Earlier this year, my husband and I sought marriage counseling. We had no question that we loved each other and neither of us had a ‘grass-is-greener’ complex to worry about. We simply had stopped communicating well and struggled with the most basic attempts. “How was your day?” turned into a competition for who navigated through the most drama. “Did you get a chance to change over the laundry?” became a personal attack. “What’s for dinner?” became a judgement. I cried. A lot.
It wasn’t that either of us was in attack mode. We were both so tired, so beaten down by several years of major life-in-your-face monuments that we’d stopped turning to each other for solace and instead retreated to our own corners like wounded animals. The problem was that we’d STOPPED talking to each other in trade for talking AT one another. The fact that we were back to opposite sleep schedules similar to when we were first living together back in 1996 didn’t help. Neither of us were well rested since, aside from a minor-ish sleep apnea development, he would wake up briefly when I finally came to bed and I’d awaken when he got up to go to work in the middle of the night. He was feeling like a slave for our family and I felt like a slave to it. That’s no way to live, and no way to keep a marriage healthy.
My husband works for a major area employer. By most accounts, depending of course on whom you ask, the employees of this employer have a considerably higher than the national average divorce rate. The work is physically demanding. In the summers, employees are mandated to work three weeks/seven days per week shifts before they can have a weekend off. Having been an employer, I’m not sure how they skirt the labor laws on that, especially with such a huge Union presence keeping an eye on the goings-on, but aside from nice paychecks, the time demands on its employees are both physically hard on the workers and emotionally exhausting on their families. We joke about being widows of this employer, but it’s not really funny when you’re in the middle of it. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to learn that the company keeps counselors (stress management, grief and marriage) on staff and allow for x-number of visits per year as an employee benefit.
My husband and I don’t come from families who talk it out. His folks divorced long ago, and mine split when I was a senior in college only to spend several years trying to keep it together and to learn how to be nice to each other again. They celebrated their 51st anniversary in August which is a testament to their stubborn natures and unwavering commitment to not getting divorced. They like each other again, but it took years of sticking together to get there.
Growing up, physical therapy was the only reasonable type to undergo and if one had emotional issues, they were best shoved down and set aside to be addressed at a later time that never came. My husband and I wanted better for ourselves, and ultimately agreed to start counseling in search of a bigger tool box. Our counselor made it clear that she was on our team. She reminded us that it’s o.k. to take some time to process ideas and to retreat to our corners to do so so long as we return to the conversation before bedtime. We were reminded that dating each other only once a year on our anniversary isn’t really conducive to maintaining intimacy nor clear communication. That’s really what it boiled down to. We’d forgotten to prioritize each other. Even with our ridiculous schedules parenting twins and balancing day jobs with family and other obligations, there was time if we only chose to make it.
We started off small with short walks around our neighborhood while the kids (now age eleven) stayed home. We expanded on that by running errands together. We slowly but steadily rebuilt our team. By summer’s end, we’d regularly walk, hike, nap or even cook together and were holding hands often. It didn’t happen over night, but the little moments we set aside with each other each day amounted to a huge improvement in communication and overall in our happiness. In February, we will celebrate 20 years of coupledom…not that anyone’s counting. This wasn’t our first rough patch and it certainly won’t be our last. At least we know we have resources to turn to when we need a bigger toolbox.