My wife and I have worked really hard on our marriage over the last 20 years. We did the “should we divorce” tap-dance for a bit but when it came down to it we both decided we would not only stay married, we’d put everything we had into the union.
To say it worked is a bit of an understatement. The trick is, we both had issues to work on and we both had to fix our own issues. Trying to fix the other’s never works out, and for those who have tried, well let’s just say divorce lawyers have to eat too.
Some of my baggage involved never really fully getting into the marriage on an emotional level in the first place, and that was entirely fear-based. My fear, specifically, was selfish and revolved around “what happens if I get hurt”, or more to the point, “what happens if my wife cheats and I’m too devoted. I don’t think I could take that”. Put simply, if I went all in to the marriage and she did something like that, I’d be devastated. The end result was that I always held back a little, thinking I’d just keep it under wraps. What ended up happening was I stayed just a little separated from the marriage, emotionally. That led to my wife and I living single lives, together. We were never able to act as though we were fully married. It was a kind of “partial marriage” if you will.
Now, where this gets fun is that I expected my wife to be all in, so when she withheld her little bit (though in a vastly different way) we ran into huge problems… We were both withholding a little bit of ourselves from the relationship.
Now, the pain in the butt is that I can only do something about my part in this. I’d be better off attempting to fly by jumping off a building without a parachute than try to change my wife. I can only change myself, and that’s where the fear comes in because what happens if I change but my wife refuses to work on her crap?
This is a hard fear to shake, but it was flawed thinking that led me there in the first place. The following two notions decimated that fear:
If I’m willing to change and work on the relationship in a positive way, including, but not limited to, holding back from the relationship, how could the entire dynamic of the marriage not change?
If I’m not willing to change, or if I wait for my wife to change first, how can I expect anything different?
My fear, as is so often the case, centered around my habit of trying to solve problems with the same thinking that created them in the first place. Now pay attention carefully to the words I’m about to write because this matters in terms of overall life happiness: My fear that my wife would not change if I was willing to put in the effort and change myself was based on a flawed premise to begin with – it was centered on “me”, not “we”. The reality is, if I change “me”, I change “we”. My wife and I cannot have the same relationship if I change and keep my side of the street clean. It’s impossible.
Now, the reality of it worked out like this: I changed, my wife changed, and “we” absolutely changed and it was all for the better. My wife and I love each other so deeply it’s hard to put into words, really. Our relationship just feels good.
I read a post that “called bullshit” on the old adage, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. Every messed up relationship I was ever in before my marriage got me to a place where I could enjoy this. Every heartbreak, every gut punch… It all made me who I am today. And today I can understand the true meaning behind that statement that it’s better to have loved and lost. I actually think about it every time my wife and I are in synch and loving each other in the same wavelength… I look at her, she looks at me, and that’s all it takes. Feeling that good as a “we” is worth the risk, because without leaving my heart on the table, without fully committing to the marriage, I’d never get to feel that. I’ve tried. It just doesn’t work when I hold a little bit back.
Today, rather than sweep problems under the rug, hoping they’ll just go away, we deal with them head-on and resolve them. We are protecting what we worked so hard to build, because now that we’ve spent some time in the sunlight of real love, we’ve come to the conclusion that the experience is too good to allow petty things to get in the way. We’ve created a union where there was once two separate people cohabitating.
But what about lost?
This is undoubtedly a tough concept to grasp, especially in the middle of the loss. If my wife were to pass early or leave me for another man (or cheat, same thing) it would be absolutely devastating but only from an obtuse point of view. One might think the latter would be harder to handle because there would have to be forgiveness and coming to grips with whether or not “I was good enough”.
In the end, if my wife isn’t into the marriage wholeheartedly, I’d rather know sooner than later so I could move on. I can see how someone could get caught up in the loss for a while though, especially while in “end of the world as I know it” mode. On the other hand, God as my witness, I’m still siding with better to have loved and lost. To love my wife enough to have my heart still skip a beat when she gives me her little smirk, after all of these years, is worth the risk of losing it later. As I wrote earlier, I’ve tried marriage hedging my emotions just in case. With that little wall between us, the relationship could never be as good as it gets.