For about 6 weeks, I’ve been considering what my life might be like as a single woman. Not because that life is one I want, but because I’ve wanted any life but the one I’ve had. I have been intensely unhappy. Brett has been unhappy. We’ve been unhappy separately and together. This sentiment has been rolling around in my body and working its way into my soft tissue.
Following an early departure from drinks with friends (caused by an awkward confrontation that felt juvenile and humiliating), I informed Brett of the following: I couldn’t think of a single reason for us to stay married that didn’t include the fact that we’ve simply always been together and furthermore, (I didn’t actually use the phrase “furthermore” but grandstanding is one of my preferred offensive strategies so it bears clarifying here) if we separated, I could hardly come up with a short list of things I would lose.
The human heart is a dark thing.
For several months Brett and I, for separate but similar reasons, have been working with mental health professionals. In the poker game of family genetics, anxiety, depression, or alcoholism might not be in our particular hand (unless they are), but the cards are certainly in our decks. We’ve got to be prepared if or when they appear. Consequently, medication is part of our care routine. This is complicated business. Anti-depressants rarely manage “it all” on the first attempt and side effects are weird. Excuse me, that’s an understatement–side effects make you feel like someone else is at the steering wheel of your brain.
During these months, we’ve been on deeply personal journeys, re-opening partially healed wounds, digging our heels into the belief that we are worthy of our better selves. It’s emotional puberty – growth is so prevalent it’s physically painful. If you’ve known us, you might not believe me when I tell you this couple, these two people dedicated to reflective, introspective, intellectual exploration, are doing inner work we’ve never come close to before.
We do everything together. We thought we were doing this together too, but I was the first to realize we had actually been alone for months. We hopped on two separate tandem bikes at the same time. Well, fuck.
For 6 weeks, any time Brett needed my generosity or empathy or compassion, my mind generated a future where I was free; not of him, necessarily, but of his need for me. I started to consider if I was an obstacle to Brett’s healing. I began to link both thoughts together. And like water rising, these thoughts eventually overflowed and outward to him: “I can’t think of a reason for us to stay married. I wouldn’t lose a single thing if we didn’t.”
It was as awful as you think it was. But worse because I was there, and you weren’t. And I said all the horrible things, and you didn’t. We fought all night and slept in separate rooms and woke up gutted and ignored each other all day.
I volunteered at a local butterfly garden the next morning (because I am Amanda all day, every day) and afterwards, while sobbing in the McDonald’s drive-thru waiting for my lunch, I had a horrible realization: I had absolutely no one to call for help. I needed a friend so desperately but couldn’t think of a single person I was close enough to that would understand.
Because I have billed myself as Mrs. Marriage. Mrs. Marriage cannot call you and tell you she is contemplating divorce.
I’ve officiated 3 weddings. Brett and I have been together for 10 years. These are lovely things and I’m proud of them. But I’ve created a ridiculous ethos for myself with regard to relationships and marriage – I’ve dressed myself up like some sort of sage; as if I have access to special knowledge. Come to me for answers. It’s complete bullshit.
I had ice skated into the center of the pond, doing triple axels the entire way while proselytizing about it. Now, I was out in the middle and realized not only was the ice under my feet dangerously thin, but all my friends were couples skating on the thickest, safest ice in the pond. If they could even hear my cries for help at all, they wouldn’t understand me.
Through all my efforts of transparency and authenticity and vulnerability in the hopes that I might help someone else’s marriage, I had completely failed to find a sage of my own to turn to. Shit.
I have one mode of processing: verbal. In the absence of a confidant, I had one person to whom I could turn. Brett. This did not start pretty, friends. It felt a great deal like picking a scab, actually.
Here is a short, edited transcript of the conversation:
Me: “What the hell?”
Brett: “Go to hell!”
Me: “Fix all our problems.”
Brett: “I’m not the only cause of all our problems.”
Me [VERY unhappy this is clearly true]: “Fix something anyway.”
Brett: “You’re being pretty damn mean, don’t you think?”
Me: “Yes, I’m being mean on purpose because I am very hurt and angry.”
Brett [VERY unhappy this is clearly true]: “Stop it!”
These are, obviously, the highlights. Toward the middle/end of the furious parts, Brett lobbed a fastball into the center of the strike zone: “You’ve made your love conditional.” This gave me pause because the truth, even when you are angry, is still the truth. And the truth is a pathway to healing. If you are brave enough, when the truth shows up in your relationship, you can get naked and show up beside it. I don’t know if this ever gets any easier, but I do think it can happen with less resistance the more you practice. Showing up naked next to truth looked like this for me:
“You’re right. I’ve been in so much pain lately. I wasn’t prepared for the impact your mental health journey would have on me and I should have sought support immediately. I spoke out of malice, so I could hurt you and that isn’t fair or in alignment with my character. I deserve happiness in this marriage, but that’s not how I want to find it.”
Brett can tell you what showing up naked next to the truth looks like for him sometime himself, if you ever want to ask him.
Being a healthy person is hard as hell. Being married is hard as hell. Doing both at the same time is damn near impossible. Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something.
I do not want to divorce Brett, but I did want to scare him into loving me better. Brett doesn’t want to burden me but does need tremendous support to manage his mental health. But know this – your partner does not have infinite capacity to hold space for you. We are not infinite vessels, even in the context of unconditional love. Great partners create this illusion, but you must be a conscientious steward of it. Your bad behavior has consequences, even if it takes place on the path toward wellness. We build up collateral in our relationships with impact, not intent.
How do we carry on? I, for one, aim to find the tools I am not equipped with. I need to find a new therapist and schedule more regular visits. I need to read some old love notes and remind myself what being with Brett has always been about. I need to find someone who has been married for longer than I have that I can call when shit gets bad (currently accepting applications). Brett has an agenda of his own.
I believe in the healing power of vulnerability. Without a strong foundation of emotional expression, I’m not certain Brett and I could have navigated through (let alone to) this particular challenge. To that end, I’m recommitting to this blog as another tool for restoration and a strategy to invest in myself as well as others. I hope someone, least of all me, knows themselves a little more intimately as a result.
I wrote this post prior to Kate Spade dying from suicide. It feels more important than ever to share my family’s journey with mental health with our friends, family, and neighbors, and to remind anyone who might read this, to know – you are not alone if you have felt badly, if your marriage or relationship is far from perfect, or if tomorrow seems like it will be the very same as today. There is help available to you, now and always. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org