Last summer, Papa Eve and I separated.
We realized no one in our house was happy, and something needed to change. I took my kids and moved across the country to my parents’ home, started looking for a job, and tried to face the dawn of my new reality. Mostly, this involved pretending everything was fine and acting like I was completely ok when I was actually scared out of my mind and drinking a lot of tequila.
At the time, my marriage was over.
But now here I am, more than six months later, moving stuff back into the master bedroom and making plans for the future with Papa Eve and our kiddos, our family intact again. It was a long road to get here (and one we are still traveling), and this is what I learned along the way:
1. You can’t start fixing something until you admit it’s broken.
Call it the Facebook effect: getting caught up in making everything look picture-perfect while not realizing (or not wanting to admit) that it’s all falling apart. I don’t know why neither my husband or I ever wanted to talk about all the little things that were going wrong with our marriage until it all blew up and we couldn’t ignore it anymore. But there were so many signs along the way that we sidestepped — whether it was from not wanting to rock the boat, or not wanting to hurt the other’s feelings, or just wanting to pretend everything was ok — and what we ended up with was disaster. Moving forward, we’ve decided that we need to speak up when we’re unhappy — not in a nagging, “I’m always right” sort of way, but in a “hey, this isn’t working for me — what can we do to fix it?” sort of way.
2. It’s ok to have high standards.
I get a little annoyed when people say all the time that we can’t expect other people to be perfect — not because I think everyone should be perfect, but because I feel like the implication is that we can’t be loving and hold high standards for our mates at the same time. This might not be true for everyone, but I’d never realized before that I didn’t have to be a cold-hearted bitch while asking for help with the kids, assistance in cleaning up, or an active partner in weekend activities. When I realized that part of my duty as a partner in marriage was to express my dreams, and encourage my husband to express his, and then work with him to make them happen, it was a turning point in our relationship.
3. Crushes and fantasies are totally normal.
The flip side about having high standards is that they can’t be too high. Shooting for the type of perfection where you’re always head-over-heels in love with your spouse and can’t ever imagine a life other than the one you’ve chosen is setting yourself up for disaster. Part of making a choice means giving up something else, and it’s not a disaster to flirt with the idea of a different type of life with a different type of spouse (or no spouse at all). When it goes too far though, you have to remember that:
4. It’s never too late to stop it.
Whether it’s a crush that’s becoming something more, or a fantasy that’s becoming an obsession, or a path to divorce that seems inevitable, it’s never too late to put on the brakes. Of all the parts of a relationship, this is one of the most difficult, because it means putting yourself in an incredibly vulnerable place by saying 1) you’ve messed up, and 2) you still love. Sometimes it seems so much easier just to scrap it all and start over again (and in some ways it might be), but there is something exquisitely rewarding about going through the tough times together and making it through the other side.
5. It doesn’t have to feel right all the time to be right.
This I learned from watching my boys, who will yell at each other and fight with each other but still love each other with a fierceness and a loyalty like I’ve never seen. Papa Eve and I are still going to annoy the living daylights out of each other. There are times when his indecisiveness is going to drive me batty and there are times when my inability to step back and relax will make him pull his hair out. We are going to hate each other and wonder why we are together almost as many times as we know we love each other and think there is no one more perfect in the world to spend our lives with. But in spite of this, it’s right, and we know it . . . because if it were wrong, we wouldn’t have brought it back together and made it work.
And so from all of this is came the motto for our marriage: Go Big or Go Home. We could’ve pulled the plug, and it was many more times than once in this journey I wanted to. I didn’t want to be in a half-ass relationship where we stuck around for the sake of the kids while our relationship and the lights that burn inside us slowly died. If we’re in it, we’re in it for the ages. We’re going to have one of those amazing love stories, or we’re not going to have one at all.
So this is where we are . . . all our chips on the table, trying to take my own advice, and jumping all the way in.
Photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography on Flickr