For those of us who were raised without many married role models, sometimes marriage can feel like a terrifying leap into the unknown. It’s not unlike my fear of flying. Until someone explained to me the physics of how planes worked, I simply had no faith in them to not drop out of the sky. So, for the aforementioned reasons, today’s anonymous post on marriage anxiety hit me hard. But in a good way. Because sometimes we kids of divorced parents need to be reminded that that we’re not doomed to repeat the mistakes of those who came before us. Sometimes we just need to hear that there are, in fact, an infinite number of possible outcomes for our marriages and that there is plenty of time to figure things out. But now I’m going to turn this over to anonymous, because she has it way more figured out than I do yet.
—Maddie for Maternity Leave
I am an overthinker, and once my partner proposed, I immediately started stressing about our marriage. Not our wedding—our marriage. I freaked out because I’d never seen a happy marriage up close, and I was afraid that one day, our marriage would resemble that of my parents, who divorced after twenty-four years of no physical affection, a lot of arguing, and thinly-disguised disgust and contempt. I worried that after the wedding I would transform into my mother, and he would turn into my father. Because marriage sucks the joy out of everything, right?
So, I did something really smart: I told my mom I wanted therapy as my wedding gift. Off I went, knowing that this was going to help my relationship with my soon-to-be-spouse and with myself. We planned our wedding and it was fantastic. Seriously, a year and a half later I continue to receive compliments on our ceremony and reception, and it was definitely the best party I have thrown so far. Oh, and I married my favorite person.
But I’m writing today to talk about my anxieties that continue to this day about my marriage. In spite of the fact that people gush over our relationship (including but not limited to my mother, our local bartender, and friends of my family), I am still plagued by the fear that if I look away for five seconds or stop actively working on it, I will take my amazing spouse for granted, or he will take me for granted, and as a result, we will slowly grow apart and end up divorced, or worse, unhappily married.
My therapist gently explains to me on a weekly basis that I have an ingrained fear of abandonment, and this is triggering my fear that if I do something wrong*, my partner will leave me, physically or emotionally. However, while my head knows this, my heart has still not received this telegram. It’s a long process, apparently. I realized a week or two ago that my thinking is centered around a false dichotomy that marriage falls into one of the following categories:
Option A: Maintain your relationship by tricking yourself into thinking you are still dating, and thus, you could break up atanyminute. Don’t take your person for granted ever, bottle up the anger and sadness so you don’t scare them away, and always wear cute underwear.
Option B: Take them for granted. Let it all hang out. Be overconfident that they will never leave you, that things are fine, and don’t be self-conscious about yelling, crying, or treating them with respect, etc.
I have realized that this is a false pair of options. These aren’t the only two possibilities I have available to me. It occurred to me a few weeks ago that the mindset of Option A is based on fear, and that’s not a good place to work from when it comes to love, especially at the beginning of a marriage. It’s one thing if we’ve been together for fifteen years and he’s saying he doesn’t feel appreciated any more—that would be a slightly more valid time to worry, feel a bit of fear, and do some work. But when it’s been one and a half years and he’s not complaining, and I feel appreciated, it’s okay to relax, and, without turning into Option B, allow myself to enjoy the feeling of security in our relationship. To trust in my partner’s love for me, and focus on telling my inner “I Told You So” voice to cut it out and stop trying to scare me.
In this world of Option C, working from my feelings of security, love, and contentment, we can just be married. And I can occasionally check in and make sure that I am expressing my love for my spouse and cherishing who he is (and vice versa), but not out of a fear that he’s going to fall out of love with me anydaynow. So this is my goal, this is the message I’m trying to send my heart: Relax and enjoy!
But this is hard. I keep looking over my shoulder. I don’t know about you, but it’s scary and lonely to not see a lot of other models of happy, healthy marriages in real life. It feels like every few months another couple breaks up, and my confidence falters. There’s this sense of an inevitable doom—like after the four- or seven-year mark, it’ll all go to hell in a hand basket. I just don’t see a lot of examples of couples going through challenges and coming out on the other side together and happy with each other. There are a few, but I don’t know them well enough to ask them about their challenges. And the newspapers, websites, and magazines do not help. A happy marriage is not news; a messy breakup is. There are no magazine articles called “Stop Stressing Out! Your Relationship is Great!” Instead it’s all about how to attract, keep, or win back your partner’s attention and attraction. It’s about the top ten signs that he’s cheating, or that she’s bored in bed. That is where the APW community has filled a huge void for me.
Through this community, I have realized that marriage is like aging—there are few examples of people who do it gracefully, yet it’s inevitable. We all get older, and it is those who embrace and love their evolving selves and who focus on living their lives who I most admire. Those who spend all their time and energy stressing about (or trying to fight) aging don’t really take the time to just live. So rather than focus on possible future challenges and changes in my marriage, I want to enjoy where it is right now and trust that our relationship will evolve in natural, beautiful ways.
*i.e., get really angry and yell, cry too much, let myself go, and other things that are not actually inherently wrong
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