Wedding Graduates Return: Caitlin & Mike

Earlier this year, Caitlin wrote one of the bravest wedding graduate posts we’ve ever had on APW. She wrote about getting married the same week that her husband’s mother died suddenly of cancer. It’s been a year now since their wedding, and she’s back, writing about how impossibly hard their first year of marriage has been, what she learned, and how they pulled through it together. It’s a post that makes you realize why you go through the wedding, and what marriage is about at its core.

Mike’s mom passed away last August, we were married a week later, and as soon as we landed home from Mexico a text came in from his sister about selling their mom’s house and next steps—the honeymoon, quite literally, was over.  Mike started teaching a few days later—his first time in front of a classroom as a student teacher—and was responsible for three freshman global history classes.  The pressure was overwhelming, the expectations the supervising teachers had for him were unrealistic, and no one seemed to care that he was a student, not getting paid to teach, and outside of work was being forced to handle one of the hardest things life would ever throw at him.  And so the months after the wedding were an intense emotional roller coaster.  Actually, not a roller coaster but more like that free fall ride where you plummet down a few stories with your stomach in your throat and your knuckles white from gripping the safety bar so tightly.  That’s a bit more fitting.

I took all of this on with him and it showed.  I started cooking only comfort food and baking cookies on random weeknights, pretending that I would bring in the leftovers to work, but then there never were any leftovers.  I made excuses for us to not have to go to the gym and instead did everything I could to wrap Mike up in safety and goodness, even if it meant that we became the stagnant, heaviest versions of ourselves.  With our hair turning grayer by the day (not an exaggeration) and our eating habits completely broken, we let ourselves go.

We had always had a very romantic relationship, but in the months that followed Bernadette’s death, we turned into roommates.  Loving, affectionate roommates, but more like cuddly buddies than the passionate couple we had been before.  When we got home from long, stressful days at our jobs, we arrived to long, stressful nights of dealing with his mom’s creditors and home selling and lesson plan writing.  We collapsed into bed each night and held each other, comforted each other, but that was it.  I was foolishly embarrassed about this and decided not to mention it to friends, fearing they would think it was a symptom of a poor marriage, and since I knew that our relationship was strong, we just pushed through on our own.

We felt lonely in every aspect of our lives.  Mike’s mom passed away just a week before the anniversary of his dad’s passing three years earlier and not having any parents, not being anyone’s child, left him feeling abandoned and, well, like an orphan.  We stopped hearing from friends and family, partly because we were so busy that we were bad at keeping in touch, but partly because I think people just forgot to keep us in their circle of communication.  Mike had always been very close to his extended family but for months after his mom’s passing, we didn’t hear from them. Christmas approached and with no contact from his family, I felt tasked with the responsibility of holding him together.  He slumped into a deep depression for the month of December that was tied not only to missing his parents, but also missing the fact that he would never wake up in his childhood home with his parents and younger sisters on Christmas morning ever again.  It was his first year not doing this, and some may think that at 32 he should have already had this experience, but since he hadn’t, and since family was such a huge part of his life before, the absence of that was devastating to him.  We wished for the month to be over and then slogged our way through winter.

I’m going to be honest here, and I won’t make any friends by saying this, but your partner in mourning can feel like a setback.  I know, awful, selfish, you’re wondering how can I say such a thing.  But there was an afternoon in March when we heard that a cousin was pregnant and I just felt done with it.  I broke down sobbing and let myself smoosh sloppy tears into Mike’s t-shirt.  Of course I was happy for her, but I felt overwhelmed with wanting more than what we had.  We had thought about trying to get pregnant the year after our wedding but decided that we needed to rest our weary selves for a while before starting that next chapter.  And even though I understood why we were putting this on hold, and wholeheartedly agreed to it, I still felt the timeline clicking away above me and I lost it.  We were still in the thick of sadness, Mike was student teaching for a man who criticized him daily, and we had no idea when he would find a teaching job or when the $40,000 we just took out for graduate school would seem worth it.  The pity party lasted about a half hour and then I felt embarrassed for breaking down, ashamed for not being as thankful as I should be that I have Mike to share my life with, for not realizing that there was no rush.  But I knew that my outburst was just an outpouring of months of pain and exhaustion and it kind of felt good, felt needed.  Mike held me, kissed me, told me that it was going to be ok, and I believed him, let him comfort me even though I had felt for months that it was me who needed to comfort him.  I didn’t realize until that day how much I needed someone to hold me together, someone to tell me that things were going to get better.

It’s been a year now and I’d like to say that we’re fully back to our old selves, that there are days when it is as if the last twelve months haven’t happened, but then there are days when we wake up and she is the first thing we think of.  And on days like those we’re sitting at dinner and the tears start before I even know they are coming.  The overwhelming feeling of just missing her, of being struck by how unbelievably strange it is that she is not here.  Thankfully we’re good at changing the mood and the last time that happened, after a minute of clearing away tears from my face, I laughed and said everyone at the restaurant was going to think Mike was dumping me.  And he laughed, and grabbed my hand, and we finished dinner talking about other things.  But she is always there.  At any given moment just underneath the veneer of “everything is fine.”  I asked Mike if he thought it will always be this way.  He said in a way he hoped so, in a way he hoped her memory would never be further than just beneath our everyday life of moving forward.  And so it gets easier.  It does.  It will.

So many of the comments in our wedding graduate post talked about how strong we were, how other people would not have been able to have a wedding the week after losing a parent.  But I need you to know you could.  I hope you never have to, but you could.  Mike loved his mom just as much as any other person I’ve ever known and he did it.  In the past I had moments when I was overwhelmed with panic over the thought of losing my parents.  And even though I know that when it inevitably happens I will be devastated, I now know from watching Mike that you go on, that you are stronger than you know.  The world doesn’t stop and let you fail.  It forces you up and out into it, to keep on spinning right along with it even when you think that movement is the most foreign thing.

I said in my wedding graduate post that I was so thankful we had a wedding even when life was hard.  And I’ll say now that I am so thankful we are married, we are partners, we have this love, now that life is harder.  I know that there will be more sad times to come, but I now know that we will make it through them, maybe just a little grayer than we were at the start.

A Year of Grief

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  • You guys are so brave and stong! Thank you for reminding me that I am strong, I cried and felt like you were speakng directly to me when you wrote, “But I need you to know you could. I hope you never have to, but you could.” Thank you for coming back to share your honest journey.

  • Wow. Just…. wow. This was a very moving post. Thank you so much for sharing.

    And- you’re right. I don’t think ANY of us can imagine going on about our plans when we lose a parent, but we all could. And would. Thank you for showing me that.

  • Wow, the first year of marriage is hard enough as it is. I can’t imagine going through it while going through all of that at the same time. I hope that you are no longer embarrassed by the state of your relationship – then or now. We all do what we do to slog through, and sometimes the slog is really, really hard. And there’s nothing to be embarrassed about when you need the friend in your partner more than the lover. Or when you just need to spend some time consoling yourself. And I didn’t read anything selfish in there – at least not more selfish than we all have to be sometimes to hold shit together.

    • Thank you for saying that. I woke up in such panic this morning knowing this would be posted and fearing that I had said too much. I should not have understimated you guys. Thanks APW for being what you are. I am so thankful I have all of you.

  • SBS

    Thank you so very, very much for this. You did make friends by saying all those things. I know I needed to hear that honesty about what it’s like to be with someone through a time that feels out of time, outside of your chronology and what you thought your life would be like, because those times can happen to anyone, for many reasons. Thank you, again, for this beautiful piece.

  • Erica

    Hugs to you both, Caitlin and Mike. Life can be so, so hard. I hope this coming year brings you easier times.

  • “So many of the comments in our wedding graduate post talked about how strong we were, how other people would not have been able to have a wedding the week after losing a parent. But I need you to know you could.”

    Yes yes yes. I know you and I agree on this point, but it can’t be stated enough. The only way through is through, and when life gives you no other choice, you just … do it. Hopefully with as much grace as you’ve shown,

  • Also, as the partner who was in mourning, I can understand how challenging it must be for the other person. I did a few things in that period that I’m not proud of, and at least one thing that I am still actively ashamed of. It’s must be hard and lonely to be the one who has to supportive and be tolerant all the time.

    • Maggie

      Same here. I’ve said some things I’m not proud of, and he’s always dealt with it in such a loving, understanding way. In retrospect, I was very (and sometimes still am) unaware of how he might be coping. The person who is grieving their parent’s death gets much more… “credit,” for pushing through, but so much of that is made bearable because of having someone to lean on.

      • Liz

        i think it’s important to acknowledge that when we link ourselves to someone through marriage, we link ourselves to their problems. his relative’s death is no longer just something HE needs to process- YOU now need to process this Major Life Event, too. it’s now your problem. and allowing ourselves pity parties and venting helps us to process what we allow our spouses to process, too.

    • Agreed, it’s nice to hear the other side — neither one is easier or harder, for a variety of reasons.

      Also: “But she is always there. At any given moment just underneath the veneer of ‘everything is fine.’ I asked Mike if he thought it will always be this way. He said in a way he hoped so, in a way he hoped her memory would never be further than just beneath our everyday life of moving forward.”

      This is 1000% true, and it’s incredibly important to have a partner who understands this. That even though that person is gone we need her/him to be close, especially as time goes on and the distance threatens to make their memory a bit fuzzy around the edges.

      • We talk about my dad regularly – he’s part of the stories we tell and memories to shre. I feel I almost know David’s late godmother from his stories, and she died 3 years before we started dating. I once read somewhere that as long as someone is remembered, they are not truely dead, and I sure as hell have taken that to heart.

      • Nikky

        If I could pinpoint one concrete moment that made me KNOW I was with the right person, it would be the day my nephew was born. My grandma has been gone for 13 years, but I lived with her instead of my mom until her death so she was more my parent than anyone.

        The day my sister had her son (I’m the oldest grandchild at 23, so he was the first of the new generation) I went home and cried as hard as I had the day she’d died. Hysterically. For probably an hour. It kind of had me worried about how I’d handle my wedding, let alone my own children’s birth or adoption or whatever the case ends up being.

        My partner came and found me curled up with a stuffed animal she’d given me and told me that as much as I talked about her, he’d never been able to really feel how much she’d meant to me. That for my sisters, my mom and I to have spent the day at the hospital talking about her like we had, and for me to be so affected now, she must have been amazing. And he asked me to talk about her, to tell him stories about her and the time I spent with her. I think it’s probably the most amazing thing he’s ever done for me.

        Anyway, my mouth (keyboard?) tends to get away with me, but this and the graduate post were such moving, beautiful posts. Thank you so much for sharing them.

  • Erin

    Dude. DUDE. “I’m going to be honest here, and I won’t make any friends by saying this, but your partner in mourning can feel like a setback.” HALF AN HOUR of a pity party? Are you kidding me? I’ve had days, weeks of pity parties!

    I have not yet dealt with the death of a parent or my partner’s parents, but I have dealt with loving a severely anxious and depressed man. I love him so much and have for 8 years, but sometimes, I just want to effing scream. It’s not all the time (and thankfully not in a while!), and we know the signs of anxiety and depression much better than we used to. Dealing with a partner who is going through severe emotional challenges along with dealing with “real life” (and my god sometimes people can be such bastards) is so so difficult. The emotional and physical toll, as you have discovered, can be immense and devastating.

    I know other people have said this and will say this, but dude. It’s okay. It’s okay to break down. It’s okay to think you want other things, to just not be there anymore. All of those emotions are not shameful, they are what happens when the person you love and whom you’ve committed your life to is absolutely friggin miserable and it seems never ending. But as you have also discovered, there is a beat up, worn out grayer rainbow on the other side. It will get brighter every day, and it will sometimes dim, but it’s there dammit! You two, separately and together are pretty amazing people for going through this and coming out the other end still mostly intact. Congratulations on your first anniversary, and thank you for sharing your story. It’s brave and inspiring.

  • My father died 6 weeks before I got married, suddenly. He got ill on a Friday and on Sunday evening he was gone. I was on the other side of the world when it happened (Daoukro, a small city in Ivory Coast) and by the time I got the call telling me what had happened, he had already been cremated.
    We went on with the marriage (we didn’t have a wedding party), and, as you so bravely put, the first year was really hard. But we went through it, together, just as you are.
    Having been through that, I just can say that, at least for me and for other people I know, it gets better the 2nd year, and even better after that. The memories remain, but the pain goes away. You’ll always remember those that you loved and that are no longer with you, but with time those memories will bring smiles rather than tears.
    Hugs from Cyprus.

    • Thank you Marcela and I am so sorry for your loss. It’s a terrible and amazing thing to hear how many people have had such similar tragedies. We are not as alone as we think. Thanks for the second year encouragement, I do think things have already started to shift a bit. I think Mike really needed the first year to be over and now he feels a little different. Thanks again for sharing, sending hugs right back across the ocean.

    • Manya

      Sorry, off topic, but what in the heck were you doing in Daoukro? I lived outside of Vavoua and Gagnoa and in Abidjan for several years.

      • @Manya: I was working there! I lived in Ivory Coast for almost 3 years, in Daoukro and in Abidjan, and I travelled all over (Korhogo, Daloa, Yamoussoukro, Bouaké, Assinié, Bassam, etc). Gagnoa was a no-go area during those years (2005 to end of 2007), but I would have loved to go.What were you doing there?

  • “in a way he hoped her memory would never be further than just beneath our everyday life of moving forward.”

    This post is so timely for me, my brother died four years ago today (yeah). It is so strange this grief that we have as humans. We want to not hurt as much, we know that time is the only thing that really helps, but time moves us further away from our loved one. Time also softens the memories, which is scary.
    Supporting someone who is grieving is tough. Making space for your own grief is not weak. There are also secondary waves of grief. It is not weak to admit to them and to mourn. Not getting to have much of a honeymoon, having a really rough first year of marriage, having your first married Christmas be the first Christmas “without.” None of those things are easy, and it is OK for you to feel sad about them. You ARE brave and strong.

    • Jane

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Sarah.

    • “Time moves us further away from our loved one” but also “softens the memories”. Whew, and I just lost it at the desk. So beautifully and heart wrenchingly said. So sorry for your loss and on this hard day, Sarah.

  • This brought tears to my eyes: “you are stronger than you know. The world doesn’t stop and let you fail. It forces you up and out into it, to keep on spinning right along with it even when you think that movement is the most foreign thing.”

    What a beautiful post – this is what I love so much about APW. The truth of life and marriage is hard, which is exactly why it is so necessary to share it honestly. It allows all of us to feel a little less alone. Thank you for sharing.

  • About a month after we announced our engagement my dad died. He’d been succumbing to alcoholism for a long time but I still though we had a while with him here (and still a potential chance for him to pull himself out of it…not realistic really but still a hope).

    I’ve been a mess, less about him, than dealing with the expectations of my other family members. How they feel that I’m not being there enough. How I’m not supporting my mom who had separated from him as he descended further and further (but oh god did she love him right up until the end). And in the last two months we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship and how we relate to the tough stuff, the uncontrollables–and that just pales in comparison to what you guys have gone through.

    You have such incredible perspective and I hope (and truly believe) you two will find that these trials early add further fortification to an already strong marriage.

    Lots of hugs.

    • ah Beth I am so sorry, and your story certainly doesn’t pale in comparison. It’s yours, it’s happening to you, and it’s just so sad that it is happening at all. No one really tells you how much things change in a family when you lose someone. The expectations are so hard and the family dynamics that come out to play when you never knew they were there to begin with are so tough. There is a shred of something positive though in going through this together so early on, like you said, you’re learning about your relationship and how you relate to the tough stuff, you’ll always have that now. Sending hugs.

  • Caitlin, thank you for writing this. Your words are stunning and raw and incredibly important.

    You wrote: “So many of the comments in our wedding graduate post talked about how strong we were, how other people would not have been able to have a wedding the week after losing a parent. But I need you to know you could. I hope you never have to, but you could.”

    And we do know, thanks to you.

  • K

    My mother in law passed away completely unexpectedly six months ago and only seven months after our wedding. Our first year of marriage has been nothing like we thought it would be, and everything that we thought it would be, in a strange way. But I never imaged that our life together would start out this way. It has been extremely difficult, and it seems that although some time has passed and the immediate details of what happened are not front and center in our lives anymore, thinking of her and how it could be possible that she’s gone hurts more this morning than it did the day she died. So reading this post today struck a deep chord with me. I have been having a similar thoughts as what you describe, wondering if almost every happy moment/milestone/ random everyday event will continue to remind me of her and how we lost her. Last month we celebrated our anniversary and thawed the top of our cake, and my first thought was how she had offered to pay for our cake and flowers. We enjoyed our anniversary, and ate our delicious cake, but when it was all gone, I was sad again, because she was gone, and every day forward from here is another day removed from the time when we had her. My mother in-law was such a vibrant person and was so elated about our wedding. Its hard to go back and look at the photos and see all the smiles and know that we can never get that back. Of course, now the value of the wedding and what it meant and the people it brought together is so incredibly obvious to us. But I know that, for me, I won’t ever be able to look back without that feeling of sadness creeping at the edges. Although there is sadness surrounding the memories, I am forever grateful that we have them, and I am so sorry your husband lost his mother before your wedding. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been.
    I have been a little bit plagued, not so much by self-pity as I have been of wondering if I have been doing, can ever do, enough to help my husband get through this. In some way I know that I can’t ever really do enough, because she will always be gone. My husband, while extremely loving and sensitive, is also an incredibly logical and rational person, so he has seemingly been moving forward through all this. But I know, as you said, that her memory, and the memory of what happened, and the feelings of being cheated out of so much time with her…those feelings are constantly right below the surface of our everyday lives. I find myself second-guessing my behaviors…Do I talk about her with him enough? Too much? We are both graduate students, with busy and sometimes odd schedules. For a few years now we have been leaning on each other to get through our thesis work together, with one picking up the slack regarding emotional issues/home issues when the other is swamped with work. We have always had the benefit of common understanding of our commitments to our jobs and school, but now when I get home late for work and he has already started dinner, I wonder…am I leaning on him too much, too soon? Shouldn’t I be taking extra care with him? Additionally, my husband’s younger brother is taking everything much harder, and not dealing well with his issues to varying degrees. He hasn’t been as helpful as he could be dealing with the aftermath (hiring a probate lawyer, dealing with paperwork, house selling etc.) I know my husband feels like he has to be there to hold his brother up through this, along with shouldering more than his fair share of the responsibilities. We are all working through it in our own way. I know it will never be the same, and in a way, I also hope our thoughts of her never go away…but I do hope the sadness will. Thank you so much for your thoughts. It is so comforting to know that someone else knows how I feel.

    • K

      Caitlin, I just went back and re-read your wedding grad post, and remembered that we share the same wedding date, August 21st! Again, thank you so much for your post and thanks to APW for allowing me some space to think through things in a safe place. <3

      • K, when you said this, “I find myself second-guessing my behaviors…Do I talk about her with him enough? Too much?” So much of what you wrote is so similiar to how I feel but when I read that, I just thought, exactly. I forget about her sometimes and then rush to bring her up, guilty for forgetting and wondering if I don’t give Mike an opportunity to talk about her enough. And then in the next week I’m wondering if I talk about her too much. I’m so sorry for your loss, but am thankful you wrote here. And belated happy anniversary!

  • Ruth

    Thank you for this post. While it made me a little sad this morning after reading, it was a nice reminder that I’m not alone in experiencing a partner in mourning for a parent during the first year of marriage. It’s so difficult to also be mourning that person in a different way, while supporting your spouse. And to experience arguably one of the most difficult times of life during your first year of marriage…there seem to be no words to describe it but you’ve put it in writing so well.

    I love this: “I am so thankful we are married, we are partners, we have this love, now that life is harder. I know that there will be more sad times to come, but I now know that we will make it through them, maybe just a little grayer than we were at the start.”

    Because if there’s anything to be said for such a horrible experience, it teaches you that you can get through anything together, no matter what life throws your way.

    Also, you’re not alone in becoming the heaviest, most stagnant version of yourself while mourning!

  • L

    That you for sharing this story with us. I can definitely empathize with your feelings of trying to keep to a timeline. I am so glad that you and your husband have one another to get through such a profound loss. I loved the part of your story where you talked about needing comfort even though you felt like you should be the one to do the comforting. It’s hard to be someone else’s rock, and sometimes we need support to be supportive. Lots of love to you, Caitlin. I hope things get easier for you guys soon.

  • Ann

    Thank you for sharing your story, and I am so proud of you for slogging through a year or morning. I know many people have also commented with similar sentiments regarding your loss, so I actually wanted to comment on Mike’s student teaching.
    Student teaching was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had, and by far the most stressful. I too had to deal with “mentors” who cared little about my life, and pushed me to the breaking point every day. I just wanted to tell you, that in my little corner of the world, It.Gets.Better. Yes, his first year as a teacher will be tough too, but you’ll see that light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve finally reached my second year of teaching, and my goodness, it’s like I can breath again. So just hang in there, the fight for this profession is worth it!

    • I will tell Mike this comment is here, he will so happy to read it, even though I’m sorry you had a terrible experience too. He student taught at a really wonderful high school so we thought it would be a great experience but only one out of the three teachers he worked with (his program required an entire year of student teaching) was supportive, helpful or kind. He hasn’t been able to find a teaching job so he’s working as a temp in an office for now but I know he’ll find something at some point. He is such a good, caring, connected teacher I just want him to know that it will be worth it one day. It’s so good to hear it gets better! Thank you!

      • LaurenF

        I too related to the part about negative early teaching experiences. I actually had a really good student teaching mentor (he was helpful, kind, and encouraging); however, my first year as a teacher was really rough. I was basically expected to know everything already or to figure it out on my own, and I received very little support. It sounds like Mike may have experienced something similar. Also, a year of student teaching? Wow. I only had to do three months of it, and that was plenty. And I too am in my second year of teaching now, and it is so much better than the first. I wish Mike good luck as he looks for a teaching job.

  • thank you for sharing this down to the gritty hard-to-face details. my husband and i just pushed through our first year of marriage and. it was hard. harder than we ever thought, even for us realists who never dared to imagine such a thing as a “honeymoon phase” (that shit is over and done within three months of dating). i take comfort and courage from your story.

  • Thanks so much for writing this. My partner lost his mother unexpectedly just over a year ago– right before we both had to take our qualifying exams for our graduate programs– and your experience is so similar to mine, it’s helpful to read. I’m glad things are looking up for the both of you; we, too, are the stronger for it.

  • Holly

    Caitlin, this was beautiful and heartfelt, and I feel a little wiser after reading it. The part about needing to be comforted even though you felt you should be the comforter reminds me of a song that I love by Ray LaMontagne. My fiance hung it on our bedroom wall, and it’s become kind of a mantra for dark times.
    “Listen when
    all of this around us’ll fall over
    I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do
    you will shelter me, my love
    and I will shelter you.”

    • Love that Ray LaMontagne and this song in particular, thanks for the reminder, beautiful lines. (a slowed down version of his You Are The Best Thing was our first dance song.)

      • We used “You Are the Best Thing” too! You clearly have excellent taste in music in addition to great talent in the area of writing with honesty. Thank you so much for sharing this post.

  • Jessica

    This is such a brave post and so many things struck a chord with me personally. We are fairly newly married and have had a rough road so far. We have not have any deaths in our family, which would be harder than I can imagine, but we have had other setbacks, and when you spoke of feeling more like cuddly roommates than passionate lovers, I know exactly what you mean. It’s unbelievable how the everyday stresses of life can wear on our relationships. I felt like a failure that I was feeling depressed so soon after getting married and also have not shared those feelings with anyone, but your post has inspired me to reach out to other friends and to let my husband in as well. You two are so strong and I admire you so much for being so brutally honest in your post.

  • Jamie

    Caitlin, thank you for sharing this. One part in particular jumped out at me: “we turned into roommates.” How did you undo that? My boyfriend of 10+ years and I are currently going through this.

    We moved in together last May, with plans for an engagement/wedding in the soon-ish future, and in the past year we have faced a lot of really, really hard stuff. Long-term unemployment (me), a much-hated high-stress job that consumes every waking moment (him), plus being alone in a brand new city and feeling very isolated. We tried to basically be everything for each other, we never really made friends, we just stayed in the apartment, sad and stressed and broke. And most recently he has been struggling with very serious depression. We basically survived each day, came home and made dinner together, watched TV and went to bed. No romance for us; we were too tired and beaten down.

    It’s gotten to the point where he thinks there’s no saving our relationship, that we should just walk away, because we feel more like roommates than anything else and he doesn’t think we can recapture “the spark” we used to have. I 100% do not think that is the solution, because I love him and he loves me (and says this, while simultaneously saying maybe we should end our relationship?) and we want the same things out of life. It’s just hard right now, we need to get through this rough patch.

    Sorry, this comment ended up being more detailed and way more personal than I intended. Parts of your situation just sound so similar to mine that I had to ask. I am having a really, really hard time right now. Obviously a stranger on the Internet will not solve my problems (we’re looking into couples counseling, he’s getting clinical treatment for his depression, etc.) but any insight you could provide as to how YOU handled YOUR situation would be greatly appreciated.

    Also? I am so glad to read that you and Mike are doing better. It makes me happy for you, and it gives me hope for me.

    • Oh Jamie, I am so sorry. I was hesitant to talk about that piece of the post originally because it feels like such a personal, sensitive issue, but I knew there had to be other people who felt this way and so I wrote it. I’m glad I did, if only for the fact that it’s brought you and me to these comments together.

      We did turn into roommates for months and I think if it was the first time it would have been harder than it was. But after Mike’s dad passed away a few years ago we went through the same thing and so I was prepared. And that time, it was harder. Mike’s dad passed away and three weeks later he was laid off, he was then unemployed for 9 months. The financial burden played such a large role in the stress/lack of romance so that stretch was, in many ways, more difficult than this past year. Finances, who is making money, who isn’t making money, who is sad, who isn’t as sad, who is stressed out at a job, who is feeling guilty for not having a job to feel stressful at…it all adds up and saps the life out of mojo.

      I know money is tight for you guys, but Mike is here and wants me to say that getting out of the apartment helped us. Once every other week or so, we would try to have a night out that was just about the two of us. We would turn off cell phones and try not to talk about work or money or stress and instead would just watch a Mets game, or have a few drinks, laugh with the strangers at the bar next to us. It was a reminder of why we loved each other. Everything else followed in time. For us, getting out of the apartment, forcing ourselves out of the rut and away from the things that were hurting us, definitely helped. It reminded us of how much we wanted the other person. If you still love each other, which it sounds like you do, then it can get better.

      I wish I could say more. I know it’s not much, but it got better then and it got better this time too. Once the pain subsided we found each other again, but it took a long time to get there. Wishing the same for you, Jamie.

      • Jamie

        Thanks for this, Caitlin. I am so grateful that you wrote about this, because it’s made me feel less alone. It’s such a comfort to know other people have gone through this, and survived. Thanks to Mike as well!

        • Anon

          Jamie, I am right there with you, with my longtime boyfriend. Hugs!!

          Caitlin, thank you so much for your post and for the note to Jamie, above. I will take your advice and run with it!

          APWers, Is this a common thing, that just doesn’t get talked about? I’ve been feeling so insecure about this issue and I just want things to get back to normal – we’re going on almost a year with the roomie situation. :(

          • Jamie

            Anon you almost just made me cry. There are other people like this! This is not just me (and Caitlin)!

            Obviously I am so sad that you are going through this, because it is AWFUL. But it means so much to hear about others in the same situation. And you’re right, it makes you feel so, so insecure. My self confidence has really taken a hit- even if I can point to external factors causing this, it’s very hard to not think “there is something wrong with ME, this is my fault.”

            I’ll be thinking of you, and hoping things get better for the both of us soon. And going on almost a year? Me. Too.

          • Anon2

            I definitely think it’s common for relationships to have an ebb and flow with respect to intimacy, based on conversations I’ve had with close girlfriends.
            Everyone reacts to stress differently, but in my own relationship, unemployment and financial strain has led to a lack of romantic times. But I am confident that this will change once we get through the hard times together, because we have always got back to that romantic place before.
            However, I totally hear you on the insecurity! It’s an issue that’s hard to deal with, and unfortunately it’s also something that is not often talked about between friends (because of the insecurity factor, I guess), so it’s hard to get support.
            You are not alone!

          • Moomin

            Yes we should share these things and shame-blast them.

            Can I suggest also, as a solution, spending time apart. I think men in particular need time alone but might not be able to articulate it or request it or even realise they need it. Going on a trip away with friends, then coming back home, can really change how a relationship feels.

            Going for walks alone, even just for ten minutes outside for a breather is better than staying in and stewing together.

            I find spending time as a couple with other people always helps undo ‘roomate-itis’ and return a spark. You start to see them as other people see them, fresh, lovable, desirable. Going out with people also gives you a chance to wear nice clothes and make an effort. Plus sometimes men get a ‘protective of my woman’ feeling when other people are around. All good things for intimacy (emotional, physical) (sorry about the hetero bias to my thoughts, it’s just what I know).

            Talking about sex helps, even when you’re not having it. If there are feelings of shame around lack of sex, then it’s really hard to have sex. I think I, as a woman (and I think other women are similar) can’t have sex when there are emotional issues unresolved. I have to lay all my cards on the table and even have an argument before I can consider sex.

            Also, there’s nothing wrong with us as women – we haven’t failed if there’s not enough intimacy. We must remember our own feelings and needs (to be loved), not just worry we are not good enough for our partners.

            Long essay I know, but I had thoughts I wanted to share!

          • Liz

            YES. i think this is an incredibly common occurrence in even the healthiest of marriages. outside stressors can cause a lull in romance- particularly if they bring on depression. there is a LOT of literature on how common it is for stressful situations (particularly life-altering, big ones) can cause division in relationships.

            the fact that you DO both love each other and you DO both acknowledge that there is a problem here says to me that you can face it head-on and overcome it.

            i find that i can have a major effect on how the night goes when my husband gets home, by how i focus my thoughts during the day. if either of us is so focused on the depressing thoughts about our problems, we’re both too emotionally exhausted to enjoy one another- in any way, physical, emotional etc- when we’re finally home together. we’re basically catatonic. recouping.

            if instead of letting myself be dragged down with these thoughts during the day, i refocus my energy on looking forward to a special night, remembering special times with my husband, thinking about how hot he is- then i’m pumped to see him. it’s easier said than done, i realize, and it takes two.

            i think the advice here is all solid- even in the brokest of times, find a way to make time to enjoy one another.

            i’ll get personal here for a minute. we’ve been having some majorly stressful events in our marriage lately, and have bumped up against this. i usually tout the importance of a fancy-dinner-date even in the brokest of times, but lately, even coffee is a splurge that puts us in the red. so we deemed one weekend OUR weekend. we bought an $8 bottle of wine, borrowed some old black and white movies from my mom, and stayed in our underwear all weekend. it was simple and cheap. but we didn’t discuss any of the problems clouding our lives and just focused on spending time together. the details may be different for you, but the idea is the same. try it and report back!

          • ANON3

            Thank you for bringing this up, Caitlin! So glad to know I’m not alone.

  • Emily

    “…you are stronger than you know. The world doesn’t stop and let you fail. It forces you up and out into it, to keep on spinning right along with it even when you think that movement is the most foreign thing.”

    How beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us, and so eloquently.

  • Amazing post.

    Teary at my desk here :)

    I don’t know what to say about it, except that you guys are doing great. Be proud of yourselves and your relationship.

  • Jo

    YES. To all of this, YES. To the embarrassment that maybe you’re doing something wrong because your relationship flexed to something else because you needed it to, to the fact that a partner in mourning can feel like a setback, and to that you are stronger than you know.

    All of it. Big hugs. Thank you so much for writing this.

  • I am so relieved to see such a frank, honest, yet hopeful post here. (Another beautifully written post, too, Caitlin.) Sometimes relationships are hard. Sometimes life is hard. But there’s no reason to feel guilty about surviving, whatever that means to the couple. At the very least, you hope that you’re part of a team that encourages each other to survive together and helps get through those bad times. Even without the major obstacles Caitlin and Mike have recently faced, this is enormously refreshing and moving to read.

  • Cristina

    Thank you for this beautiful, moving post.

  • melany

    Thank you for sharing this story. I don’t typically comment on things, but your husband’s story is so similar to mine I feel like I need to. I was just married in July and my dad died about 10 days before our wedding. He became suddenly ill about a month before the wedding and then he just kept deteriorating and since he was not married and I was the oldest child, I was the one who had to make the decision to take him off of life support. I am still reeling from the loss of him and all it means for my life. I am also a social science teacher. I am starting my third year teaching history now, and I remember how difficult student teaching was, and how busy my life still is even with a few years of experience under my belt. Thank you, again, for sharing this. It helps to give me hope for the future.

  • Luba

    Thank you so much for sharing you story. My boyfriend and I got engaged one week ago, shortly after learning that his father has cancer and not much longer to live. He and I have been together for nearly eight years, but we are finally embarking on this new phase of our life in a manner that we could never have foreseen. We will be getting more prognosis news in the coming weeks and deciding when our wedding will be…I just discovered APW and am ravenously reading through past posts, but I wanted to tell you that it just meant so much to me to hear your story. While we are thrilled to be engaged, it is a reality that sorrow will be weaved in to the experience of our wedding. It gives me so much hope to hear how you and your husband continue to love and care for each other through the pain of loss. Thank you.