discovering how we each had lost the ‘magic’…essentially the joyful, playful, grateful, selfless spirit within ourselves to the daily grind of the world around us.

             Talk about divorce

When we got married, we decided that the word ‘divorce’ was not an option up for discussion. In theory, this is a very romantic and covenantal sort of agreement to make. It made our marriage seem, at the time, very permanent and rock solid.

But looking back, not being able to discuss the scary stuff like divorce made me feel trapped. We both agree now that one of the best things that could have happened in our marriage was to look seriously at the option of divorce. Crazy? I don’t think so.

At the point in which I came to Mike and vocalized all that I was struggling with, I was ready for retreat. I dreamed of finding a little farmhouse nearby and living there without him, sharing time with the kids. That, I imagined, would be a perfect life scenario (I always have erred on the side of head-in-the-clouds.)

Over many months, we inched our discussions further down this trail of “divorce.” It was some scary stuff. It feels like a slippery slope…and I imagine many would say to head down the path of these discussions is a final nail in the coffin of your marriage.

For us, it proved the opposite. To look at each other and ask, point blank, “Do you want a divorce?” was incredibly powerful. It allowed us both to think about every repercussion of that answer, both yes and no. To answer “yes” is to say that I am OK with Mike moving forward in life without me. I am willing to spend Christmas without my kids some years and plan vacations apart. I am essentially saying, ‘life without you would be better than life with you and I’m willing to sacrifice a lot for it.’ And that was absolutely not something I could ever say with any weight of truth. Neither could he. So when we both asked each other that question, “Do you want a divorce”, it was a moment of relief and healing in our relationship to both freely and honestly answer, ‘no’. It meant we had a starting point.

             Cut some slack

This journey that we’ve been on hasn’t been a few weeks in the making. It’s been years. We spent 2 years in the down spiral and the past year of digging out. Long time. And today I can say it was totally worthwhile. My answer would have been different 2 years and 8 months ago.

I will say, the most miraculous and hardest part of this sort of journey is turning your heart back to your partner again. It almost seems like an insurmountable task. More often than not, hurt and distance and falling out of love can actually be that final nail in the coffin. There’s just no road map to reengage your heart back to someone you’ve emotionally distanced yourself from. And this is where the element of time and openness to the possibility are critical.

In the process of growth over the past year, I have learned, as it pertains to my part in the marriage, to cut him some slack. Because of my distancing, I grew resentful and hard and critical. And that's my problem to fix.

Being able to soften my heart towards Mike again meant acknowledging that he will without a doubt screw up. A lot. So will I. And even with all of the promises he made in fighting for us…he will falter at those. He already has. I have too. And that’s OK.  

I have a favorite memento now. A recent gift from Mike’s mom. It’s a small charm for a necklace…a picture of Mike at three year old. Looks just like Otto, which is why my mother-in-law gave it to me.

But for me, it’s special for another reason.

I’m not Mike's mother (figuratively). It’s not my job to make sure he’s doing chores and keeping his commitments and taking out the trash after dinner. And I’m not his majesty. It’s not his job to make sure I am completely happy and fulfilled and cared for at every moment.

At the end of the day, my husband still is that little boy smiling in the picture. He’s someone that loves and wants to be loved. He wants acceptance and belief that what he is doing each day matters to me, even if no one else.

Mike and I are two people who have loved each other for 15 years and who have chosen to walk through life together, side by side. It’s a choice we get to make, despite what religion or morals or society tells us about contracts and obligations. And I love that. I love that each day we have decided that life together is far more beautiful together than life apart. This small transformation of our minds has changed the course of our relationship together. It gives us enormous amounts of confidence and security and happiness and comfort. We find such joy in creating a bit of magic together each day….for each other.

We’ve always left little notes for each other throughout our marriage. The practice tapered off in the thick of things, but even in the depths of marital crisis we still carved out time to write down our feelings to each other. Below are a couple of notes we exchanged recently. If you only knew the darkness from which we emerged from, the fact that he can write such beautiful words to me is the ultimate picture of unconditional love.

I’m not quite sure why I share them except to maybe give another hope. Hope that magic is always there whether you are in a season of struggling or normalcy and mundane. Strive for the best. Look for the best. Work for the best.
You won’t regret it.

(*disclaimer. I'm not a therapist, nor a marriage expert. This is what I've learned from my journey and there might just be a nugget in there that will help you breathe a little easier today if you are in that same place.)
(ignore that 'doggs' typo. We have two dogs, but its not spelled with two 'gg' s ;)