The Killer — And Opportunity — In Every Marriage

by Bill Brenner on June 1, 2011

Several divorces in our circle of family and friends has made Erin and I a little uneasy in recent months.

Mood music:

There are the usual reasons for this: Complications develop when you’re close to both people in the marriage that’s breaking up. But something else happens: You start to worry if your marriage is next.

We’ve been together for nearly 18 years and probably love each other more today than we did the day we got married in 1998. We’ve each done a lot of work to make ourselves better people and, as a result, a better couple, in recent years.

But, as they say, marriage is hard work, and we’re no exception.

As the years march on, things happen. Work and children fill up all the hours in a day and couples end up so focused on family business that it starts to become just that — a business. You forget to share the simple or the deepest thoughts with each other. Let that go on long enough and the relationship decays before you know what hit you.

I carried on for a long time thinking everything was just perfect because I considered myself better than the average husband. After all, I did a lot of chores around the house. Surely that was enough.

It wasn’t, of course.

I wasn’t communicating. I wasn’t telling Erin what was in my head. And, because I feared she would take off if I pushed too hard, I always kept things inside when something she did made me angry. Do that long enough and you become a brutally passive-aggressive time bomb.

Mix in the fact that my OCD and addictions were running wild and you get a large marriage problem.

I eventually confronted those demons head on, and after several more years I emerged free of the fear and anxiety that had crippled me.

I’d think to myself that that’s enough self improvement to make the marriage perfect again. I even got up the courage to push back during arguments. Monumental improvement, wouldn’t you say?


More time goes on.

Erin quits her job and starts a business. I urge her on. And when the going gets tough and she’s putting in so many hours that we lose out on quality time, I grow impatient, forgetting about how patient she was while I was spending years gluing the pieces of my shattered brain back together.

Naturally, I keep those frustrations to myself for a long time, until I explode about everything in one argument.

We talk about it a lot and settle into a new, stronger pattern. I think we’re all set, and then I go on a couple business trips close together. Somewhere during that trip, I realize I forgot to sign and seal the Valentine’s Day card and, before I know what I’m doing, I lie about it.

Naturally, I get caught. She’s furious with me for that and because I appear to be enjoying the road a little too much.

We do a lot of talking in the weeks that follow. I tell her I feel like I’m competing with her business. She gets it. We resolve to work on it and we do so. Things get better.

Then we get busy again, and one night she tells me she misses my sharing things with her.

The statement floors me. Of course I’ve been sharing. I tell her everything.

Only I’m not, really.

I write everything in this blog, and in telling the world everything, I have it in my head that I’m telling her everything. So we work some more on how to better communicate.

And the battle rolls on.

I don’t tell you all this to complain. The reality is that this is something EVERY married couple deals with. I don’t care how perfect you think your marriage is. Chances are, you and your spouse have been through all these things and more. It’s the way it is.

Marriage is hard work. You either want it badly enough to keep working on it, or you stop trying and things fall apart.

Here are a few things we’ve learned. It is by no means a complete to-do list, because like you, we’re still learning new things all the time — whether we like it or not.

For one thing, communication is always something we can be doing better.

We have to learn to speak our minds, even when it means an argument might develop. We have to remember to share the loftier ideas in our heads.

One thing I’m making a point to do is share my blog ideas and drafts with her before posting them.

Did I send this one to her for feedback before posting? If I hadn’t, I’d be in some deep trouble right about now.

Another thing we’re remembering: Like any married couple with kids, we need our date nights and weekend getaways. We just had one and it was great. We walked around Salem, Mass., one day and drove to Hartford, Conn., the next day to see Mark Twain’s house. We traded some good project ideas in the car and took turns with the musical selection in the stereo.

But we know the work goes on.

It’s worth it.

Because we love each other.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Cummuta June 1, 2011 at 4:13 am

Excelllent post – and advice! Marriage IS slot of work, but boy is it worth the effort! I think the biggest hurdles are to be ever vigilant, and to outright ignore what popular media & culture has been “teaching” lately about the vLue of marriage!

Bert Knabe June 1, 2011 at 7:04 am

You could have been writing about our marriage – Melanie hasn’t started a business yet, but she wants to. Everything you said was dead-on. I have to constantly remind myself that just because I’m comfortable doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory. We’ve been married 18 years, too, and it’s been a lot of work – and worth every bit. I blame our cultures high divorce rate (in part) on the portrayal of romance as ending in “happily ever after.” Happily ever after is possible – with a lot of work. They leave that part out.

Dave June 1, 2011 at 10:04 am

Thanks for that post, Bill. Things to remember for those of us just starting out.

billbrenner1970 June 1, 2011 at 11:09 am

Dave, congrats again to you and JJ! You two got what it takes for sure (yes, that did sound like a bad pop song title).

Mary June 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm

What a great post! Everyone feels these feelings! And it’s SO important to chat with the person who we “DO” all this for!
I alway said marriage is not 50/50…it’s 100/100!

Bert Knabe June 2, 2011 at 10:29 am


Bill fennell October 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Great post Bill. Communication is key. Thanks for the advice. I believe I could use some improvement in that department.

Rick April 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Thanks Bill. This was much needed right now. With no further comment, you get the idea!

Andrea June 28, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Great blog Bill and oh so right. It’s so encouraging to hear such wisdom from you. Some people never learn this lesson and throw a marriage away after many more years but 18 years seems to be a rough mile stone to get past. Devastation is guaranteed to occur any time either partner closes down and refuses to see, hear or continue to grow and change. No matter how hard one partner works without the same response from the other partner everything is lost. Thanks again for another inspirational blog.

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