When Marriage Hurts

shell-756724_1280A while back, a reader asked if I would blog more about my experience with depression in marriage. Since then, the topic hasn’t been far from my mind. Finally, after nine months, I have some thoughts to share.

My husband and I have known each other for about 16 years, and in August we will celebrate 9 years of marriage. Hubby and I have always gotten along very well. We are quite comfortable with each other. Touch being my primary love language, we are frequently and openly affectionate. We touch as we pass each other in the kitchen, as we ride together in the car, as we say goodbye in the morning and hello in the evening. His touch has become so familiar to me, it’s nearly as familiar as my own. Disagreements between us are rare; yelling and snipping almost non-existent.

But…

We both entered marriage with our own unique baggage. Personally, I was counting on marriage to fulfill my unmet childhood need for acceptance and to free me from a contentious, high-pressure environment. What no one told me is that when survival mode ends, latent trauma rises to the surface. And you’re still stuck in old, dysfunctional survival patterns. And life still has current hardships to deal with.

And when you’re already badly wounded, normal losses and disappointments cut three times deeper.

For example, there was an incident involving hubby a few months ago that affected me badly. While the incident was very triggering and shouldn’t have happened, my reaction to it was magnified by my history of abuse and deep grief over a recent loss in my life. Although hubby and I have talked through my feelings a few times now, recovery has been slow. This incident, the grief, demands at home and difficulties at work have caused my anxiety to spike so high that I’m daily exhausted, unable to concentrate, and in physical pain.

It’s maddening, because no matter how much I desire or attempt to rest, my body is stuck in a flight-or-fight response.

My normal constitution is challenging enough. I’m very sensitive to noise and activity, and can get easily overwrought when my six-year-old is leaping about indoors or questioning me incessantly. I’m also highly sensitive to changes in my environment. For example, I almost NEVER rearrange furniture; a new layout can put me on edge for days. I’m deeply impacted when coworkers resign or change offices, or when new people come on board at my job. When I was a child, I kept a collection of knick-knacks on my dresser and could tell when any of them had been moved by so much as half an inch. As a result, I tend to know where all of possessions are at any time. If ever I can’t find something, I go nuts. If the house is too cluttered, I can’t relax.

My sensitivity is only increasing with age. Some people have been described as a stick in the mud. I’m a tire iron in concrete.

Hubby is great because he balances me out. He prefers cold logic to emotion, which is exactly what I need sometimes. But the drawback is that he struggles to grasp my very deep feelings and complicated reactions. This means we often end up on different planes of understanding. In those moments, I feel like we aren’t connecting and get depressed. He responds by getting frustrated.

And he’s not perfect, either. He’s got his own quirks and struggles that add another five layers of complexity to our relationship. Some days, I really have to cling to the fact that we love each other very much to make it through.

I know he does the same.

I saw a guy on Twitter the other day talking about the reality of marriage, and he confessed that he’s often terrified by the thought that his wife will someday declare she’s tired of dealing with him and will leave. Honestly, I’m plagued by that same terror—from both sides. When I started therapy over two years ago, hubby came to one of my appointments and said he felt blindsided by the depth of my trauma. He phrased it as, “I didn’t know you were this screwed up.”

The thing is, I didn’t know, either.

And there have been times when he’s been thoughtless, or the depression has been particularly dark, or we’ve struggled to connect that I’ve thought, “I don’t know if I can do this another 20 years.” It feels outright daunting sometimes. Dealing with my stuff is hard enough. Dealing with my stuff, his stuff, and raising two active boys? Whew.

It’s hard because depression and anxiety cloud the mind, affect perception. He says, “I still love you,” and I think, “For how much longer?” He says, “I’m committed,” and I think, “He’s trapped and miserable.” He says, “You drive me crazy sometimes,” and I think, “He only tolerates me.”

So what do you do? You breathe. You ask for help. You lean on people. You remind yourself why you married this person. You reach for his hand. You have another conversation—an honest but gentle one. You take one day at a time, one hour at a time, one second at a time. You weep. You embrace. You forgive. You discover what you need and ask for it.

But the best advice I could possibly give is just have fun. Have fun with your spouse. Watch TV together. Laugh. Go on dates. Eat ice cream for dinner. Touch each other a lot. That’s what companionship is all about—enjoying the other person.

The root of enjoy is joy. You can have all the love, loyalty and affection in the world, but a joyless marriage is pure misery.

And you have to be intentional about pursuing that joy. It doesn’t happen by itself. The busyness of life naturally crowds it out. And it’s going to be a struggle because connecting and pursuing joy require physical and emotional energy, which mental illness can drain away like a faucet.

But assuming both of you love each other and want to make it work, know this: Marriage is going to hurt sometimes. You’re going to make mistakes that cut each other deeply. You’re going to have a lot of days when you don’t think you’re in love anymore. Lean into it anyway. Be patient with each other. Acknowledge your limitations. Rest. Get professional help. Keep trying. Forgive often. Find your joy. Know that you’re not alone.

The pain should be temporary.

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9 responses to “When Marriage Hurts

  1. Oh April. I’ve been a little worried because you haven’t posted, but I figured end of school year, you said you and hubby were pursuing an opportunity for one of you, etc etc, and I just thought you were busy…I never suspected you were going to post something that could have been directed to me, personally (insert tears here). There hasn’t been much joy lately and some days it seems like it’s just too much work, and after 30 years, I surely know that he is worth it – but I guess I’m just getting old and tired too. I will go dig around and see if I can’t find some enthusiasm somewhere, although he would NEVER accept ice cream for dinner! 😊 Thanks for the timely kick start😘

  2. I’m sorry that you are living in this valley.

    My husband (Chris) has been on medication for clinical depression for 8.5 of the 10 years of our marriage. I was on it for almost three years myself. Any kind of illness, mental or physical, affects marriage. Some days I can’t imagine being with anyone else. Others I just want to be alone forever.

    Blessedly, there is grace for the journey.

    Lord God, please pour out Your peace onto April. Help her to remember that You are with always. That You do not condemn her for her struggles. Draw her close to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

  3. I suffer with depression arising from deep trauma. My husband also carries his own baggage.
    Times are when my thoughts mirror your own.
    But I do believe in my more rational moments that our relationship is deeper, more intimate, more knowing, stronger, because of our shared pain, our journey through the shadow together. We know each other at depths which many couples never even know are there.
    And so the days of sunlight, by still waters & in green meadows are magnified, become deeply memorable, and balance out the darkness.
    Blessings to you x

  4. Does all that still apply when your spouse is one of the worst, most inconsiderate, and unkindest drunks who ever lived—not drunk just occasionally—but knockdown, dragged out, sloppy, inconsiderate, falling over, toxed-out to death’s threshold, totally addicted drunk most of every single day in the marriage—and refuses to admit there is a problem and refuses to see a therapist or go to an alcohol treatments facility. Drives drunk like that everywhere. And worst of all—they blame it all on you. See me!!!! You caused this!!!

    • Well April. What in this world, the Bible, God, or whatever does apply to a situation like that? I know a person like that. This person listens to conservative Christian radio all day long (while drinking), works part-time at a church, and attends church religiously. Their whole life theme can be summed up in their own words:

      Leave me alone.

      Get away from me.

      I like to spend most of my time alone doing my own things.

      No one will ever control me. No one. Not ever.

      I do not wish to work at a real job anymore because someone would be in authority over me and they would be able to control me. I want a life where I am in total authority and control over myself and what happens to me.

      It all sounds very “The world is all about me” or like a teenager who was so goody-two shoes that they never had a chance to drink all night and rebel against mommy and daddy.

      It is all very weird. I just hope they can find some real happiness some day.

      • Well, you can’t force people to do what they don’t want to do. Addiction adds a particularly tough twist; I think of it as a disease of entitlement. People who are dependent upon addictive substances to cope with life are reluctant to let those substances go, because continuing the addiction is so much easier than doing the hard work of healing the dysfunction. It’s so simple: I drink, I feel better. Why can’t everything be like that?

        The diseased mind will come up with every excuse in the world to hang onto that, even as their life & relationships crumble. “A boss will control me.” There’s a way around that: start a business. Be your own boss. But he won’t, because being a business owner requires putting down the bottle & staying sober long enough to serve clients.

        Maybe this person was controlled in their early life & has a legitimate fear of authority. That may explain the alcohol use, but it doesn’t excuse it. There are many healthy people who work for themselves and live off-grid. Someone just wants an easy way to cope.

  5. April, it appears both of you have deep seated security issues; I can honestly say I used to be just like you, life just hurts until you finally realize that YOU are not your parents, YOU are not your siblings and the only difference that made sense to me is I am redeemed, a new person in Christ and in the long run, this makes the difference.

    I don’t know what your Spiritual life is like, but, being a Christian, you have the resources to come out of this strong which will in turn, give you the strength to help your husband. Been together 16 years and married 9? I doubt he will grow tired of you, I know I wouldn’t. My wife and I have been together 22 years, married 20 and yeah, it was rough the first 10 in the sense that I was a mess emotionally, a little mentally, etc., but in all candor and retrospect, it was God working out the gremlins in my life with someone who loved me more than life itself.

    Who’s fault is it? It doesn’t matter, really, things are what they are…I HAD to come to that conclusion in my own life; going forward, it was MY decisions that will affect my family and myself that mattered. I believe this will turn out OK for you, it will take time and some pain; remember Phil. 1:6 is very real in the Believer’s life.

  6. Hi there,
    Just found your blog so don’t know anything about you…. But some of the things you mentioned made me think of Asperger’s, that can be hard to spot especially in women. I am reading a book by Michelle Vines (Asperger’s on the inside), that a friend recommended. She just realized she has been highly functioning Asperger’s person all her life, and the realization has been life changing.
    Anyways, I don’t mean to offend, and you can delete my comment if it seems disrespectful…But just thought to mention it. The book is a good read nevertheless, as in our circles of friends might be more Aspies than we know.