Threadbare

Remember when I mentioned that things were pretty good in my marriage? Well, right after I wrote that, they started chafing again. It was to be suspected, our good periods never last all that long.

And honestly, we’re not even in a bad place, it’s just not good. Our marriage is not unraveling, but it feels threadbare. Sometimes I wonder though, if this meh-place, which is defined primarily by apathy, but also includes significant tinges of frustration and irritation, is worse than being truly angry at each other. If we can’t care enough to get angry, is there anything left?

Things were already starting to chafe, even before our weekend away, but it was the three days in the snow with my parents that really highlighted it for me. On the one hand, I’m proud that we never actually got mad at each other, on the other hand, it’s kind of frightening how little effort that takes these days, even when we’re clearly not happy with each other.

I blame myself, for my marriage. If I had spent a fraction of the energy contemplating what it would actually be like to be married to my husband, as I expended on being afraid of never having kids, I probably could have foreseen this. But I was blinded by fear. All I wanted was children, the rest of it was ultimately background noise. Even at the time, when the stories I told myself about our relationship were so compelling, there was a part of me that knew I was really doing it to have kids.

It wasn’t that I knew it wasn’t going to work, our marriage I mean; it wasn’t that I lied to myself about that. I honestly didn’t know if my husband was the right person for me (I still don’t). But I had never been with anyone else and I figured that even the people who thought they knew, couldn’t really be sure. Marriage is a gamble, always, whether you want to believe it or not.

That is what I thought–and I still believe it–but I fell back on that without looking at what was there for me to see. I convinced myself that I couldn’t be sure, so that I wouldn’t be forced to be to make as honest of an assessment as was possible at the time.

Would I have ended up with my husband if I hadn’t been so blindly driven to have kids? I don’t know. I think there is as much chance that I would have as not. The truth is, I can’t know. And it doesn’t matter even if I could, because we’re married now and we have two kids and we need to either make this work, or walk away.

It’s not that we’re anywhere close to walking away, but I worry that a after a few years more of this kind of apathy we might be.

And yes, I realize that means that I need to pull us out of the apathy. I need to do the hard work giving a fuck again. But it’s so hard to feel like I’m the only one. As long as we’re having somewhat regular sex (once a week is good, twice a month is passable), and I stay off my husband’s case, he could do this indefinitely. I honestly don’t think he cares. Would he appreciate it if our marriage were better? I’m sure he would. But even if he recognized that he would be happier in a more satisfying marriage, I don’t think he’d do anything to change it. He just doesn’t have the drive when it comes to personal matters like these. He’d much rather wait it out, taking the past of least effort and resistance, than do the hard work necessary to change things. Even if someone guaranteed him it would work, that we’d both be happier with each other if took the time, I don’t know if he’d dedicate the time and energy to actively work on himself, let alone us.

I know that I’m supposed to be okay with that. I know that I’m supposed to work on changes in myself, because that is the only half of the equation I have any control over, but it’s damn hard to put in the effort when I don’t think my partner would (or will) do the same.

I don’t know. Things aren’t bad enough for me to suggest we do something radical, like see a marriage counselor. Maybe I need to go myself, to work on my own apathy. Because I am the only one I can change in our relationship

I mean, if I did the work, and revived our marriage, I would gain as much as my husband. How can my resentment run so deep that I would refuse to put in the effort myself, knowing what I would gain? Clearly I have some work to do on my half of the equation. I just honestly don’t know if I care enough to do it.

And maybe that is really the only thing that has changed. Maybe we’re exactly where we’ve been a hundred times before, and the only thing that’s different is that I don’t have the energy or drive to work on myself. I want to care enough to do it, but I just can’t muster the enthusiasm to make it happen.

Because honestly, what is the point? I keep coming back to that old adage: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I truly believe that insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. But I guess it’s never that easy in a relationship, because the peripheral components are always changing, and so the situation is never truly the same. Maybe that is why I kept thinking I could change enough for the both of us, because so much else was shifting in our lives.

I don’t know. I’m surely making it out to be worse than it really is. I know many people are in less satisfying marriages. And I am thankful to be with my husband, even if I wish we could be more for each other. Things probably are good enough, and it’s so easy to fall back on the “well the kids are young and shit is hard right now, we’ll work on things when it’s easier” mentality, which is my husband’s attitude about everything that he might want to change. Maybe that is just what I should do. Wait it out, work on other areas of discontent in my life, and hope that we can find our way back to something more meaningful when we don’t have to work so hard to manage it.

I mentioned before that this is my year of embracing loneliness, but it’s more than just learning to live without the expectation of friendship, it’s about becoming self-sufficient, about relying on no one but myself for my own contentment. I really do believe I have to get to this place to have meaningful friendships, and maybe it is the key to my marriage as well. I’ve come a long way in my journey to being okay alone, but I definitely have more terrain to travel. Hopefully as I near the end of that journey, I’ll be ready to fight for my marriage again. In the meantime, ambivalence will have to be good enough.

42 Comments

  1. I’ve been thinking about this post a lot this morning, given all that Grey and I are currently going through. And I’m hoping that this response is not seen as judgey or that I’m giving you advice. I know much better than to do that.

    The thing is, I’ve seen too many marriages fail when the focus has been on changing the other partner. Either taking a new job, pushing for a certain lifestyle, changing personality and even disputes about family size. Yes, marriage should be about compromise, but the heart of that compromise is that both partners want a specific outcome and are willing to work toward that together. When one is happy with the current situation or doesn’t deem that it needs to be addressed, then the other person has to determine if they can live with that.

    I’m posting an update today, but since Grey became unemployed and has been job searching, he’s been happier than I’ve seen him in 5 months. The only reason he took this past position was for me. I wake up every day feeling guilty for how much this has hurt him and how much I’m to blame. So despite my concern about finances, I’m prioritizing being his cheerleader and supporting him because our family is happier when all members are. And I’ve seen the grave consequences that come when one person changes who they are solely for the other.

    I’m glad you are being mindful about what you’re bringing to your marriage. Considering it takes a lot of work, being mindful is so important to getting to a place of contentment. But I also wonder if you’ve asked yourself the question “what if this is as good as it gets?” Could you live with the man your husband is today? Could you find happiness in this life? I don’t say this to be mean, but there are a lot of posts about how you don’t believe marriage is permanent nor believe that you two will make this a life-long commitment. And it’s not to say that you should stay together, but life is too short and everyone deserves a chance at happiness. And that includes both you and your husband. Some people are not meant to be together in this way.

    1. To answer your question, I have asked myself the question, “What if this is as good as it gets?” I’ve asked myself that a lot, because I’m kind of assuming that this is as good as it gets. And the truth is I’m not sure what kind of long term contentment I can have in my marriage. I just don’t know. Right now I have no intention of leaving, the good absolutely outweighs the bad, but I don’t know if that will always be the case. I don’t know how I’ll feel about it in five years, or ten, or twenty. I don’t know if the easing of daily life as the kids get older will give us sufficient space for our dynamic to work well enough. Or if the challenges that arise as we get older and have more accuse questions to answer together will ultimately prove our undoing. I really don’t know. I do think I can love my husband and be happy enough in our marriage, even if he continues to struggling showing me love and affection in the ways I am programmed to receive it, but other things would have to change. And the diverse is also true.

      And I want to clarify that while I don’t believe marriage is forever just because that is its intent, I do believe in the commitment we made to each other and I hope I will do everything in my power to honor that commitment.

      I guess what it comes down to, is that I wish my husband would change, but I also want to change myself. And seeing how much I’ve grown in our time together, I know I can make some changes. And I guess right now I’m hoping those will be enough. Only time will tell.

      1. I hear you on wishing for change. Again, I’m not judging. Especially as I’m in the middle of yet another transition with 2 small children that is incredibly scary. But I still think asking these questions is important. And I wouldn’t be surprised if your husband is also asking them.

        One year into our marriage, everyone in our immediate circle of friends ended their relationships. It was hard, both to watch, but also on us because it made us both question whether we had been stupid with deciding to get married. It took a few years to watch things play out for people, with some moving on to get married again while others have not and instead floated from being single to partnering up more long-term. What was most striking, though, was hearing how some finally found happiness by finding someone they didn’t need to change while others are still looking for that someone who fits.

        Again, I’m not advocating for anything. But I’ll be honest when I say that there’s very little about Grey I want to change. And the little things that are there are things we’re still compromising on. I believe he feels the same about me. Granted, we have our down moments and can have terrible fights. And there are certainly moments where I wonder if this will work. But at the end of those conflicts and hard times, I can say that I’m thankful I have him, the entire package. I know there are many others I could not say that about and life would have been a lot harder to be partnered with them.

        1. I hope my husband is asking these questions. Whenever I try to bring this stuff up, even if I do so without any accusation in my tone, he just sighs and kind of shuts down. He HATES talking about our relationship. He has point blank said that he thinks that is the worst possible way we could spend our time. So it’s hard to know how he feels about things, because he just doesn’t want to take the time to talk about stuff. It’s so hard to know where he stands on stuff when that is the case.

          And honestly, I don’t want to change who my husband is, I just want him to hug me every once in a while, or cuddle me on the couch without wanting to have sex after five minutes of being close. I feel like that little bit of affection would go SO FAR, and I’ve asked for it explicitly SO MANY TIMES and he just doesn’t seem to be able to give it. I do believe he is trying his best, and I’m done resenting him for not being able to give me that, but it’s hard for me to give me the physical affecting he needs from me when I’m not getting it from him. I suck it up and do it, because I know it’s beneficial for our relationship, but it’s hard not to see him do the same. And in my attempts to be okay with not getting physical affection, I kind of distance myself from him, so then he says that of course he can’t cuddle me because I’m in the chair and he’s on the couch and what is he supposed to do?! And the vicious cycle continues.

          I don’t know. I want to change and that is all I can hope to accomplish so I will keep changing myself. Maybe if I can manage my expectations well enough, then I can be happy the way things are. I do think it might be possible, even if I haven’t gotten there yet.

        2. This comment was hard for me to read. I don’t see myself getting to the point where there is very little I want to change about my husband. I don’t know if that’s a “me” problem or an “us” problem. But right now it’s a problem.

  2. “You’re a miserable person” – is one of the things that My Hubs told me 2 years ago while he quit (unexpectedly) & I harped on finances. I didn’t realize that he wasn’t happy with his job or place of employment. After weeks of trying to figure out how I could change things, I finally realized, with the help of my therapist, that I needed to accept them. I can change things within myself but I can’t force someone to change. It has to come within themselves…like something earth shattering has to happen in order for My Hubs to change. We argue & like most couples, we probably also pick our battles with one another.

    Marriage is hard. There are times when I wonder, would it be easier without him? I mean, I think I could do it by myself. But then again… It’s work but I also have to say that he’s my best friend & confidant. At the end of they day, I want to tell him (mostly) everything.

    I just don’t want you in a “is this as good as it gets” or “is this all there is?” mentality. Life and marriage should be more than just that.

    1. I wonder too if it would be easier without my husband, but I know that the answer is “no.” I think there would be less disappointment (only because there would be no expectation), but there would be a lot less of the good stuff too. It would be less complicated, yes, but it would be harder. And I know that, but it can be hard to remember it sometimes when I’m feeling really, really frustrated with the way things are.

      And I think I need to be okay with “this is as good as it gets,” not in a settling way, but in an accepting way, and not in a “this isn’t really good enough, but I need to be okay with it way,” but more in a “there is actually enough good here for it to be okay.” And maybe “is this as good as it gets,” is not a good way to say that, but the idea is similar.

  3. Reading your opening paragraph, I nodded my head furiously. I think marriage is very much like that for most people – when it’s good, it’s very good, but it’s fleeting. We definitely have constant cycles, and I think we have a pretty good marriage most days, but all it takes is one bad fight or weekend together but apart and I worry.

    I just reread one of my posts from when I was going to marriage counseling alone. (I always chuckle that I went alone.). That really was helpful for us, and it was a turning point in our marriage. I was MISERABLE and had to do something, even if just so I could say I did, and I’m so glad I did it. It helped me, it helped him, and it solidified our bottom line – the most important thing to both of us is our relationship. Rereading that reminded me to lighten up, love him more, and not be so damn frosty. I’d forgotten.

    I’m like your husband. We’ve talked about this before. 😉 Brian needs more from me, and I want less from him. I just want to be left alone at the end of the day, and he needs his cup to be filled with companionship. So… I fill it. Because it’s what he needs.

    I think you’re doing great. I think you are realistic with yourself. I think you’re very introspective and willing to do your part. You know your flaws and you own them. I do wish you wouldn’t blame yourself for so much.

    1. Honestly, I’m not blaming myself for anything, just trying to see things for what they are. I’m not upset with myself for the choices I made, I was doing the best I could with the tools I had at the time. I do think it helps me to look back at those choices and own them and their consequences though, especially when it’s a reminder that being patient can sometimes be the only solution.

      I don’t think I’m at that MISERABLE stage right now, and that is why it’s hard to do something about it. It’s like the tightness between my shoulders that gets so bad it becomes a constant patch of aching muscle. It’s an old issue, one I’ve been dealing with for years. I’ve tried all sorts of things–visiting a chiropractor, a nightly stretching regimen, changing up my exercise routine, but no matter what I do, it’s always there, this tingly feeling of tightness between my shoulder blades. I notice it all throughout the day, and sometimes it REALLY bothers me, but it’s not the kind of thing I can go to the doctor to get “fixed.” And I can’t afford getting a weekly massage to help it feel better. So I just live with it. And I feel like that is how the troubles in my marriage are. They don’t really change the way I live my life–but the discomfort is always there and it’s something I want so badly to be able to get rid of, but I’ll probably end up living with for the rest of my life.

      Now if I really hurt my shoulder and I couldn’t use it anymore, I’d go to the doctor and do physical therapy and find ways to make it better, but my marriage isn’t at that stage. And so I guess I’ll just keep tolerating it, because what else can I do? And then every once in a while we’ll save up for 24 hours away, and like my back after a massage it will all feel so much better. But then the tightness of daily life will sneak back in and I’ll tolerate it again.

  4. You are personally exhausted. You are stressed about finances. Your husband is doing more than before with the children, he is exhausted too. He isn’t doing as much as you, but more than before and he is generally a much lower energy person from the picture you have drawn. He is also aware of the money situation and that you are less thrilled with your job than he is with his. That means he is also stressed with finances. You all just spent the weekend with his in-laws which while wonderful in many ways and generous and all the rest is not stress free for him. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t like them or that you shouldn’t spend weekends jointly just that it does wear on him.
    Additionally you are both the parents of two young and not easy children and you are just coming to the end of the Vision Program which has been expensive, important and hard to manage with your daughter.
    Given the above if you two apathetically say hi to each other you are doing very well. If you are not degenerating into mass anger and fighting, it is a win. My suggestion for the apathy, based on what you have written, is to see if you two can arrange 24 hours of the children with your in-laws and you two do a ‘broke college students’ inexpensive 24 hours with just each other. Time alone with each other always sounds reviving when you write about it. I think doing this once a month would be ideal, even once every 6 weeks would help recharge your marriage. And, yes, the burden of setting it up with your(if they are local enough) or his parents would fall on you…… But it is an investment in your marriage and in the joy of life for both of you.
    Getting away together from your beloved children is important.

    1. Thank you for putting this into perspective. Reading it here it seems obvious that we would be struggling right now. But the thing is, many of these issues are going to be around for a while. Or at least, they have been for a while. And yes, I know 24 hours alone would be really great right now, and we’re always a lot better once we have that, but I feel like we should be able to find more contentment together in the day to day. But maybe that is asking too much right now, while our kids are young. Maybe it does have to just be about reveling in the bright spots, an tolerating everything in between. Honestly, if I truly believed things would eventually get better, when our kids are older and don’t require so much of us, or when we are more used to living within a budget that feels comfortable for us, then I’d be FINE just trudging through these hard years. Maybe I should just believe that now, to get through this time, and then deal with the reality of what the future looks like when it’s the present.

      1. I cannot promise you that it will be better. But, watching marriages for about 50 years I’d say the odds are in your favor … IF you can keep a flame alive by regular time alone with each other. EVERY time you have written about the aftermath of 24 hours it is good. You do need those times when it is possible to simply be focused on being with each other and no distractions.

  5. I think its hard to maintain perspective when you are in it. You have written about some really good times just in the past month or so, particularly the weekend you guys had together. I know one bad weekend or awful fight erases all the good stuff out of my memory, but from the outside looking in (as much as I can, through what you’ve written here) there are good times mixed with the bad times, maybe not quite 50/50 but definitely more than nothing.
    I was thinking the same thing as Purple and Rose—vacations are SUPER stressful in general, but particularly with family. No one is at their best, usually, and there are all kinds of resentments building up that you can’t really air out because you’re not alone etc…
    You know I completely get a lot of what of this. I also wonder why I’m the only one who cares enough to want to make any changes—why is he so damn content with the shitty status quo? Is he THAT lazy? I work on myself (I also went to legit couple’s therapy alone for a while, and most of what I discuss at my own therapist now is about marriage!) and it helps—up to a point. But eventually, it hits me that there is only so much I can do when he’s not willing to put even the slightest effort into it. Our recent blow-up seems to have turned a small corner for us—he has, for the first time ever, really started trying. I still have to be very VERY concrete and direct about what I need. And not just “I need you to hug me more often” but “I need you to hug me right now” Its not ideal but its giving me more of what I need.
    In terms of “is this as good as it gets”? I don’t think the question is inherently depressing. I think a lot of us have very unrealistic expectations for what life & love entail. I’ve been working very hard at accepting “this is as good as it gets”—when I can accept that, I can see that “yes, and its pretty damn good”. When I’m not chasing things dreams that frankly are out of my reach right now, I can appreciate the good parts of my life (including marriage), and really zero in on the reasonable minimum of what I actually need to change to be happy.
    Even when you are trying to change yourself, you have to be realistic—what one thing do you really feel you need to change in order to be a bit happier in your marriage? How can you change that? And then work on that ONE THING before you move on. I know you like to jump in the deep end (I do too!!!) but try to just dip your toe in at first.

    1. “I also wonder why I’m the only one who cares enough to want to make any changes—why is he so damn content with the shitty status quo? Is he THAT lazy?” <-- THIS. RIGHT HERE. THIIIIIIIISSSSSSS. I am with you on the accepting that this is as good as it's gets as a positive thing, like not as settling but as accepting, without judgement. I think if I could manage this, I would be so much happier. And I wonder (as I've written about before) if I'm just missing that piece inside me that lets me appreciate what I have for how great it is. And if I don't have it right now, can I build it up? Can I become more accepting and appreciative? I think I can, and that is what I want to work on. I'm just not quite sure how. But if I could I would be so much happier in all aspects of my life. I was thinking on my drive to work this morning, that most people probably have marriages a lot like mine, but I see those few examples of really amazing marriages and then I feel like ours is not great. But I think those really great marriages are the exception, not the rule, but it's easy to fixate on them as the desired goal, because they are presented in such an enticing way. It's like my search for a best friend. Most people don't have that one amazing friend in their life, but a few do and it's so wonderful to see it, you want it yourself. But again, it's the exception, not the rule. Same with the job thing. Yes, some people get to have a job that is super fulfilling for them, both personally and financially, but most people don't. Sometimes I wish I could just have one of those things, the best friend, or the amazing job, or the fabulous marriage. I think if I had one of those things I could accept the other two for what they are, okay, but not great. But it doesn't feel like there is anything in my life like that, that is really positive. Everything feels so... meh. But then I think, it must be me! I must not be seeing things right, like I'm blind to what I really have. So then I go back to working on myself, trying to find the right set of glasses to put on so I can appreciate my life for what it is, which is pretty fucking amazing, if I look at it right. And maybe I will never have one thing that is really amazing, but the fact that each one is pretty good makes the sum amazing, if that makes sense. Like I'll never have that one friend who truly knows me, or that husband who envelopes me in a big hug at the end of the day, or that job that makes me feel great, and pays well. But the fact that I have a husband I love, and a job I don't hate, and friends to text or email, maybe all that together is the awesome of my life. I think that is what I have to learn to see.

      1. “maybe all that together is the awesome of my life”. For now, maybe, yes. I am realizing more and more, especially through reading some really awesome and honest blog posts lately, that yup, most marriages ARE like that. And most women DO struggle with making friendships when we have so much else going on. And ABSOLUTELY most people do not LOVE their job. I’m trying to appreciate the fact that the “status quo” for my job, marriage, social life, etc… is a pretty good starting point. As long as things don’t go BACKWARDS into really tragic territory, I’m actually doing better than a lot of unfortunate people out there.

  6. A lot of your post resonated with me. Especially the part about him being apparently ok with a sometimes unhappy status quo and expending no effort to make things better. Yeah. I don’t have any advice. But I don’t see this a you trying to change him thing. That’s not it.

    1. I know I can’t change my husband, but I do think we could change some of the more destructive dynamics we’ve become accustomed too. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask my husband to hug me once a day. But he has come out and said that he will not change things unless he is forced to, so I know I’m not imagining that is his go-to attitude about the hard stuff. He recognizes it about himself too. And he also accepts it.

      1. Sorry if I wasn’t clear: what I was trying to say was that I do not view the situation as you trying to change him when you shouldn’t, as it seems others suggested above. I totally get where you’re coming from.

  7. Thank you for sharing this post. It really resonated with me.

    You are right in the middle of what is typically one of the lowest points for many marriages: that period when you’re done having children and the youngest is no longer a baby. Up until that point your entire adult life has been one big life event after another. College. Your first real job. Dating. Travel. Engagement. Marriage. Planning for children. Children. And now you are in a prolonged period of stasis where many of your major life events are behind you,your upcoming life events (empty nest, retirement) are far off into the future and things will mostly be the same for you and your family for the next couple of decades. It’s at this is the point that many couples are forced to really look at each other and ask themselves “do we even like each other?” A good many of them answer that question with a big “nope” and get divorced. Most of the divorced parents I know split up with their youngest was either 3 or 5.

    I really struggled with this a few years ago and had many sleepless nights during that period wondering if this is really how (and who with) I want to spend the next decade and a half of my life. My kids are a bit older now, both in school, and I’ve mostly decided that yes it is. The way my spouse and I deal with it is by giving each other a great deal of independence to pursue our own interests: we have very little in common at this point and we’re both happiest when we spend our free time doing our own things. This makes the time we DO spend together more enjoyable as well. I also feel no pressure to “keep up appearances” and pretend we’re the perfect family or couple (you’ll be getting no professionally photographed holiday cards from us) and I think letting go of that expectation helps as well.

    Will I always feel this way? I don’t know and I’m fine with that. I try to not think too much about the distant future in favor of maximizing my happiness right now. Overall, I’m pretty happy with my life and I try to appreciate what’s good about it rather than dwelling on the not-so-great parts.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. I really appreciate hearing your experience.

      The one thing that does really bother my husband about our relationship is how little we seem to have in common these days. Even picking a movie to watch can be fraught with conflict. When we do have some time to chat, we find we have almost nothing we can talk to each other about. One of us is telling the other something, and the other usually doesn’t find it very interesting. We also spend a lot of time apart, doing our own things. And we are definitely happier for that in a lot of ways, but it also distances us from each other, and we haven’t really figured out how we feel about that distance in our relationship. Maybe some day we’ll be fine with it and we will recognize that it is what works for us. I’m okay with that, as long as we’re both on the same page about it, like you and your husband seem to be.

  8. If you can ask some people you know who have been married 40 or 50 years and get them to talk honestly about their marriages…….just about all of them will admit there were very hard times. Times they thought about quitting the marriage, thought really hard about it. But they held on and life changed enormously around them, and now they are glad they held on.
    We grow up with the fairy tale ending of “They lived happily ever after”, but the truth is they lived, and sometimes were good, and some were awful, and much was mediocre… but they, overall, were glad they stuck together. Far more true. And, my decision to divorce was absolutely totally the right decision, not easy but infinitely better.

    1. You always have the best comments and advice! I truly look forward to reading your thoughts, and always come back to make sure I don’t miss them. You are like a wise mother to us! ❤

  9. I feel as if you’re under stress, and you’re wanting to fix everything. When you were struggling with infertility, that was your overwhelming focus. Then you got pregnant, had your second baby, and since then you seem to have been saying, “what now?” (I’ve had a post brewing about this for a year or so!) The big “what now’s” though are stalled – you can’t fix your financial situation easily, or perhaps your job situation in the short term. So I wonder if you’re turning to him, or perhaps your marriage, as your next project, as the way you’re going to fix the frustrations in your life? That may be unfair. Or is it?

    I have been married for 32 years. Yes, we’ve had our ups and downs. I went through similar doubts as you in my late 20s/early 30s. I felt depressed thinking that “this is it.” It took me a long time to figure some things out. What I thought was “it” turned out not to be “it” at all. Our marriage has changed and grown. Not dramatically different, but instead in a gentle, respectful, more understanding, more loving way. Yes, he still drives me crazy. Yes, I’m sure I still drive him crazy. There are things we’ll never change about each other. But that’s okay. I don’t need these changes to love him. Not in the way I thought I did.

    I think learning to love myself helped. My need to change him shrunk, as my self-acceptance and self-love grew. I didn’t need him to fill the empty spaces in me. That took a huge amount of pressure off him, and off me. I was just able to love him.

    I think it’s very tough on a marriage to expect our partner to be able to meet all our needs. When I realised … no, when I accepted … that he couldn’t be everything to me, I was really, truly able to appreciate just what he WAS to me.

    Then I did the same as Courtney – I stopped (after a couple of really tough years – it didn’t come to me overnight!), and made a conscious effort to breathe, “lighten up, love him more, and not be so damn frosty.” Touch helped a lot. But simply saying, “I love you” was a big step too. We didn’t say it enough. Now we say it all the time. It really helps. The power of being kind too, shouldn’t be underestimated.

    I think we (women) think that our men should figure out what we want, and that then they should be able to deliver. I’ve seen that a lot in infertility/loss circles. But just as (often) we can’t stop our brains thinking about these things, they just don’t/can’t understand the way we think. I would have pooh-poohed this idea in my 20s, and even in my early 30s. Now, I believe it completely. So you’re thinking all these things, and your husband is probably blissfully ignorant of them all (even if you’ve told him). You’re also assuming he feels the same as you, and that is that he is not in a satisfying marriage. But maybe he thinks he is? And what is wrong with that? After all, it’s a lovely a compliment to you, if you stop and think about it.

    I’m not sure if any of this makes any sense, but it’s what helped me.

    1. Great comment. I love hearing the thoughts of those who have been there, done that. We’re 9 years in (of marriage) and I’m glad to be past the rocky 7 year itch… We had it BAD and that’s when I went to couples counseling alone. 😉 I’m so optimistic to read your comment here after 30+ years of marriage. You’ve hit the ages perfectly here. I’m turning 40 and exiting the place of wanting him to change. I married him for a reason and I need to let him be him, even if he drives me nuts at times. 😁

    2. It is very possible that I’m trying to “fix” my marriage because I don’t have anywhere else to focus my intensive energy. I hadn’t thought about that before, but I can admit that it might be what is happening. I will definitely explore that possibility more. I also think I have a lot of work to do in the loving myself category. I have been thinking about that a lot since I read your comment. My self-esteem and general feelings of self-worth have taken a bit of a pummeling in the past couple years, and I have some work to do in loving myself. That would probably do wonders for my marriage.

      Thank you for sharing your experience here. Your insight has been incredibly helpful. I’ll definitely be thinking about what you wrote for a long time.

    3. I’ve been thinking more about this comment, and I do have one question. I get the idea of changing myself so that I don’t need my husband to be so much for me. I do think that will help our dynamic immensely, as I don’t think it’s fair to ask him to be everything to me. But I also want to know why I have to be the one who does all the changing. One could argue that I should change because I’m the one who feels like something needs to change, because I’m the one who is unhappy (or unhappy enough to want something different). But at the same time, a lot of what makes me unhappy is what I perceive as me giving more than my husband, not just to our personal relationship but to our family. If I really am giving more, it would make sense that my husband doesn’t want to change that dynamic, as he benefits from it. And I think that is why the marriage books chafe me in so many ways, because it seems to be a recurring theme that women are less satisfied in their marriages, and it also seems to be that they do more (I just read an article recently that husbands cost women, on average, seven extra hours of housework a week). And yet we’re the ones told we need to fill our own cup and find ways to satisfy our needs outside of our marriages. Why aren’t men told they should change to benefit their partnership as well? I think we’re still more entrenched in the “women should make a happy home and a happy marriage” mentality than we realize. I do get that we can only control what we bring to the equation, but it’s frustrating to me that men aren’t asked to make the same considerations.

      You say my husband might not know how I feel, but he can repeat the things I say right back to me (he has, on multiple occasions). Why is it not his responsibility to hear me when I express a need? I understand that I can’t expect him to read my mind and know what I want, but I have explicitly explained what I need on multiple occasions, and he still doesn’t provide it. I guess I just don’t understand why I should have to change what I need, when it’s as simple as a hug once a day. I don’t think that is asking too much. But maybe that is why I’ll always be unhappy.

      1. I feel for you and I think you’re right on in asking these questions. I think the “just work on yourself and change your expectations” thing has gone too far.

      2. Oh man, YES to this. This is why I wrote above that changing yourself works—to a point. Because that point is where I start questioning these exact things. Maybe I’m just not gracious/zen/generous/enlightened enough to keep giving and giving and giving without expecting anything in return. Working on myself got me to where I was better able to articulate what I really (at minimum) NEEDED in my marriage and why I needed it. I don’t think you can change yourself enough to not need anything other than just reverting to complete apathy, like you described. Its not fair. Everyone needs SOMETHING. Your husband needs sex every week or two. Your needs are just as valid.
        When he says he’s not going to change until he is forced to—what does that mean exactly? How can you “force” him?

        1. When he said that he won’t change unless forced, he wasn’t talking specifically about our marriage, just about change in general. It was a vague statement, but it came up when we were talking about changing the way we spend money and some other topics. And that is the thing, I think he will change the way he spends money if we track for a few months and then see where our money is going and, more importantly, where it is NOT going, and then he’ll eventually (glacially) change how he spends his money. As for our marriage, I don’t know what I could do to make him change, maybe not initiate sex unless he meets my hug-quotient for the week? 🙂 I wouldn’t really do that, but it’s the only idea I can think of that might actually work. 😉

      3. Yes, I completely understand the feelings of “but why should I change, not him?” I found – and this is just my experience – that by accepting my flaws, I accepted his differences and flaws. That meant that I accepted that I had to ask for things I wanted – they wouldn’t come any other way. I don’t think that means telling him “I want you to be more romantic,” or “I want you to help more,” but “I need a hug now. Drop what you’re doing and give it to me!”

        I know it is infuriating that we – women – have to do that. And it feels at first (to me at least that it cheapens the act when we have to ask them for what we want, when we want it. But they need it spelled out! And although your husband may know theoretically that you want more XX (hugs for example), it probably doesn’t mean it ever enters his head that NOW is when he should be doing it. If you know what I mean?

        On the emotional side, I don’t mind that we might do more work. After all, I think women are usually more in tune with our emotions – I’ve found in my counselling/volunteer work, that many/most men couldn’t articulate how they felt if they tried!

        On the other hand, when it comes to equal distribution of chores, I am an old feminist, and firmly believe in saying, “can you do X now/tomorrow/on the weekend?” and holding them to it. My husband does that for me too. Gulp. Because the things that bother me don’t bother him, and the things that bother him don’t bother me. But I don’t accept that there is any excuse for one person to bear much more of the burden than another, especially not because of gender.

        Earlier in my marriage too, I went on strike. I just stopped doing something he was perfectly capable of doing himself, and for which there was no logical reason that I should do it. He started doing it himself. I told my sister-in-law about it, and she stopped too. I don’t think my brother-in-law has ever forgiven me.

        Of course, I can say all this without the added complication of children in the mix. But I will also say that, having observed my friends’ and family’s relationships over the decades, unless the men are asked specifically, they just don’t think about it. Their mothers and fathers modelled this for them – and us – too, which makes the habits all the more difficult to break.

        I’ve found – with hugs, for example – that now I get them all the time. Asking gradually created a realisation that I wanted them, that sometimes (most times?) they’re better than words, and that it was something he could give that didn’t cost him anything. That in fact, returned a benefit. So have I changed him? Maybe. But I didn’t set out to change him. If I had, I’m not sure I would have managed. I just set out to get what I needed.

        All I know is that for me, by bringing more love into our relationship, I got more love in return.

        Sorry. I’ve written a book again!

  10. Just letting you know I relate so much to this post — about things not being bad but not being good, about telling myself I could never be sure as a way of avoiding the question about whether this relationship was the right move, about wondering whether a desire for a family and fear that it wouldn’t happen colored my judgment, etc. It’s a hard place to be in. Right now, I think the good is better than the bad, but I don’t think it is supposed to be so hard.

    1. I’m sorry you’re in a similar situation, but I appreciate you sharing that you can relate. I wish it were easier for both of us.

  11. This resonates strongly with me. My spouse is going through a particularly bad time and can’t manage much these days. It frustrates the pants off me. How is it possible that taking out the recycling once a day is too much? But it is right now so I can either accept it and change myself so I’m less resentful, assign the job to the kid, or continue making myself upset about it. It’s a fine balancing act between putting my foot down to say “this is the line, treat me appropriately or I have every right to be upset with you” and giving some grace to let my spouse make some changes elsewhere in life. I mostly feel like a doormat every time I accept the heap of recycling last taken out a week ago and just glare at it rather than nudging my spouse about it. I’m still trying to puzzle out if there’s a right answer, but nagging hasn’t worked, begging hasn’t worked, bribery hasn’t worked, threats of moving the recycling to my spouse’s side of the bed haven’t worked. It seems like I need to give up my ideal and accept this just isn’t a time where my spouse is there for me like I need.

  12. You wrote:” he has come out and said that he will not change things unless he is forced to, so I know I’m not imagining that is his go-to attitude about the hard stuff. He recognizes it about himself too. And he also accepts it.”
    Wow. I think this is a HUGE comment on gender differences. What I am not certain about is how much of it is cultural and if any of it is really genetic. My inclination is to vote that it is primarily cultural. I am not certain I am right. I am reading it as his feeling a right to not change his behaviors for a community good (community being your family unit) acknowledging that this is not in the community good but his choice, and (key) ACCEPTING IT. I think women are way more programed to sacrifice and change themselves for a ‘greater good’. But I may well be totally wrong. It may be individual not gender wide ~~ or a result of changing parenting roles happening over the past 80 years and impacting some of us earlier than others of us as we grow up and impacts how the men in our lives were raised.
    I’d say it is another reason to read Notorious RBG as a reminder of what was happening in our country when your generation’s parents were just married and having (or thinking of having) children. Because there were SO MANY restrictions on women… credit in our own names, getting a job after being married involving convincing a husband that said job would not jeopardize the husband’s role as head of household, admission to graduate schools, being told the limited ‘higher education money’ would NATURALLY go to the boy not girl child because of gender not aptitude………. lots of things SOME of your age group do not understand or know were very real ~ and are the foundation some people want re-instituted in our next election.
    Women need to vote and to vote in our own self interests. And it can be very hard to believe quite what the world was really like when we see only the glossy slick prettified pictures on tv or the movies of one income families being like the Brady Bunch or other such false images.

    1. So this comment reminds me of something my mom tells us, oh, about once a year. She and my dad were newly married and moved back to his home town (of course they did) where she became instantly bored staying home in their apartment. So bored, she told him that she was doing one of two things, getting a job or having a baby. His reaction was, “my wife isn’t going to work, so let’s have a baby.”. Unreal! But… Probably very normal back then.

  13. Interesting that I read this yesterday afternoon, feeling secure and happy in my marriage only to be stunned last night when Mr T let slip, amidst a toddler tantrum, that “we’re both totally miserable right now.” Could we use a little more time together? Yes. Has ye olde intimacy been less frequent than ideal? Sure. Totally miserable? Not that I’d discerned. He admits that he doesn’t like to communicate about this kind of stuff but that leaves me oblivious unless I’m bothered by the same things in the same amount as he is. Our conversation was calm, rational, productive… and yet impossible for him to initiate unless he’s totally miserable? Frustrating. I don’t know if that is akin to your DH’s lack of caring but it strikes me as being in the same vein.

    1. Brian is very similar. He’s gotten better, but he can still throw me these, “we have big problems” curve balls and it kills me. It always comes when I’m feeling particularly good about where we are. Sigh.

    2. My husband very rarely says anything about our marriage, but it would be pretty devastating if he came out of no where and declared we were miserable. Instead he just reads comics on his iPad or listens to podcasts while he does the dishes. I wish that men were better at communicating, and I wish that I needed to communicate less. 😉

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