This morning as I was laying awake in my bed next to husband convincing myself to get up, I marvelled at how I got to this place called a Happy Marriage. It has been a long road and although definitely painful at times, well worth the effort, and not for the reasons you think.
I learned a lot about myself including my behaviours and tendancies by the time I split from my first husband in 2005. When I was growing up I learned about marriage from my parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle, sister and brother in law, etc. It seemed that compromise was the name of the game and occasional unhappiness and dissatisfaction are part of the deal. I’m not saying my parents didn’t love each other and demonstrate that love, because they definitely did. To say they were a unified front would be accurate as well. From my mother I learned (among other things) how women win their arguments and make their way in this world (a man’s world during the 70s). From my father I learned that men are tough and even though they show kindness and humour, their moods are mercurial and can change without notice. Women help men see the bright side of things and support them/prop them up when they are feeling grumpy or low. I didn’t even know I learned this until 2004 or so when I was well into my 30s.
I met my first husband (FH) when I was 24 and not finished growing up yet although I sure thought I had. FH was what he called a realist and what I called a pessimist. We clicked right away. I am an optimist and definitely saw a ‘project’ in him, plus I mistook his gruffness for protectiveness and maturity. In my mind, opposites attracted and we were definitely opposites although we shared common goals and interests. We didn’t own a car for some time and so we biked everywhere. We loved dogs and so adopted a dog together. We loved camping and were very eco-minded in our daily lives. We spent our time in the evenings cooking dinner and discussing the importance of our fledgling careers. He liked that I was ‘difficult’ since I was different from him. I slowly but surely lost my will to argue every point in a conversation with him and even more slowly (but still surely) became softer and softer in my words and actions. At home at least. At work I was a firecracker, dedicated to proving my worth and anxious to move ever upward through the dint of my hard work.
We had many discussions about marriage and what we thought marriage would be like. Both of us had parents that by that time were at odds with each other. In our simplistic view that only people in their 20s can muster, we decided our parents just didn’t work hard enough at keeping a happy marriage going. My parents had split up and his parents were (and are still) together but appeared to be miserable. By the time we got married I was relenting more and more while ignoring the way he treated my parents, his parents, and everyone else around us. His father remarked that FH didn’t treat me very well. I ignored this and figured he didn’t know the ‘real’ FH the way I did.
That’s right. All of my friends and my parents too thought I should not be with FH. But I kept thinking they didn’t know him like I did, and besides that we loved each other and were determined to fight to keep our relationship going. And that we did during several more years and the birth of our two children. This is info I have already shared, nothing revelatory here.
It was when we visited his parents for Easter in 2005 that I finally woke up to what was going on and what he and I were creating for ourselves. I saw his parents in the kitchen, with his dad directing his mom around EXACTLY like FH did with me. Of course I had noticed his father was extremely domineering and I attributed some of FH’s personality to that influence but this was the first time I saw that we were no better than them. FH and I were emulating their marriage and that of my parents: strong critical man and soft bending woman. I had bristled against this for years and thought I was so smart and so strong, no one could ever boss me around. Wrong!
It took until I was nearly 35 to fully understand that I had always sought 1 type of man – dominant, pessimist, stubborn, good with his hands/fixing things. If I hadn’t married FH I would have definitely married someone else just like him. I know that now but I didn’t when I was in my 20s and early 30s.
Here I was, thinking it was marriage that didn’t agree with me. Not true. I had been sabotaging any chance at a successful relationship by choosing the wrong type of man to make a life with.
When I finally figured out that what FH thought love was contradicted what I had grown to think it was, and that his father treated me better than FH ever would, my decision to end the relationship was easy. Especially when I figured by staying with FH we would be teaching our own children to seek this version of marriage, I knew the time had come to open that door. I wasn’t even angry anymore. I had spent years being angry, blood boiling while I walked the dog to blow off steam. I stayed for so long because I thought love and loyalty were enough to sustain us in the long run. What I ended up realizing is that no matter how fiercely you love and how loyal you are, no one can live 60 years repressing their ideas or defending them constantly. I had gotten very good at convincing him to go my direction on some decisions because I learned how to ‘play’ him (much like our mothers learned to do this with our fathers).
It has taken me years to be able to express my feelings and experiences this clearly. I attempt to share my wisdom with others who are going down a similar path to mine, and I am just now starting to understand my advice falls on deaf ears. This is the lesson I’m currently learning.