When two people decide to get married or decide to spend their lives together or get knocked up, instead of showering them with booze and lingerie or diapers, we should sit them down, hand them some Gottman workbooks and say, “may the universe be with you.” Partnership and parenthood take an enormous amount of effort. Even the most in-love people can ruin each other, the best-intentioned can live joyless lives, and the most paternal or maternal can severely fuck up their kids. I mean, like more than usual. We’re all going to damage everyone just a little bit because there’s one universal human truth it’s that we are wired for destruction.
My husband and I have been together for over a decade and we’ve been through an enormous amount of ups and downs. The ups super high, the downs really hard, and the past few years have been no exception. The only difference is that it seems, for the first time, we’ve both (in my opinion) sorta given up. We haven’t fallen out of love, just got to the point where we don’t know what to do next or how to make things better, neither one of us are particularly thrilled in the relationship, and our house has become a sort of cave where joy goes to die.
Why? I don’t know. I can’t speak for him, but I suspect his job is a large part of it and probably moving to the US where he feels out of place (we left Italy because I was struggling and have yet to come up with a compromise between Italy and the US). While I can’t speak for him, I can say this for myself: Over the years I fear that I’ve completely lost myself. Like, I don’t even know what clothes I like right now and I’m in this constant place of “is this me? Do I normally joke? Am I serious? Who the fuck am I? A nervous breakdown didn’t help. Living abroad complicated things. Becoming a wife and mom surely contributed to the unfortunate loss of self. I mean, I’m not totally gone. I’m here, somewhere.
I catch glimpses of myself during vacations with the girls or coffee with a close friend and I’m “like there you are, I like you!”, but overall I have not handled marriage or motherhood well. By that I don’t mean that I’m a terrible wife or mom, if I know anything to be true, I’m a pretty good wife and a really good goddamn mom. Like I will proudly give myself all of the gold stars because while I’m not perfect, I try so, so, so hard. And this is where my identity goes to die. I am the type of person who can very easily lose sight of herself when I get too caught up in making the people I love happy. Which is weird because I have an extremely strong personality that often makes other people uncomfortable. But I also have a tendency, that I developed during childhood, to not count on others, and to believe that my needs or care are less important than people around me. I don’t have the world’s worst parents, I love them, they love me, but they were young and more often than not, their shit came first. My dad’s work always came first, my mom’s boyfriends or husbands typically came first. This taught me the lie of lies which is “I can take care of myself, meet all of my own needs while making sure everyone else is doing the very best.” I’ve found myself shrinking around insecure friends so I don’t make them feel bad, devoting myself to my son so much that I can’t shower for a week, or allowing my husband–who is admittedly a fairly selfish person– to choose what we eat, and what we do, most of the time. All of this has made me sad, and lonely, and lackluster and looking for ways to glitter up this bitch. I’m not okay with the way things are right now.
Since I’m fairly bonkers (according to me, but “extremely resilient and well-adjusted despite everything” according to my therapist), I have to be really careful about letting myself slip away. Otherwise, I also slip into chronic depression (Yay!) and then panic attacks that never end (Wee!!) and then a breakdown (AAAAAAH). This means that as soon as I realized just how much I’m struggling, I went to my therapist (on ZOOM) who was like, “you need to see a couples therapist ASAP.” But then Coronavirus happened. The next best thing? The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, apparently.
I am an eternal skeptic. I’m afraid of doctors and meds and everything until they’ve proven to be good and no longer scary. But I ordered the audiobook and dove in. I’m on chapter six and I have to say that this book is amazing (despite some annoying gender things that I’d like to erase out) and I wish that I’d read it before we got hitched. Friends, we need to normalize couples’ therapy and couples’ help before diving into a life-long commitment. I blame Disney, honestly. We’ve been taught for so long that all we need to do is find our person and then the love will carry us through a magical life. But nothing could be more fucking stupid than that because we are not the same for our entire lives and nobody can fix you or show up for you if you don’t actually know what you need or how to ask for it.
“Find out what you need and then learn how to ask for it.”
This is a quote I live by and still somehow struggle with the concept. We, humans, evolve constantly. I know I do. I am vastly different now than I was in my twenties (holy shit, thank the universe!) and I’m already drastically changing every year of my thirties. Every time I read a new book or watch a new film or make a new friend or write something new or am hurt or fail or win, I change just a little bit. Every time. We all do. This means that I need slightly different tools for the slightly changed me and an effective way to bring my husband along for the ride, ideally by initially mapping the route and then arguing for two hours about how “that’s not actually the way” because marriage. Otherwise, we grow apart. And we become resentful. And I start saying their name the same way that I say “goddamnit.” I love my husband, like a lot. He’s funny and hot and simple (in a way that is a compliment). But love isn’t enough to secure a perfect life together, Disney, you lying liar, I’m looking at you. It’s not enough to make me the best parent I can be and it’s not enough to make me eternally happy with myself or my choices.
“Love arms us for battle but it sure as shit doesn’t conquer all.”
A happy life takes work. Like so much work. And therapy. And John Gottman. And a workbook of seven thousand fucking questions. And all of the parenting articles (even if I opt for a balanced approach and pick and choose what to listen to or ignore). But hey, hard work never killed anyone, right? In fact, that’s part of what I”m doing here on this blog. I’m rediscovering myself as a writer, woman, mom, partner, person, a human who is very into dark and weird things and bad, bad humor. So I’m buckling down, figuring out what I want so I can find myself again (maybe in the bottom of a nice Chianti?) and be my happy self who is doing what she wants and going where she wants and we can go back to being happily married and I can be the best mom I can possibly be and the best ME I can be for, well, ME.