"Every couple has their ups and downs."
How many times has this tired piece of wisdom been trotted out, often by someone who is trying to be helpful or comforting. But so often, the person saying it is speaking from a place of "up". It seems that deep down (or maybe not so deep), they're thinking, "I'm glad it's not me."
And it's not really all that comforting, because who ever wants to speak of the real and true "downs"? It's one thing to gossip with our girlfriends, rolling our eyes at our doofus husbands who drop the ball on our birthdays and bicker with us over what take out to order on any given night. It's another thing to truly communicate the burdens of our hearts, the things that scare us about the future of our relationships.
Conventional wisdom teaches that you should not complain about your spouse to another person because, when you forgive your spouse and move on, your confidante does not have the benefit of your positive experience and often builds up a bad opinion of your spouse over time. There is definite value to this method. It's important to guard our tongues when we speak to people about our spouse. It's critical that you speak fondly of your spouse to your family and friends, much more often than you air the complaints.
However, in my relatively short marriage (almost 5 years), I've come to believe that it's vital to have someone (or a few someones) to confide in about the deep stuff.
My husband and I lived with my parents for 2 years, which ended when we moved back to our house this past June. It was wonderful, but it was also extremely difficult at times. Our marriage and family life took place in front of an audience, and our children were toddlers who daily (every other minute, to be more accurate) tested us as we learned how to be parents to two bundles of energy and activity. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for more than three years, and that has also taken a toll on my marriage. It has been far from easy.
But you aren't supposed to talk about the dark stuff. You're supposed to laugh and smile and put your big girl panties on for the world, so you don't look weak. You're supposed to pick the trivialist of the trivial to discuss with your friends over drinks, and you must always qualify it with, "Oh it's so funny. He's so crazy. But I love him, though."
You must not talk too much with your mom about it, because this is her son-in-law and the father of her grandchildren. You don't want her to hate your husband, and worse, you don't want her to side with him. You don't want to tell her the things your husband gets upset with you about, because then she might validate his points and you come out the loser. Then you find out that what your husband says must be true, and you are lazy or selfish or demanding or impatient or just plain wrong. And that hurts too much.
You don't want to tell anyone about it, really, because that is exposing your jugular - the soft underbelly of your grittiest self. So you tuck it away inside. And slowly, it builds. Without you seeing it at first, it starts to grow and take on a shape all its own. The pressure mounts and expands to every nook and cranny of your heart, and suddenly you're screaming at your husband about the fact that he bought the off-brand of brownie mix and why in the mother effing hell would he ever do something so insanely stupid and selfish? And you know you're wrong, and he knows you're wrong, but your heart is a bottle full of baking soda and vinegar and the top is about to blow.
And you can't talk to anyone about this, because you're just looking at the superficial wound. You tell your friend that you're pissed about brownie mix, and they laugh because they think you're doing one of those trivial wine stories again, so you quickly shift into "drinks with the girls" mode and do the standard eye rolling, performing, "He's a goof but he's my goof" bit. And the baking soda and vinegar get pushed back down, ignored; you hope it'll just go away on its own.
One evening, I had a disagreement with my husband that, on the surface seemed minor. But lurking below were a thousand frustrations and insecurities - some tied to the specific argument, some unrelated but untreated that had festered and become infected over time. I stormed off to my friends to exercise, slamming the door behind me and stewing the entire way over. But as soon as she answered the door, I pasted that smile on my face and once again pushed the baking soda below the surface.
But afterward, as we sat in her kitchen chatting, I felt this uncontrollable need to be listened to and understood. This woman was one of my closest friends, and we had known each other a long time. She knew who I was and she liked me in spite of it. I decided to risk it.
Tentatively, I put out the statement, "Um...I kind of having a tough time with something, and I'd really like to talk about it." When someone tells me they really need to talk, something inside me opens up to them immediately, honored that they chose me to talk to and ready to do what I can to be what they need me to be to them at that time. I hoped it would do the same to my friend.
Terrified, I mentally willed myself to say what I wanted to say, exactly the way I wanted to say it. "Um....do you ever....like....hate your husband sometimes?" And then it was out there and I felt immediately nauseous. Who hates their husband? Further, who hates their husband and admits it openly?
But my dear friend, she immediately said, "Yes. Yes I do." And the volcano erupted and I poured my heart out to her. And she understood and she related to me. And she told me some of her own experiences and it was beautiful.
That talk lasted no more than 20 minutes. But those 20 minutes were among the most therapeutic minutes I can recall in my recent life. I felt heard. I felt normal. I didn't feel ugly or shameful or embarrassed, which I believe are typical fears that surround the act of admitting that marriage can be downright sucky at times.
In this world of divorce and broken relationships, we are afraid to confess that our marriages are troubled. We don't want to appear as though we don't have it all together. We hate the thought of people thinking poorly of us and our spouses. We don't want to betray our marriage by confessing the troubles that plague it.
It is good to be prudent when discussing our marriages with anyone other than our spouse. It is crucial to be prudent when choosing who to discuss our marriages with. But it is necessary to have someone to have these discussions with.
Some might read this post and scold me for over-sharing, for revealing my dirty laundry to the world. But I am tired of paying the emotional and mental price for burying the truth inside of myself. The fact is, we all have dirty laundry, and sometimes in order to get that laundry clean, you need to bring in outside help.
It has become my personal mission to try very hard to be open with people. This is my natural inclination anyway, and for quite sometime, I was ashamed of it. It felt like immature attention whoring. But I have realized that being open with people sometimes has the effect of opening them up to me in return. I can't stand the thought that I might understand what someone is going through, but that they'll never know it because it never came up. And they'll carry their secret pain for who knows how long, as it whittles away at their soul.
So I'm going to click "publish" on this post, even though I had every intention of relegating it to the "draft" heap when I started it. And I'm going to share it on Facebook, even though it's going to scare the shit out of me and I'm going to be beating myself up all night for doing so. And tomorrow I'll read over it again and mentally kick myself for being such a shameless open book. But maybe someone will read it and have the relief of knowing that they're ok, and that I understand what they're feeling. Because I do.
Marriage is great, but sometimes it sucks big fat donkey balls.