When Happiness Moved Out of Our Marriage and Doubt Moved In

It’s a risk to stay, and it’s heartbreaking to leave.

Leaving And Looking In The Same Direction | APW (1)

For us, Saturdays are made for breakfast. We go out, he drives (as usual). We sit across from each other at the diner and my elbows stick to the Formica tabletop. I wonder who sat here before us, and if they enjoyed their meal. Almost without thinking, he orders savory—eggs (scrambled, the only way he likes them), sausage, home fries—and I order sweet—a full stack of challah bread French toast with real maple syrup. We order our meals to share, so each of us can have the best of both worlds. I stir the cream into my coffee and he sips his water. I look up at this man, my husband.

I have that sensation again, there in the crowded diner, the one where he feels like a stranger to me. Even though I know the feel of his body against mine and the scar on his elbow from when he fell off the monkey bars as a kid and the sound of his breathing as he sleeps. Even though I know that he doesn’t like avocado or the sheets tucked in too tight or the thought of needles or heights. And even though, not a year ago and after four years of dating, I walked down an aisle to him, promised him our life, and overflowed with love for him. This man, who makes terrible puns and is selfless and kind… and who, at times, I do not know.

We wait for our feast. We rank our top five destinations in Europe. We talk about travel and dreams and the places we could go together. I wonder aloud if we’ll get there, if there’s ever a good time to go, as we save for a house and feel the tightness of our budget and consider when we’ll have a baby. Amid this, a fleeting thought: What if I left? Him, our life, this first year, everything.

It’s a thought that has visited me more than I would like these past ten months, as I stand at the sink finishing the dishes or brush my teeth before work. Early in the morning, when the bedroom is gray before dawn, I think I could fill up my car and get on the highway and drive. The thought is furtive, guilty, ashamed. And when we fight, as we have done so much lately, I can almost believe that, though our priorities are the same, our means of attaining them are too different; there is no common ground. I can almost convince myself it would be better for both of us, and certainly easier. I could leave our hurt and apologies and the one overwhelming question that remains unsaid for both of us as any disagreement spirals dangerously: Is this what our life is going to be? I remember wryly thinking, six months into our supposed newlywed bliss, how ironic that our marriage has ruined our relationship.

And, from across the table and apparently seeing my thoughts, my husband meets my eyes and says it out loud: “I can’t keep doing this. I won’t be able to stay.” My eyes flood instantly. It’s a heartbreaking relief to hear him say it. My second-guessing has been so lonely. “I know,” I say. “When I think about it, I think of how much better off you’d be.” He sighs, “I worry about you, and how you’d get through it.” We wonder together what it would be like to separate before our first anniversary, if we’d have to return the gifts, which one of us would take the cats. And it’s here, as we split our breakfast and talk openly about an end, that I am reminded of how we care for each other. He has saved me the crispiest home fries and I offer him most of the syrup. We think mostly about the other even when we think about leaving. We join in the bravery and relief that comes from admitting such a secret. It’s a risk to stay, and it’s heartbreaking to leave.

As he pays for breakfast, I drain my coffee. It’s sweetest at the bottom. He returns to the table to see me blinking back tears again. “It’s going to be okay. We need to look forward, in the same direction, together,” he says. I nod, get up from the table, and take his offered hand. It feels familiar and comforting in mine, our wedding rings fitting together. Fingers intertwined, we walk out into the morning, together, in the same direction.

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  • Butternut B

    I find that this story panics me. I need to know because I can’t tell, are they splitting or staying? Are they talking about splitting, but working together, or are they parting ways.. I thought that thoughts like that occasionally is normal. But they both know best, about their relationship.


    • clairekfromtheuk

      I take it to mean that they’re parting ways but in agreement that that is the right thing to do and that they should still care for each other while they do it.

      Yes, the first year is hard, I’m in my second first year, the first one was a killer, this one is a million times easier but I still occasionally have thoughts about the ship that didn’t sail (to borrow from a previous post!)

    • It does lead you to wonder if saying these things out loud, expressing each of their fears, the same fears, that they will take the risk of staying.

      Like Meg said on facebook, “So today—is this a divorce post or not? The staff has a split opinion. But no split opinion on it being beautiful writing. —Meg”

      I think they stay. At least for now. I’m looking forward to reading this discussion.

    • Alyssa M

      It panics me too… but if i had to venture a guess… I’d say the author is probably right there with us too… panicking and unsure where they’re going from there… although leaving AND looking in the same direction sounds like they are both walking away from the relationship…

    • emilyg25

      I took it to mean they’re acknowledging that it’s very hard, but they’re going to try to work through it and stay together. But I also think the uncertainty makes the post so poignant, because really, we never do know.

      • Crushed Violets

        ….”we never do know”. This is the one. Life is not certainty. Life is change and change is uncertain by it’s very nature.

        My life has surprised me in huge, crater-sized ways. I still wish for certainty, for a guarantee, but I know that the more I accept the true unpredictability of life the stronger and more confident I become.

    • Meg Keene

      IT’S UNCLEAR. That’s probably the best part of the post. The staff was split 50/50 on what we thought was happening, and that’s good writing.

      Thoughts like this are normal. But honestly? So is splitting up. Good couples split up all the time.

      • Violet

        Yes! I love the ambiguity, actually. It helps me focus in on what the author is *feeling,* as opposed to doing. Many people can share this feeling and choose to act in any number of ways, depending on what’s right for the couple.

      • lady brett

        yes, that was the best part in my mind (of an overall beautiful piece).

        this was also stunningly familiar – not of my marriage, but it could nearly have been written of how my other long-term relationship ended, or began to end.

      • BreckW

        I think this is what I like best about it. One of my goals for 2014 is to become more comfortable with having some uncertainty/unknowns in my life, so it’s nice to see other people appreciating the ambiguity, as well.

      • MTM

        “And it’s here, as we split our breakfast and talk openly about an end, that I am reminded of how we care for each other.”
        AN end, not THE end. At least there’s some hope of something different.

  • Aly

    Ahh, so honest. Love it. I think the first year can be so hard because you’re so full of expectations and hopes. I also think most married people have those fleeting what-if-I-left thoughts, as well as the not so fleeting ones. The more we talk about all of these hard, hushed parts of marriage, relationships, and life, the more we’ll get away from the Facebookified versions of them which oppress us all.

  • Margi

    This is beautiful and heartbreaking and oh so timely. My boyfriend and I just ended our relationship of 6 years right before Thanksgiving. The break up has revealed so much about him that I didn’t know (or didn’t want to believe) and confirms that there is no way that i can stay with this man who I imagined the rest of my life with. I wish we could have handled the end of our relationship with grace and maturity.

    • macrain

      Big big hugs to you. XO.

    • Winny the Elephant

      lots of love to you Margi <3

  • LL

    “Is this what our life is going to be?”

    Every time, during the worst of times.

  • Tory

    Oh this hit like a ton of bricks as I work through the break up of my 14 year relationship. The break up was “good” in the “we’re still talking, no yelling, yes we’ll be friends” way. Because we still loved, cared about, and respected each other.

    So hard, so very hard to leave when you still care, but know that it’s just over.

  • Lauren

    My fiance and I are getting married in March, and a few months ago we had a talk/fight similar to this. We both admitted that we had thoughts of leaving, but both agreed ultimately that we cared for each other and wanted to stay in the relationship.
    That is such a beautiful way of expressing just how it feels to harbor doubts, but know ultimately that you both want similar things in life and want to do those things with the other person. It’s very refreshing to hear this perspective from another person.
    Props to the writer for making me cry first thing in the morning. :)

  • Emma Klues

    Wow! Excellent.

  • All I can think of when I read this is, “have they
    tried counseling?”

    I feel lucky I already knew the extreme benefits of therapy and that I insisted
    we spend the year before our marriage in therapy together. I’m even gladder
    I have a husband who understands that sometimes we need help figuring out how
    to do this thing called marriage. I feel incredibly lucky to have a husband willing to change as I am willing to change to make each others lives better. I hope the couple in this story gets
    help from somewhere.

  • Grace

    Wow, thank you for such an honest post. I love that APW represents the less glossy sides of marriage. I have to ask though, as somebody who is pre-engaged to a partner of (almost!) 5 years looking to get married next year, in what ways did marriage change your relationship? I have heard it said before that for couples who have had more time together before marriage that the transition can be difficult so I would love to hear more about this, whatever the outcome was.

    • Alyssa M

      I would love to hear more about this, not just from the author, but from all of you married APW readers…

      • jhs

        Me too. My fiance and I have been together for over five years, and known each other for twelve. A lot of me feels like this means nothing is going to change once we get married because our lives will be the same, but has anyone found the transition difficult after being together for a really long time?

        • Winny the Elephant

          I find the prospect really scary. When I hear people talking about marriage ruining the relationship, all I can think is am I doing something horribly wrong by disturbing the status quo?

          • Alyssa M

            SAME HERE. I love the idea of committing my life to him. Of being his wife. I’m not afraid of losing myself, or that we’re not right together, or of how long till death do us part really means… but then I hear people talking about marriage changing things… and ruining the relationship. After reading this, I came home from work and cried at him, I can’t stand the idea that by marrying him, I could lose him.

          • Grace

            This pretty much perfectly sums up my fears and feelings. We do our best to talk, talk, talk about everything, big and small. We live together and talk about money, marriage, children, where we want to live, what kind of life we want to have. We compromise all the time but we seem to be heading in the same direction. I suppose it’s scary to imagine that after all of that, it’s still perfectly possible that the whole thing could break down. I guess that’s why marriage is a leap of faith.

          • Amber

            I’m going to guess the issues in the OP’s relationship were there before they got married. The way he says he’s worried about how she’ll cope sends up big red flags to me.

          • EmLeMat

            I don’t think it’s right to speculate about the details of OP’s relationship, because the truth is that we just don’t know. Moreover, looking for red flags misses what’s so beautiful about this piece. The fundamentally terrifying thing about marriage — any marriage — is that you are committing yourself not only to the person your partner is today, but to all the ways they will grow and evolve in the future. You cannot possibly know every detail of what you’ve signed up for beforehand — or even after five years, or ten. But to face the hard things and the changes together, with love — to acknowledge that someday the loving thing to do may be to walk away — I think that is something to aspire to.

          • EmLeMat

            It felt different to me, especially *right* after we got married — but it wasn’t a change that felt like everything was ruined, or different. It just felt more intense, somehow — with even more joyful highs, and even more terrifying lows.

        • Amber

          It’s OK if nothing changes. We were together for almost 3 years before we got married and I don’t feel anything has changed.We’re just us, just like before, just like now. We lived together before we got married and we didn’t have much issues there, even though we had been dating long-distance before moving in.

          We are very similar on a lot of the big things: religion, political ideas, feminism, not wanting kids, so I’m sure that helps.

      • Parsley

        This is, of course, just my experience, but since you asked… My wife and I were together for 5 years before we got married. We have now been married for a year and a bit. For us, the hard part was right at the very beginning. I totally freaked out right after our wedding – like that night and the next day – about what this would all mean, and we had some tough moments on our honeymoon. (We also had, mostly, a really wonderful time together that week.) Since then, I’ve calmed back down, and life has gone on. For me, and I think for my wife, being married has let us relax a bit. Though as this post reminds us, having gotten married is not really an irrevocable decision, for us, it feels like the decision about being together has been made, and so we can let that rest. Sometimes that is a very good thing, as it has taken some of the feeling of uncertainty out of our relationship. Other times, it gets in our way when we forget to keep courting each other. But overall, I would say that we are closer post-marriage.

        I would also totally put in a plug for counseling. We were in counseling together for a few years before and right after our wedding. It was great for us to have a neutral third party help us learn how to be more loving with each other in disagreement, and help us learn to listen to each other better. It also helped us navigate the places where we really do or see things very differently, the ways we will always be different. Having been in counseling before, it is always on the table if one or the other of us thinks we need it again. In fact, we have an agreement that if one of us asks to go back, the other will participate. I say this not to be judgmental of anyone who decides this isn’t right for them, or who needs to leave a relationship before/without counseling. But for us, it has been hugely helpful.

        • NicoleT

          Do you think you would recommend an online counseling course, or was in person really the best? I’ve heard excellent things about pre- and post-wedding counseling, and I’m certainly doing it, but I just have to decide which one!

      • Violet

        Not to say things might change after marriage for some people; I’m not denying that for some people it does. My own experience was we got married after 8 years of dating. For me, it didn’t feel like anything changed at all. My partner said the relationship felt different to him, but better. My $.02.

      • LM

        I’ve been married for 9 months after 4 years of dating. In the first couple months, I sometimes felt a stronger need to negotiate household chores, etc because if I didn’t then we would be stuck in our current roles FOREVER. Similarly, if we had disagreements or arguments, I would, again, wonder if this was some terrible sign. I think a lot of that had to do with feeling like being a newlywed is supposed to be such bliss and that doesn’t leave much space for navigating new roles. We also changed in that what had been “future plans” (kids, house, etc) began to feel more immediate and felt more comfortable to discuss. Overall, marriage has seemed mostly the same to me (and our day to day is basically the same), but with these slight emotional differences.

        • Grace

          I definitely feel like this! Obviously we aren’t married yet but we’ve definitely both been thinking of ourselves as basically being married, and this has caused some seriously heated discussions about dishes and groceries. Everything becomes a bigger deal when you start thinking it’s forever.

      • Meaghan

        We’ve been married a year and a half (after 7 years of dating), and for us, there was no real change.

        • La

          Same here. We had already been together and lived together for years and years and we have now been married a year: no difference.

        • Alyssa M

          This whole thread has really helped me a lot. Most of the ways people say it changed are issues we’ve already faced and come through in the last 8 years together and 3 years living together. It’s also really cemented my desire to do premarital counseling. I feel like that will help us manage through anything else that comes up.

      • clairekfromtheuk

        First time around we were together for 8 and married for just over 1. Ultimately it didn’t work out because we were no longer right for each other but this wasn’t aided by two things 1) we hardly talked about the big things thinking we didn’t need to because we’d lived together the whole time we were a couple (and when we did I usually ended up crying – bad sign much?!?)
        and 2) to use Maddie’s analogy, I felt like as soon as we were married I was suddenly in the passenger seat with NO CONTROL over what our destination was and knowing that it wasn’t where I wanted to go.

        This time, started dating June ’12, engaged March ’13, married Nov ’13 and its marvellous :)

      • Alyssa

        Dated for 9 years, married for over 2. We went into marriage expecting little to change, and to some extent we were right…but especially for the first few months, we were shocked at how ecstatic we were. 3 months into marriage, his father died unexpectedly, and that surprising excitement was shoved aside, but we were all the more grateful that we were getting through this together as family (not that we wouldn’t have before, but it’s easier to publicly grieve together when your relationship is legally and socially recognized).

        Now, marriage is just really really nice, a real comfort as we grapple with all the crazy changes and questions that come with life.

    • Brigid

      My husband and I were married a little over a month ago, shortly prior to our 8th anniversary. For us, the biggest transition wasn’t in getting married, but actually when we started living together, which was about 6 months before our wedding. It was pretty challenging, and I’m glad we had some time to work on the issues that came up without having the stress of feeling like it was a “bad” way for our marriage to start or some sort of omen. I don’t think it would have derailed our marriage per se, but it ended up being the right decision for us.
      Of course, we haven’t been married very long so there could be some “changes” to come, but before our wedding (especially once we had worked through some of the challenges that arose after we started cohabitating) we talked. about. everything. We talked about how we felt going into the marriage, and what we wanted our marriage to look like. We spoke about where we wanted to make individual improvements and what elements of our relationship we wanted to prioritize. I always think talking to your partner is a good thing, but especially to manage your expectations.

    • I think the thing a lot of people forget about any relationship is that no matter how long you’ve been together, if you haven’t talked through the big stuff (and APW is rife with great articles and posts on what the big stuff should be) then you’ve got the real potential to have a rough first year(s). I don’t believe I am alone in knowing I was supposed to talk to my husband about stuff before we got married, and yet still didn’t do it. I wasn’t capable. In some ways it took getting married for me to feel safe enough to talk about certain things.

      And honestly talking through the big stuff, doesn’t mean when the big stuff actually happens, you’re both going to handle it well. But I think those core conversations, with clear agreements or compromises are necessary for a good marriage. Some of us have them before the wedding and maybe they save themselves from a bad first year. Some if us can’t have them until after the wedding and that can make for a first year of marriage with more turmoil. I have to believe though, that we’ll be happier in the long run, having had a rough first year or three than to hit a wall 7 years in when there are (hopefully) kids and other complications. We’re learning the skills now to get through the tough stuff and we’ll be glad of them the rest of our lives. At least that’s what I think.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      We dated for about a year and had an engagement of over a year, and lived together (secretly) for about 5 months before marriage. We’ve been married about 14 months now, and I’d say the hardest thing has been dealing with the responsibilities – me to him and him to me.

      Now, when he gets sick, I have to take care of him and pay his medical bills. There’s no negotiating that. I choose to be dependent on him to handle our investments, because he’s an investment banker, but handing over control and watching him procrastinate is super-hard. Our combined finances are somehow at least 3x more complicated than my finances as a single person. I worry about losing my job and letting him down; about having a bad day and bringing him down. I get frustrated when he doesn’t take care of himself physically, because I feel that burden will fall almost as much on me as on him. I have nightmares about both treating and not treating my sexual dysfunction.

      • Grace

        Yeah, I think the thing I’m still learning is that we’re different people (duh!), and therefore the way we handle situations is very different. He likes to think about things when they become a problem, I prefer to act BEFORE there’s a problem. Sometimes I have to physically retrain myself from interfering in tasks he says he’ll take care of just because I would have done it already. There is a big acceptance part in long term relationships, there’s no point in me going into marriage thinking he will be different. He won’t, and that’s fine, but it will still probably drive me crazy sometimes.

      • Meg Keene

        Ooooo! I want a post about living together secretly.

    • Anon

      We dated 9 years and have been married now for 6 months. I was very nervous about marriage and let that translate into stress leading up to the wedding. Afterwards, I was completely surprised to find that my relationship did feel different, but in the most empowering way. Since my wedding, I’ve felt more secure and settled into my relationship than I ever have before; it has allowed us to open ourselves up to really big and scary things which are hard, but are taking our relationship to an even more amazing place. So for me, the first year is wonderfully hard in the best of ways!

      • EmLeMat

        Yes. This. *SO* well articulated.

    • Jennie

      Of course, I can only speak from my personal experience. We were together for six years before marriage, lived together for four of those years. Our relationship didn’t change at all when we got married. We worked a lot of the how-are-we-going-to-live-together stuff out the first year we lived together and we talked about marriage and knew that’s where we were headed for several years before we actually got married. Because of all of that, we mentally had the commitment of marriage before we were married and we thought of our wedding as a big party with our friends & family to celebrate our relationship. I know it isn’t that way for all relationships though!

      • Alyssa M

        This is a lot like my relationship. Really, we’ve been privately committed to forever since we moved in three years ago. I don’t see any reason why anything would change… but then everyone keeps saying it does…

        • Shiri

          We were like that – we’d been committed since we moved in (and really, before) and lived together for four years before getting married. But still, being married was different. I wouldn’t say it changed it so much as it intensified it.

    • Caro

      My partner and I have been together almost 10 years and have been married since 2011. For me, the difference of being married has been palpable and wonderful. Like fuck yeah, we’re in this for life. We didn’t experience any of the first year rough patches that a lot of people seem to. I attribute this to the fact that we weathered some big BIG scary things before getting married that solidified our relationship (death of a family member, mental illness of a family member, his bad cycling accident, my surviving a violent crime). Navigating those things forced us to get on the same page about family, stress, money, loss, recovery, sacrifice, and taking turns being the needing/needy partner.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      I’ve been thinking about this for a while this morning, and the way it changed for us (dated for six years, married for five) was less in the way we were living our day to days, but more in the way we perceive our future. I usually offer up an analogy to anyone who asks that its’s sort of like we were driving in two separate cars, going in the same direction, and now we’re in the same car. In both scenarios, you’re still headed to the same place, but in the latter, you’re REALLY headed to the same place. And we’ve had to become much more respectful of that. Some people, I think, make that mental transition before marriage and others don’t. I thought we had, but we really hadn’t.

      • sfw

        This analogy, Maddie, this! As we have struggled through the first year of marriage, I have thought to myself “I used to be the driver of my life and now? Now sometimes I feel like I’m stuck sitting in the back seat.” Turns out sharing one car is hard.

        • Maddie Eisenhart

          It was by far the hardest adjustment for us, because I had been sort of unconsciously holding onto this idea that I still had “my” life ahead of me, and it’s definitely now “our life.” In many many ways, that’s been the most amazing adjustment, because I would not be able to do lots of the “me” things that I do without an “us,” but at the same time, having to give a shit about someone else’s wants and needs as much as you do when you’re sharing a car, can be hard.

          • ZS

            Yes, this! I really, really don’t want to move away from our home, my job, and my family, but I married this woman knowing that the academic job market is awful and we were likely to have to move. I still dread this, and I am far less excited about any interviews she may get than I should be, but we’re in the same car. If she gets a job, we will move.

          • sfw

            When I shared your perspective with my husband last night, his response was “hmmm, you think you’re holding onto that ‘my’ life idea too?” Thank you for giving us a gentle way into thinking together about some very important things.

      • Jemma Q

        Brilliant analogy. My husband and I had been together for 13 1/2 years before we got married 18 months ago. The change was subtle, but definitely for the better. Don’t believe all the doom-sayers who keep banging on about “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and seem to rejoice in telling you about all the couples who were together for ages until they got married. Those people are not you.

    • Señorita

      My now husband and I were together for exactly 4 years before we got married. To be honest, the thing that changed the most after the wedding was sexy fun times. Although it took us about a week to get around to it, it was like suddenly, the decades we had to perfect our dance moves stretched out in front of me and all of that silly inhibition went out the window

  • BreckW

    This is so beautifully written and incredibly heartbreaking. Whatever the two of you decide, you’ll be OK. Lots of love to you and your partner, Anonymous.

  • macrain

    Just beautiful and so honest. Love love love.

    On Facebook Meg mentioned they had been holding on to this piece for a while. If that is the case, I wonder if the author would consider doing a follow up piece. I think we all benefit from something like that. (And in reading the author’s conflicting feelings, I will admit I’m simply curious as to what happened.)
    Thank you for sharing!

  • NW

    This article hit really close to my heart, my husband and I are nearing the 6 month mark and it hasn’t been easy. Thank you so much for this honest article.

    • i don’t think it’s easy for anyone – and it needs to be normalized! thank you APW!

      • Violet

        I totally agree with you, Catherine. Marriage is sharing your life with someone. Life is not easy. So why would life with someone else be easy?

        • Yes! I mean, what could be harder than sharing your most vulnerable parts with someone? living in a state of constant sharing, it truly teaches you about yourself, about real love, about your projections..it’s like marrying a giant mirror if you ask me. once the infatuation cloud feelings fade, you’re left having to deal with yourself. that, to me, is the real work!

      • Amanda

        I just have to chime in here. It IS easy for some – the first year. It was for us. It hurts my heart to so often hear that the first year is so difficult, because this isn’t always the case.

  • Rachelle

    Those conversations about whether we should stay together or split up can be so difficult, so gut-wrenching, so terrifying and sad. But sometimes you need to have them in order to get to a new, healthier, more honest place in a relationship – having those conversations doesn’t always mean the relationship is over. I’ve been there, my husband and I decided to stay together, and we’ve had a richer relationship since then because we always put everything on the table now – no matter how painful or scary it is. A beautifully written piece to remind me of this today <3

  • This was absolutely beautiful. I love this.

  • Amy

    I cannot thank you enough for sharing this with us, dear Anonymous. You’ve written something so beautiful and uncertain and honest and I just want to hug you and thank you from the very bottom of my heart.

    I’m five days away from packing my things and moving across the state to finally, finally live with my fiance — we’ve been long distance for the last five years. As excited as I am, as much as I’m looking forward to finally being able start our lives together, I am also terrified to the tips of my toes. What if, after everything that we’ve been through, we don’t work out? How do you know how many disagreements are “normal” versus when they’re a sign of a bigger underlying problem? How do you even bring yourself to face the thought that the person you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with might not be right for you after all?

    It’s hard to begin to express these feelings to even my very closest friends; they’re dismissed as simply nerves and I’m told that everything will be fine, not to worry, it will all work out. And, yes, they are possibly right, but marriage and partnerships are hard, and why don’t we ever get to talk about it? Why do we speak about marital problems in hushed tones and whispers, why is therapy such a dirty word, why can’t we all just be honest with each other for once?

    Ugh, heavy thinking for a Tuesday morning before my tea. If I could switch that part of my brain off this week, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Thanks for listening, lovelies.

    • MC

      I can’t speak for everyone, but this past year I moved in with my fiance also after YEARS of long-distance, and it was both way easier and way harder than I expected. The devil’s advocate part of me that was expecting it to be an excruciating failure was pleasantly surprised, because really it was great to finally be in the same space, to physically be sharing our lives, to see each other every day. But the too-idealistic part of me that was expecting everything to be perfect was severely disappointed. After so many years in a relationship, I was hoping that we’d already gotten the tough stuff out of the way, but we did (and do) still have a lot to work out.

      What helps is always remembering that we chose to be together, and making that choice over and over again during the hard moments, when we’re knee-deep in arguments. I often check in with myself, like “I know this seems impossibly hard, but is it still worth it? Is this relationship still good for me?” And the answer has always been yes.

      Hope that helps some. Good luck with your move!!

      • Amy

        Thank you! You are so right — part of me is expecting the worst, the other part of me is hoping for the best, but really I need to acknowledge and accept that it won’t be either of those things, it WILL be somewhere in the middle, both with highs and lows.

        “Is it worth it?” is one of those questions I’ve been asking myself for years of the long distance, and I can’t forget that it’s still a valid question just because we’re living in the same zip code. Thank you for reminding me! :)

    • just wanted to reach out :) i agree with what you said here, and i think a bigger problem (that you touched on) is the false expectations that we absorb through the media/whatpeoplewillorwonttalkabout/the image that’s portrayed about love and relationships. i try to look at every struggle with my partner as an opportunity for growth. because, as you said, it’s so rarely talked about (except places like APW or therapy!) i feel like it breeds so much anxiety because people think something is wrong with them, wrong with their relationship if they question or have doubt or struggle – when really, we’re human and there will always be shadow that accompanies light.

      • Amy

        Thank you so, so much. Like you said, gotta remember to take the good with the bad, because there will be both, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing itself. I’m just going to start tacking notes to my wall with gentle reminders to myself.

        • Yes and I am learning so much about how destructive that “good/bad” thinking truly is. When I reframe my mind to think “what is this bringing up for me? why is this triggering me? what is being asked of ME?” it really changes the game. To simply get out of your head and get on your partner’s level is humbling (for me). It’s really all about communication and extending yourself and working to stay open and vulnerable and to not put up walls. At the end of the day, if my partner is loving towards me, pretty much anything else in my own head is projection and has way more to do with me than anything else. I feel like if we could all just take off the mask of self-protection, and see through the lens of unconditional love, and sit in the scary vulnerability, all of our relationship problems wouldn’t be problems anymore.

          • Amy

            Projection is a HUGE thing that I’ve been working to get past in my therapy sessions. I am definitely going to keep your kind words and advice in mind as my mister and I face this new challenge together.

            Really, thanks again, so much. It’s relieving to know that we’re not alone facing issues by ourselves; if we really do open up we’ll usually learn that someone has navigated the same sort of things.

      • FutureMrsZebra

        Oh gosh! I was really beginning to think I was an awful person for having doubts… I have anxiety about a great many things, and often have to just cry my heart out before I can actually verbalize anything. To realize that so many people have or have had the same doubts and struggles makes me cry happy tears! :-)

        • Amy

          Crying is my body’s primary reaction to my anxiety. I’ve been doing a lot of it lately, and I quite literally cannot even get words out until I get through some tears. So, you’re in good company. ;)

  • anon

    At 8 months married, my husband and I are having a really hard first year–made even harder, in some ways, by the fact that there’s more love everyday, and not just more fighting. Beautifully captured. Its so nice not to feel alone in the hardness.

    • Jess

      “nice not to feel alone in the hardness.” Yup.

    • anon2

      My husband and I have been married 2 1/2 years, and nearly every day I still feel this ambivalence. Do I stay, do I go? Which set of problems and pain is better? I’m nearly certain that It’s all my fault and m I just should have never tried being partnered.

  • Sarah E

    One thing the author mentioned that I think is a constant gray area is the idea of knowing or now knowing your partner. I can see so many shades of both positive and negative there: How boring to know absolutely everything about him, I want to keep getting to know him the rest of my life, But I know the core of who he his, which is why I trust him, or do I only think I know? Is that the important part, to know his values and priorities and keep learning the rest? Or like the author said, are the different means to achieve them too much an obstacle?

    I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer, or a quippy generality to make. But it certainly is an idea to sit with and mull over.

  • Sara P

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I really needed this today.

  • Winny the Elephant

    What a beautiful post. I went through all of these emotions when the fiancé and I broke up about 4 years ago, one year into our relationship. We got back together after only three months apart but it was still so gut wrenching. The decision to break up was mine and it was an incredibly difficult one to make. I kept thinking “am I really going to do this?” “Who will take the couch?” “Who keeps the dog?” “This means I’ll never see his family again”. Ultimately I learned that we were better together and we worked on our issues (and some of them, particularly the money issues, have been resolved).

    I would love a follow up piece from this author. Sometimes I still catch myself thinking, “I don’t know if this is working” and honestly sometimes just imaging the pain and stress of dismantling our life together is what keeps those thoughts from turning into action. Is that a good thing? I’m not sure…

    • FutureMrsZebra

      I am just over 6 months away from our wedding, and catch myself wondering, “I don’t know if this is working.” I’m fearful that, in the end, for whatever reason, it won’t work out… We don’t currently live together, and we haven’t decided on when that will happen. We have conversations about “stuff,” but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere sometimes. Whenever I think about whether or not we’ll work out, I do also think about how terrible it would be to dismantle the life we do currently have together. It would be really painful, and highly stressful, and I don’t know that I would be able to function normally in life if that were to happen, and thinking of going through all of that does make me dismiss the thought.
      I have also wondered if this is a good thing or not…

    • Jen

      Honestly, before I got married I had the same fears. My husband and I were together almost 5 years before we got married and we are always communicating, but I still had this nervous feeling in the back of my mind that something wasn’t quite right. I always dispelled this fear as just nerves but I think part of the reason I did that was because I was scared of what would happen if we did break up. Now, after being married I realize that all of that really was nerves. I am solidified in my commitment and honestly I think only marriage could have done that for me. I think I always had this fear that something would happen, that he would leave or something but after publicly declaring our vows I was sure. I wouldn’t recommend this method to everyone, but I know that I am a naturally nervous person and doubtful person so it was the only thing that made it a sure thing for me.

  • hey anony-nony

    This article does make me panic a little. Everyone talks about the first year of marriage being hard… we are only three months into our marriage, but the last 12 months in general have been really hard on us, mostly due to outside forces we can’t control, but it’s also partly our own faults. We desperately hope this next year will bring us some peace, but the thought does occur to me – is this what our life is going to be? It’s not a strong enough thought to make me consider leaving, but it does unsettle me.

    • just wanted to reach out and reassure you that its all normal…im no expert or anything, but i do read a lot about marriage and psychology and other peoples’ experiences. the idea that you are supposed to feel in love and blissed out all the time is just rubbish. and how would you grow without struggle?

    • Sarah E

      I think it’s easy to take a relationship outside the context of regular life. My first year out of college was really rough, I lived at home, away from my partner, and was largely depressed. However, that’s not what all my post-college life is. Had I looked at the first year as a “real adult” as “this is what my adult life is going to be,” I would have panicked, too. It has taken me some time to work out of that year-long funk, but there is so much more life to live than one year setting the pattern for forever.

    • Elemjay

      Hi we’ve been married for 5 years now and I never felt the “first year is hard” thing at all. I think it’s just one of these cliches that people trot out like “your life is over once the baby arrives” which isn’t necessarily true or at least not for everyone. Don’t worry about it in advance would be my suggestion!

  • Krista

    Beautifully written. Thanks so much for sharing. I know that our first year of marriage was our worst one yet, and we’ve been together for almost 16. It was like our expectations shifted, both of each other and of ourselves, and how we needed to treat the other.

    • Kelly

      Krista, you hit something on the head for me – and that is the shifting of expectations. Our wedding is in four months, and we have struggled at times during our engagement (mostly with allocation of household responsibilities, vast difference in working hours between us, etc.). I am beginning to see that the struggle is at least partly due to my shifting of expectations from us as a couple in a relationship to a “permanent” relationship.” I now view him more fully as my partner, and in my mind, I had expected him to be more engaged in the success of our home. Glad I will be better able to articulate this to him in the future, and lead to better conversation of our expectations of ourselves and each other now and after the wedding.

  • Diane

    Great piece. I’d also love to see a follow up from the author to see what they decided to do next.

    Marriage is just hard. The expectation that you’re always going to get along with this person that you are constantly with is kind of crazy when you think about it. We’ve been married for a year and a half now and I was recently having some thoughts like this. Then we got into a huge fight which helped us sort some stuff out and things have been better since then. Sometimes all you need is a chance to hash stuff out.

  • KC

    This is beautifully written.

    (I would note that I think it’s more possible, over the long term, for a couple to navigate “same priorities, different native techniques for getting there” than “different priorities, same techniques for getting there”. If, say, you’re both starting in NYC and he’s headed to Seattle and she’s headed to LA, you can road-trip together a huge part of the way there; you could take a train part of the way there; you could bike, or hitchhike, or walk, and each of those “transportation” decisions could be totally in unison. But at the end of the road, you can’t live together full time in both Seattle and LA (although you can alternate or spend weekends together or something). I guess, it’s easier to have bickered about the transportation decisions up front than to compromise on the usually-more-loaded-and-more-solid final-goal options; “we want to save money, but approach that differently” is usually easier than “I want to save money and he doesn’t, but he often buys the generic brand of things anyway” or whatever. The only exception to this that I’ve seen is when one partner considers the other partner’s method of getting to the goal completely delusional… and even then, it’s seasoned by “but we’re still *trying* to get to the same place”.)(not that you feel this warm-and-fuzzy way during arguments about it, necessarily. But it feels like the arguments are more “we’re on the same team and disagree on which play would work in this case, sometimes… dramatically” vs. “we’re not even shooting for the same goal at all”.)

  • Oh geez. Tears. this is gorgeous and one of my favorite posts. I know I’m supposed to remain neutral and just observe this but i really hope you two work it out – because in my head as I was reading this I was like “finally! a realistic post about the work of marriage and maintaining a relationship” two people taking responsibility for themselves. it wasn’t until the end that i worried this was a break-up story. i had thought it was about the normal doubt and fear and struggle that comes with marriage, the constant growth and learning experience, the rewarding challenge. but regardless of what this post is , to you, the writer, i loved it .

  • Dorian

    I love this piece. The writing, the reflection. Well done and best wishes for strength no matter what direction the journey takes you.

  • EmLeMat

    OP, I really hope we hear more from you — not because I feel it’s my business to know where you two have landed, but because your writing is delicious. moar, plz?

  • Lizzie

    I love this so much–the honesty of the telling, the tenderness wrapped up in admitting the doubts, all of it.

  • MC

    This article is beautifully written and honest, AND the great discussion in the comments has motivated me to call the counselor we got a recommendation for TODAY. I’ve been putting it off for some unknown reason and I don’t want to put it off anymore.

  • erinzorz

    Such a beautiful piece, so honest and true. This happened to my marriage, just under a year in, after 7 years of dating, and unfortunately was the heart ripping end to what we both at one point thought was a strong and surviving relationship. The fact that you can be so open and honest with it is very refreshing, while looking towards a future together is promising. You’ll get past it. I wish you so much love and luck with this, as I would not wish my heartbreak of the opposite outcome, on anyone.

  • June

    My favorite line: “As he pays for breakfast, I drain my coffee. It’s sweetest at the bottom.” Thank you for this beautiful, honest piece.

  • So, I just want to say that I really like the fact that this couple is talking to each other honestly about their feelings. And that they are actually aware of their feelings. I was left with no warning whatsoever by my (now ex) husband who was unaware he was unhappy (well, until he met his gf). And not having had any fights or discussions of any unhappiness, etc., (actually more of the opposite) created some major cognitive dissonance for me. So I really appreciate the couple’s emotional awareness and choice to honestly share with each other.

  • Jen

    I went through most of my doubting the few months before the wedding. Most of this was just an icky feeling of: is this right? I think that all of that doubting really helped me because it made me seek out resources for talking about my doubts. Even then though, I wasn’t sure until I got married that this marriage was right for me. A few months ago, an article like this would have really scared me, but now I just ache for this person who is filled with uncertainty. I hope they find their happiness!

  • Laura

    Love how this brings to light all the grey in relationships. Mainstream idea tends to vilify one partner or the other, or depicts the situation in black and white. Bring on the divorce-ish posts, APW.

  • yes, i guess doubts is a natural part of the wedding and marriage process!

  • Suz

    This is beautiful.
    For years I had that thought – while driving or brushing my teeth or getting up from my desk at work to go to lunch – I could just leave. I have half a tank of gas (usually all I could afford to put in the car) and that could get me to XYZ place. I could start a life there. It could be different. I could be different.

    I thought I was alone in having those thoughts. I don’t have those thoughts anymore. It took a while before I realized that I no longer had them. I’m a little worried that after I get married this summer (to a wonderful woman that I’ve been in love with for 7 years) that I’ll have those thoughts again. It’s nice to think that I could have those thoughts and work through them.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Julia

    I love, love, love this piece. So honest and true and so beautifully written. We’ve been married for just under a year and together for almost five years now, and one of the things I’ve discovered that no one told me about is just how cyclical love is. There have been patches where I can feel us growing bored and tired of each other, when we communicate only in mono-syllables because anything more would just become a fight. Only to be followed by times when it feels like new love all over again, and we can’t keep our hands off each other and we lose whole weekends in bed. It’s almost like ocean waves – the good, the bad, the good again.

    So now, whenever it seems like all we can do is squabble and I wonder what I ever saw in him, I remind myself just to breathe and wait it out. The love comes back.