At this point last year, my marriage was ravaged. We were both depressed, incredibly bitter and mostly unhappy with our lives. Everything from work to friendships to our personal lives seemed to be dead set against us finding any joy. So to look back and realize how far we've come... what a transformative year 2012 has been... it's mystifying. It's like I'm looking back on someone else's life.
2012 was the year John and I pulled each other, many times kicking and screaming, into loving one another again.
You see, no one tells you this during marriage prep courses. No one mentions the all-out war you sometimes need to wage in order to build and maintain a relationship that seems so easy to new couples. They say marriage is hard work, but they don't tell you that this particular brand of hard work has the ability to take you to your deepest breaking point, smash it into a billion pieces, and then introduce you to the even deeper breaking point you didn't realize your other breaking point lived in fear of.
So 2012 was the year we confronted those breaking points. It wasn't pretty. In fact, it was terribly cruel, ugly and painful. I’m still not entirely sure how we survived such a traumatic reconfiguration of our marriage. I attribute it to the prayers of those who understood the heartache. They were the likely source of strength the two of us unwittingly fed from as we endured the agonizing process of cleaning house and facing the truth of our own destruction.
Most people are unaware that there were tremors unsettling our nest. I’ve always kept such things very close as I don’t believe there is benefit in airing dirty laundry to family or friends. I never uttered a word to my family as I didn’t want them to view John in a negative light. I also didn’t want anyone worrying over my relationship when there were more pressing things to keep them occupied.
So I turned to my spiritual director and my best friend. The only two people who knew the full extent of the emotional agony I endured, I held nothing back from them. I was candid, frank and colored. I would spit fire one moment only to fall into a river of tears the very next. I also poured myself into writing. Venting to my two trusted confidantes and banging out article after article on my keyboard – those were my coping mechanisms. Some folks might be upset to hear I didn't turn to them with my emotional tidal wave. May it suffice to say that voicing that wave to one person - let alone the two I chose - was difficult enough.
I’m still not entirely sure what John did. He eventually told his family. It was a huge mistake – and he fully admits that now – but I don’t fault him. His family dynamic is vastly different from mine, so while I was afforded the distance necessary to keep my personal life adequately private, he was not. I know he vented to his friends a bit (because it had the direct effect of once close-friends pulling away from me), but again… I understand he needed to cope in his own way.
We mucked along in this awkward venting dance, but it was a temporary fix (if one can call it a fix at all). We knew we needed to seek professional help, and John surprised me one day by agreeing to see a counselor. He even came up with a list of folks he felt would be good. We found one we liked and began to see him twice a month.
We only went a handful of times - not because we didn't like him (in fact, he was great) - but because John and I had really committed to trying to work things out ourselves. All of the advice the doc gave us were things we were already accustomed to doing. He helped us tweak things a bit so we didn't keep hitting the same walls over and over again, but it felt good that a professional was able to walk us through some of our darker areas and point out that we had, in fact, done a lot more for ourselves and each other than we had taken credit for.
So yeah, having spent over a year battling the demons of our marriage, I look back and almost cannot believe that the same marriage is now back to being happy, satisfying and loving - maybe even moreso than when we were first engaged. I'm incredulous, really.
This is the reason I felt the urge to post my experience online. No one likes to admit their marriage isn't perfect. No one in their right mind wants to admit that their spouse wanted to divorce them. I sorta hate the fact that this is going to be out there now with people judging me or John one way or the other for whatever ridiculous things they'll conjure up to judge us on.
The end result is something important enough to highlight, though. I see several of my friends (now that they're marrying off) coming to terms with the fact that marriage really does suck sometimes. For as amazing and wonderful as this vocation is, there are some seriously challenging and downright terrifying aspects of it that make you think you're slightly insane for having ever said "I do" to begin with.
I'm here to tell you that even through the most terrifying and horrible moments, you can and MUST fight for your marriage.
Every time John brought up the "D" word, I'd let it roll right off me. I never for a second gave divorce a thought because I simply do not believe it exists for us. When you can show me the seam that binds two souls united at the altar, I'll show you divorce papers. Until then, the only recourse is war.
So I went to war.
And I told John I was going to war.
And all of you out there who love your spouse but feel the pressure to divorce mount against your sacramental union - you must go to war.
And that is how it must be in a marriage. If your relationship is of any worth - if there is anything of value there (and there must be... you married one another once upon a time after all), you will wage war to defend it... even if you must defend it from yourselves.
That is precisely what John and I did. I explained to John that I would never - NEVER - sign divorce papers. He, exasperated, asked me why. I told him the truth. For as much as I sometimes wanted to punch him repeatedly in the face, I still loved him. For as angry and as bitter and as resentful as I sometimes felt towards him, I would always still love him. I would always be able to see the good-natured humor in him. I would always respect the responsible and hard-working man he is. I would always see the light of love in how he raises our son. Thus, in my mind, divorce can never be an answer. I was confident that one day we'd look back on this miserable point in our lives and be better for it.
And ya know what? He needed to hear that. I knew it all along, and I assumed he understood it, but no. He needed to hear that from me. He needed to hear me lay it all out there - to place myself out in such a vulnerable, honest position. I think it was then that he realized we had something to fight for after all. It wasn't just a "Gina's being a stubborn Catholic who doesn't believe in divorce." It was Gina being a stubborn wife who doesn't believe in throwing away a husband of value.
So night after night, day after day, tearful yelling session after tearful yelling session we somehow reached a fuller understanding of one another and our needs. We were no longer the same people we were 8 years ago. We had changed, and we needed to recognize that, appreciate it, and nurture each other in all new ways. We needed to learn about one another again and in trying - really, truly trying - we little by little learned to love each other again.
And it's been quite the experience.
So to those of you facing down what seems to be the barrel of a divorce gun I say there is hope. Be the hope for your marriage if you wish to see it succeed. Pray, pray, pray and work towards finding the common ground necessary to build from again. 2012 was our year. Make 2013 yours.