Yesterday I remembered something the priest said during his Homily at our wedding: “You marry the person you think you know, and spend the rest of your lives really getting to know each other.” Another priest at another wedding eight years later told the bride and groom: “Your job is to get each other into Heaven.”
Sometimes you get to know each other and you don’t like what you see. Then things fall apart. Two family members I care a lot about are going through that very experience. Sometimes, it happens. Hell, Al and Tipper Gore split after 40 years of marriage. Nobody saw that coming.
It all makes me think of my own marriage and how lucky I am. But it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve learned that marriage is a lot of work, and it always will be. And it’s always a two-way street.
A deacon friend of mine once described helping out your husband or wife as “dying of self.” On the surface that doesn’t sound pleasant, but it’s actually a fabulous thing: It means taking on extra burden — chores around the house, for instance — so your spouse can get a break.
That’s something I’ve always done to the point of obsession: Clean the house, making the kids’ lunches and all those things husbands supposedly don’t do (though I’m told I’ve become more of a slob since starting my recovery). The problem is that I always thought that was enough.
To this day I can be an emotionally closed-off person. I probably get it from my father. He’s one of the most loving guys I know, but he has always had a tough time showing his emotion. I’ve seen him cry once in the last 40 years: when my brother died. I’m sure he’s done it other times, especially when my sister was having her troubles. But I only saw that one time.
I’ve also never been good at talking back during an argument with Erin.
Erin and I have a strong marriage. I’d say it’s getting stronger by the day. My love for her is, anyway. But like every married couple, we argue sometimes about all the typical things: Money, how to parent the kids, etc. When it’s a routine day, I often keep my feelings to myself, and fail to SHOW her my feelings on a daily basis. Then, when we argue, I shut down and sit there like a stone as she tells me everything I’ve done wrong in the last day, week, or month.
A therapist once told me I needed to argue back. Not yelling back. Not name calling. Just calmly pointing out my own feelings and side of things. The first time I did it, I think Erin was really taken aback. That was scary. I was always afraid if I did that she’d leave me. That was never a danger, but I can be stupid sometimes. I think I’ve gotten a lot better at this stuff, but I know I still put that wall up at times. Putting up a wall can be a bitch for any relationship, because sooner or later bad feelings will race at that wall like a drunk behind the wheel of a Porsche and slam right into it. Some bricks in the wall crack and come loose, but by then it can be too late. The relationship is totaled.
I’ve come to realize this will always be a danger we have to watch for. It’s a danger in any marriage. Carol and Mike Brady never really existed. If they did, they could have used a few good fights. They wouldn’t have wasted so much time sitting up in bed reading boring books.
This shit is so complicated. But this much I do know:
I’m not the same guy Erin married. She’s not the same woman, either. Much to my father-in-law’s chagrin, she’s become a lot more liberal in her political views.
If I were the same man I was back then — imprisoned by an OCD-fueled haze of fear, insecurity, self-loathing and self-destructive behavior — I’d either be dead or divorced. I had to change for this thing to work. The thing is, I wanted it to work badly enough that I started doing what I had to do in that cold, dark autumn of 2004, when all the cracks in my soul began spilling blood all over everyone around me.
I’m better now. But to say I still have a long way to go is an understatement. I still keep that wall in my closet next to the other skeletons, and sometimes I bring it out for some more trouble.
But as much as love can hurt, I’m going to do what I must to make it endure.