Most things that die stay that way. Is it the same for relationships and marriage?
They say the opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference.
I don’t believe that. I think hate is love’s antonym. But if I’ve realized anything in life that could be described accurately as wisdom, it’s that what I believe doesn’t mean anything.
Your beliefs are crap. Sorry. I don’t mean your beliefs are untrue. They may be 100-percent true. I mean simply that us believing something doesn’t make it true.
Examples of common beliefs which are in dispute or known to be false:
A jolly and overweight man named Santa Claus delivers gifts to children worldwide in a flying sleigh pulled by magical reindeer in one night.
Bill Cosby is a good guy.
It’s hard to admit because we love to believe we’re somehow in on The Secret, and all who disagree are incorrect dumbasses.
All religions, political affiliations, fields of study, or groups of any kind and size—including two-person romantic relationships—are comprised of human beings who believe things.
Some, possibly most, of those beliefs aren’t true.
It’s terrifying to consider the implications of believing in things which might not be true. Devout members of every organized religion on Earth are totally convinced they have unique knowledge of Absolute Truth and the mysteries of the universe.
Impassioned atheists think people who believe in God are totally insane and irrational. Like you might feel about a 50-year-old educated adult convinced of the Tooth Fairy’s existence.
When you challenge your core beliefs, the very foundation of your life shakes and you feel unsteady.
The devout might wonder: What if everything I believe is a lie? What if that other belief system is true?
The atheist might think: What if I spent my life denying the existence of that which gave me life? What if I’ve been wrong this entire time?
I think astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said it best, and I’m more than okay with you replacing the word “Universe” with “God” because Tyson’s oft-repeated statement applies to both:
“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”
The thing that always makes me feel better is this:
The truth will always hold up to hard questions and scrutiny.
The Death of a Marriage
My wife didn’t think I loved or respected her as a husband should because my actions and words throughout our marriage didn’t reflect what she believed to be consistent with the behavior of husbands who love and respect their wives.
I didn’t think she thought “correctly” during our disagreements, defaulting to a position of believing her to be illogical, and therefore—wrong. I didn’t think I was responsible for her emotions (and there are healthy boundaries to be enforced on that subject), but when you’re not even speaking the same language, it’s really disheartening to learn later that things you did which said “I’m going to go do this other thing right now, since you don’t like it!” translated loosely to: “You don’t matter, and I value mindless distraction more than I do all of the things you think and care about!”
Everyone was wrong.
But we believed things. And our daily choices reflected those beliefs, and slowly but surely, killed our marriage. Not with a bomb, or a gunshot or a violent stabbing.
But a slow, indiscernible poisonous drip. So slow, we never realized we were dying.
We just woke up one day dead.
The night she told me she didn’t love me nor know whether she wanted to remain married wasn’t the night the marriage died. It’s simply when I finally got around to checking for a pulse and realized there wasn’t one.
As the more astute member of our marriage (and I believe wives are just that—the ones typically in tune with relationship health), she’d figured it out a long time before that. Maybe she was just too afraid to say it out loud.
At first, I did the thing I always did—acted like a victim and someone who was getting totally hosed since I never did anything wrong.
Then I retreated to the guest room, saying I wasn’t comfortable sleeping in the same bed as someone who said she didn’t love me nor wanted to stay married.
Every day was bad. The walking dead. Roommates wearing masks for a little boy at home and everyone else we knew.
What were we holding on for?
We wanted to bring it back to life, I guess.
Can a Dead Relationship Come Back to Life?
And can marriages can ever be brought back from the brink to a healthy place?
Here’s a common marriage or long-term relationship scenario:
Two young people meet in their late teens or early twenties. Everything’s all feelingsy and lusty and wonderful as such things typically are. They’re at the age where people meet “The One.” They’re following The Life Blueprint. This is just what people do!
She dreams of a beautiful wedding and family life together. He realizes he needs to settle down at some point, and she’s really great, and maybe they share the same general life goals and long-term plans.
He starts giving up some of his young bachelor activities, which may include parties, something sports-related, or any number of hobbies.
He spends less time with his buddies, and more time with her. Maybe his friends chide him for being “whipped.” Maybe when he chooses a night out with the guys, she protests because it makes her feel like he’s only thinking about himself and not “us.”
Sometimes they fight. The trigger might be different each time, but may ultimately prove to be the same fight they always have for the rest of their relationship.
Both of their boundaries are being violated, but they lack the maturity and wisdom to identify or discuss them peacefully. They don’t know these problems won’t magically go away and that their lives will suck as a result. No one ever talked to them about any of this before. His guy friends say:“Girls are just like that, dude! Mine’s the same way!” And her girlfriends say: “Do you love him? I know you do. He’s totally the one!”
She’s more eager to seal the deal than he is. It’s a security thing, and maybe some of her friends already have rings. He’s hesitant for a variety of reasons, ranging from fears of being “tied down,” to self-doubt, to financial concerns, but in the end thinks: “I’m more afraid of losing her than I am of marrying her.”
He gets a ring and proposes and she says yes.
They marry, assuming they’re doing so for life, with good and honest intentions.
Routine develops. She starts noticing ways in which she’s forced to work harder because of him if she wants her life and house to look the way she wants them to. She tells him about it. Leaving his pants on the bed. Leaving his socks on the floor. Leaving his dishes by the sink.
When she says something, he thinks it’s irrational nagging. She’s so ungrateful. How many MORE things do I need to change about myself before she’ll finally be happy?!
When he continues to do the things that cause more work for her, she thinks it’s because he doesn’t love her or value the marriage.
It feels like neglect, and morphs into resentment. After the same fruitless argument over many months and years, she starts to feel like his mother, and loses feelings of attraction for him.
Her resentment and sexual disinterest makes him feel as if she doesn’t love or respect him.
The next bad thing that happens—a major health or financial blow, or life trauma like a death in the family—will be the nail in the coffin.
The love withers on the vine. Then dies.
Then sometimes this funny little thing happens: the husband who had his head in the sand for most of his relationship now realizes his marriage, family and very way of life, are in jeopardy. He freaks. Because even though his wife doesn’t believe it, he really DOES love her.
He goes into Super Husband Mode, where he eager-beavers around the house every day in a last-ditch effort to show his wife he can be a good husband.
Sometimes, it’s genuine.
Sometimes, it’s bullshit.
In my experience, she’s unwilling to gamble any more of her heart or years away, regardless.
And then—like some smoke that he tried too hard to hold—she’s gone.
The Lazarus Theory
The second most famous resurrection story in the Bible involves a man named Lazarus. He was a friend of Jesus and got really sick. His sisters tracked down Jesus, asking him for help. He sat tight for a couple of days, and then made the journey to Lazarus’ town. He eventually arrived to learn Lazarus died and had been laid to rest in the burial tomb four days earlier.
Lazarus’ sisters weren’t keen on the idea, but Jesus told some guys to roll the stone away from the tomb. As the story goes, with a crowd of mourners surrounding the tomb, Jesus called for Lazarus to come out. “Lazarus, come forth!” he commanded.
And, per the story, Lazarus—dead four days—walked out, alive.
As far as I know, people who die mostly stay that way.
I’ve never seen anyone flatline and then come back to life, though I’ve heard stories. Some are probably true.
Marriage is really hard. That’s why it fails half the time even though people wish it didn’t.
I was in a dead marriage that I wanted to come back to life. It never did.
I hear story after story after story from blog readers. Usually, a sad, angry or indifferent wife is exhausted with her shitty husband and ready to leave. Sometimes, I hear from a distraught husband who is trying and failing with Super Husband Mode.
It’s too little, too late.
I’ve heard of sick relationships being nursed back to health.
But, dead ones?
Guys write me and say: “I really DO love her! I’m freaking out, and I’m trying really hard to save our marriage! Do you have any thoughts on how?”
It makes my stomach hurt a little, because that was me a few years ago. Sometimes I say I’m sorry. Sometimes I offer words of encouragement. And sometimes I tell them the truth: I HAVE seen a few dead marriages get a second chance, but it came with a price—one of them had sex with someone else first.
I’m sure there are outliers, and people who buck the trends or overcome the odds. I just don’t see it often.
You see, it doesn’t matter what’s true. It doesn’t matter that, unless you’re going to stay single for the rest of your life, there is no compelling reason to try and replace your partner under the false belief that the replacement might somehow magically not present conflict or emotional turmoil. (Second marriages fail more often than first marriages.)
It doesn’t matter that the marriage died because of years and years of the husband and wife believing things about one another’s words, actions and intentions that were never true.
With love, it doesn’t seem to matter what’s true. It only matters what people believe.
But our beliefs are crap. We are constantly missing information about what someone else—even someone close to us—thinks, feels and believes. So our brains fill in the blanks with guesses, and our bodies feel whatever those guesses are.
He doesn’t love me. She’s illogical and overly emotional.
We believe so many things.
There’s the way things are. And there’s the way things should be.
Do things come back from the dead?
I’ve never seen it. But I’ve heard stories. Some are probably true.
Can an extinguished flame be rekindled? Can a broken heart be healed? Can a dead love be brought back?
I’ve never seen it. But I’ve heard stories. Some are probably true.
But on this particular topic, it doesn’t really matter what’s true.
Only what you believe.
Can you? Can’t you?
Photo: Getty Images
This essay originally appeared on Must Be This Tall To Ride.
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