Today I am happier than I have ever been in my life. That’s not exaggeration or hyperbole; it is the absolute truth. My wife and I communicate with each other about everything, nothing is off limits or held back. While I don’t think a perfect marriage exists, ours is pretty damn good. That wasn’t always the case.
In fact, for a while, I lost all of it.
Go back a decade, to a few years after we were first married. The honeymoon period was over, and life had begun to truly set in. We had just had our second son, and due to some complications with his birth the bills were adding up. Stresses were building, and trouble was brewing rapidly.
I suppose, I had even developed a way to lie to myself. What should have been painfully obvious to me was somehow off my radar. I knew things weren’t perfect, but I wasn’t at all clued into how bad they were for her. To be honest, I don’t even know if she truly sensed what was coming.
We fought, a lot. Yet like a couple of stray cats, we just kept coming back. Who knows all the reasons but you can guess the main ones; kids, commitment obligations, family, and just good ole appearances. I just assumed that’s how marriage was supposed to work.
You know, live together miserably and then you die.
I am totally serious when I say that. I thought that a happy marriage was something that was only in the movies. I had never seen one. My parents fought constantly then divorced. My grandparents divorced. My aunts and uncles, my brothers, my friends, people at work, people at church. Everyone got divorced or seemed to live absolutely miserable existences. I ended up so jaded, that I ridiculed every marriage I ran across that “appeared” to be happy and normal. “No way!” I would say. “They have to be hiding something.”
Sometimes I was right.
None of that, however, was at the root of why my marriage was falling apart. Society, work pressure, or even money troubles had nothing at all to do with it. Sure they added to the stress and magnified the problem. They even gave an excuse to be more miserable than I already was. They legitimized the fights I started with my wife and made them worse. But they weren’t the problem.
Unchecked, and uncontrolled depression and anxiety were truly at the heart of my marriage’s issues. Every thought that went through my mind, everything I heard, or thought I heard and saw, passed through the filter of depression. It could warp the simplest statement or action into something offensive to me. And it was destroying me and my marriage.
1. It shut down communication- One of the primary defense mechanisms of my depression was to completely shut down. When there was a problem, perceived or otherwise, I would make it known I was upset. Unfortunately, I was the master of doing that without saying a word. I then had the uncanny ability to start an argument, turn it into a raging war, then go silent without resolution. I allowed so much to fester inside of me that when it did erupt, I would say things that simply couldn’t be taken back with “I’m sorry.”
Today I know that when there is an issue that needs to be addressed, I need to clear the air immediately. Don’t let shit roll around in your head. Irrationally making yourself angry until you’re ready for a fight that is not only unnecessary but basically stupid.
2. It made my home a prison- I am naturally an introvert, there is no denying that. My wife, on the other hand, is quite the extrovert. She likes to be around people, experiencing things and enjoying life. Depression made it, so I never wanted to leave the bed, much less the house. In turn, it caused her to be isolated and virtually imprisoned because I wouldn’t participate in outside activities. When I did relent and go, I usually ended up making her miserable by my overreactions and stresses.
After I started seeking treatment for my illness, I have found it much easier to become part of society. I still prefer my recliner to big crowds but I also now enjoy experiencing new and exciting things with my family. The universe isn’t going to get you, meeting new people isn’t the end of the world.
3. I was emotionally blind- One of the biggest thing men seem to miss early in marriage is how much their wives need them to be their emotionally. Women mainly need to know you care and that you will be there for them. Deep down we all need that but for women, it is an absolute core necessity. I just couldn’t give it, and rarely could I accept it from her. I would spend hours scanning the internet, playing games, or mindlessly flipping the remote. All while my wife sat just a few feet away, silently begging me for interaction. Needing conversation, needing closeness, needing me. I was oblivious and simply incapable of giving her what she needed most.
I assumed sex was all that was needed. Now I really understand much more the dynamics of a successful marriage and why simple things mean as much as they do. It’s about respect, caring, and putting the most important things first.
4. It made me forget what was important- When we were moving toward divorce, I became nothing short an angry monster. Understand that we both had fault however from my side all I saw was her transgressions. I forgot that I did love her, I forgot that we had two beautiful children together. I forgot all the reasons I married her in the first place. It just made me hate, not only her but myself as well. The hatred for myself manifested into vengefulness and vitriol.
Depression and anxiety made me impulsive and reckless. I would do and say things without regard to the consequences or ramifications. Mostly without thinking of the impact on the person at the other side. I was abrasive to coworkers, employees, family, my children and mainly to the one person who had truly loved me the most, my wife. No amount of anger or frustration justifies that. Now focussing on the important things makes the peripheral bullshit less noticeable.
My wife and I divorced, and spent some time away from each other. Fortunately, neither of us ever let go completely. With the realization of our errors, and a commitment to work through them we began to put the pieces back together. We both accepted our mistakes and made amends.
The biggest part of the journey afterward wasn’t the apology but the project of repairing ourselves to be better spouses. For me, that meant confronting my mental health and accepting that it was a problem. It meant treatment and developed coping mechanisms. It had to be about taking my life back from these demons known as depression and anxiety.
In taking back my life, I also took back my family.