I was on the phone with a friend, E, who is in the midst of a disintegrating marriage. We must have talked for two hours. The week before I spent about the same amount of time talking to another girlfriend about her marriage. And I have a male friend who is also trying to decide on an exit strategy.
I try to be open-minded, supportive, but also ask hard questions. Mostly I listen. Whether to stay or whether to leave is no small decision. Things are always complicated because relationships and people’s needs are too. When there are children involved, there’s even more at stake.
The conversations provide food for thought and maybe a measure of clarity. E is in love with a married man. When she was telling me about the married man’s gripes with his wife, I gently said, “What he’s saying about her are the same things your husband says about you.” Which is true. I want E to think about that because I don’t want her to end up in a relationship that results in her hearing the exact same bullshit she hears from her husband from another guy. She doesn’t need that.
Sometimes I think every suburban marriage is the same. Why pretend that leaving your husband for another man is going to change your life? You’ll still end up cleaning a house (just a different one), doing laundry, going grocery shopping, attending school events, hauling kids to extracurriculars (only now you’ll be dealing with his kids and your kids), and organizing (more complicated) family holidays. You’ll just be crawling into bed with a different person at the end of the day. Maybe that changes everything. I don’t know. Seems that if change is what you want, you need to change from the inside, not the outside.
But back to my friend, E. She said something really interesting to me about my marriage. I’ve been married for a really long time and in many ways, it’s been deeply satisfying, but, no surprise here, it’s also been hard. Like so many other couples my age, I’ve slid into my 40s feeling a bit unloved and unappreciated and wondering about the choices I’ve made in my life. There is a current of longing and discontent that runs beneath my happiness and surfaces from time to time.
My husband and I emerged from a really dark period in our lives together. I had thought maybe we’d come to the end of our relationship, but slowly, over time, there was healing. Things didn’t go back to the way they’d been during our glory days, but we found a comfortable way to be together, live together, raise our children together. Friendly. No more tension, no more avoidance, no more resentment, no more secret tears.
I mentioned this to E, telling her that my husband and I are friends again. She said, “How is he your friend? He doesn’t laugh at your jokes, he doesn’t care about your writing, he often thinks the things you say are inappropriate. NONE of your friends think that way about you. He doesn’t seem like he’s your friend to me.”
Wow. Just wow. What can I say? She has a good point.
But one thing I know from my experience and all the relationship discussions I’ve participated in over the years is this: communicating disappointment with our spouses or significant others is easy, but capturing what we love about them, why we feel connected to them or to the relationship is much harder.
So I will take E’s words to heart and consider them. And then I’ll consider why she sees things the way she does–is she more objective? Why do I love the guy who comes through the door at the end of the day, even if he doesn’t laugh at my jokes and can be so uptight? Plenty to think about when I’m lying awake at night.
More on this to come…