The Fight That Made Me Question Everything About My Marriage

When all you can hope is that the dark brings you to the light

man and woman sitting together on curb

We were just a few months into our marriage, and I found myself curled up in bed with tears trickling down my face, thinking, “I want to go home.” But then I realized I was home. In our home—the one my husband and I bought together with bright smiles, excitement, and all the hope our young bodies could contain.

Are We A Mistake?

Even though I was only twenty-four when we got married, I wasn’t naive to the idea that marriage would be difficult—after all, most of the people in my life told me this journey would be challenging at times. I had heard all kinds of advice before we got married (“Don’t go to bed angry,” for example, and “Always assume the best of your spouse”). I thought I was prepared.

And maybe I was prepared for the “easy” stuff—I was prepared for when it came to arguments over who would do the dishes and vacuum the floors—but this? I was not prepared for this. This was something different, a feeling I had never experienced. It was a hopeless, sad sensation. It was heavy and overwhelming, like a dark cloud that wouldn’t let the light in.

I briefly considered leaving and making the hour-long drive to my mom’s house, but that felt wrong. No, as unpleasant as this was, I needed to stay. I didn’t know what was going to happen or if I would feel better that night; I just knew I couldn’t run from this.

If you asked me now, I’m not sure I even know what this was. Truth be told, I cannot for the life of me remember what my husband did or said that sparked such an intense reaction. I only remember the sadness and confusion and hopelessness, and the questions I couldn’t answer: What have I done? Was this a mistake? Are we a mistake?

Marriage Feels Like A Risky Endeavor

It sounds dramatic, but I’ve always believed marriage to be a risky endeavor—and I’m not typically a risk-taker. As a child, I watched my parents’ marriage dissolve into a puddle of pain and brokenness, and it just wasn’t something I wanted to recreate. While many of my peers couldn’t wait to plan elaborate weddings and buy white dresses, I saw the prospect of marriage as something terrifying that might take away my independence and ultimately crush me. Romantic, right? Throughout our engagement, I considered ways to avoid actually getting married and just be together, because, you know, I loved the guy. The idea of marriage was scary, but being with him was not.

I’m happy to report that we ended up making it through that night with our marriage intact. My husband came to me as I cried in bed and apologized, and I hugged him and said I was sorry too. In that moment, the hopelessness and fear slipped away, and I was left with peace. We were going to be okay.

I’ve looked back on that night many times, wondering why it’s something I bother recalling at all. It certainly isn’t a happy memory. And it wasn’t the last time we would fight, nor the last time I would question what the hell we were doing, if our marriage was serving us, and if we could make this thing work while remaining happy and whole. Somehow, this memory has stuck in my brain. It’s made a lasting impact, and it’s something I share with close friends when discussing marriage’s challenges and hardships.

Uncovering The Magic

I think this was the first time I got a glimpse of what marriage might really be, at least for me. It’s about knowing it could all fall apart, and that maybe it won’t always make sense or give me warm fuzzies, but it’s worth the gamble. This journey of marriage is worth the risk of divorce, pain, discomfort, tears, and sacrifices, because there’s another side that comes with some of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced. My marriage has resulted in deep connection and joy, and sometimes there’s no better comfort than knowing we are committed to navigating our way through this world together. It’s shown me a level of love I didn’t know was possible, which feels downright magical and other-worldly.

Marriage still hasn’t turned me into a gambler or a risk-seeker; on a recent trip to Las Vegas, I tried my luck at a few slot machines and gave up after losing about $20. Instead, marriage has shown me there are chances worth taking and there are people who are worth all of my proverbial chips, potential failure and heartbreak be damned.

You may argue that I could have experienced all of these wonderful things without a marriage certificate, and you might be right. But there’s a big part of me that wonders if I had to take the plunge into marriage’s deep and uncertain waters to uncover the magic. For me, choosing marriage was taking a deep breath and hoping I wouldn’t drown as I jumped in—knowing I would flounder and struggle and maybe even sink for a while, but believing that perhaps I could swim my way back to the surface and grab on to something, or someone, secure.

While I love the days when I feel as if we’re floating along in peaceful, calm waters, I know the waves that come crashing in with the storms have made and continue to make us stronger. Sometimes those waves are high, but despite my fear, I keep putting my faith in our ability to swim—to fight, persevere, and stay afloat—and we do.

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  • Elizabeth

    This is a very nice essay, but I wanted to react to the lines “I briefly considered leaving and making the hour-long drive to my mom’s house, but that felt wrong. No, as unpleasant as this was, I needed to stay.” I learned recently from my mother that in the first months of her parents’ marriage (so my grandparents), when they would get in a fight, my grandfather would drive my grandmother to the train station, where she would get on the train and go back to her mother. She’d spend a couple of days cooling off and then come back home to my grandfather. This happened a couple times, her packing up, my grandfather silently driving her to the train station after a big fight, and then her return, before her mother told her she couldn’t run back home anymore, and she had to sort it out with her husband.

    • Emily

      My nana told my mom, and my mom to me “This is always going to be your home, but only for a visit”. Occasionally I think you need to give in to that feeling of I Just Wanna Go Home, but for me, by dinner time I am usually ready to face the world again.

    • tr

      I’ve always envied people with parents who they can briefly go home to.
      I love my mom and dad, but honestly, they still don’t understand that marriage takes work. That’s why they have six marriages between them–whenever things get unpleasant, one of them leaves and never returns. Because of that, I never feel like I can go home when things are bad. I know if I did, they’d consider it proof that my relationship is irreparably broken. Instead, no matter how bad things are in a given moment, I have to put on a brave face and pretend that everything is sunshine and roses. In some ways, that’s always the worst part of fights for me–having to find a way to hide the fact that my heart is being ripped apart.

  • CharlotteJ

    Love this piece! My boyfriend and I aren’t married yet, but we have been together for over 4 years and we have had a few of those kinds of fights…but we always come out stronger for them :-) I look forward to what marriage holds, especially if your experience is an indication of how ours will be!

  • Mrrpaderp

    I love this piece. And I love APW for providing a safe space to express feelings like this. Everyone has moments of doubt born of frustration and exhaustion and anxiety about the future. It doesn’t mean your marriage is bad or that you’re a bad spouse. It means you’re human. The more people admit that sometimes marriage isn’t all roses and sunshine, the less guilt people, especially women, pile on top of some already complex emotions after a bad fight.

  • CMT

    I find myself saying “I want to go home” when I am home almost every day (although in my case it’s because of pretty much everything in my life *except* my relationship). It’s oddly comforting to know this happens to other people, too.

    • Jessica

      I find myself saying this when I’m very stressed out–I even said it when I was a teenager and was *literally* at home. To me, it really means “I want to be in bed, I want to feel safe, I want this feeling to go away, I want people to leave me alone.”

      It is very comforting to know it happens to other people too.

      • Violet

        My bad day automatic thought is almost always some variation of, “Why can’t they just leave me alone!?” with “they” being some indeterminate entity in the universe.

      • CMT

        Yep, definitely a stress thing. For me, I think I say it because I’m going through a lot of various transitions (although seriously it feels like that’s been happening for the last 3 years). When I say “I want to go home” I think what I really mean is “I want my life to feel like it’s in a semi-permanent state and not subject to upheaval at a moment’s notice”.

    • Eenie

      I would confuse friends when I was commuting to work but would occasionally crash at their place to save some time. I’d always say “I’m going home!” which could mean either making the drive to my parents’ house or staying in their spare bedroom. They had to ask: “Home home or our home?”

  • Lindsay

    thank you for writing this. our second year of marriage has been a difficult one, and i keep finding myself thinking “i knew it would be hard, but i didn’t know it would be so hard so soon”. but so it is, for us. i think i’ll be re-reading this essay often as a reminder to keep trying.

    • Jessica

      Our first year was really hard. We just had to keep trying & keep working to understand each other. Thankfully the second year has been better, but I am sure we’ll have hard years again.

      • Anon

        Also in the hard first year, easier (so far) second year camp. We had a very short meeting-to-marriage timeline, so sometimes I think that has to do with it. Also we are older so maybe more set in our ways and with more years of previous relationship trauma to work out.

  • This put into words some of what I hope for and want from my future marriage–the “why” of marriage. Thank you.

  • Alyssa Andrews

    Thank you for this! My fiance and I have been together for 6 1/2 years and are getting married next year, and we’ve had a number of these experiences (and I too, usually can’t remember exactly what they’re about, but my reaction is the sudden urge to “book it”. I always stay though). We’ve come out of these moments with a deeper, more intimate understanding of each other, and I think it’s made us more attuned to each other so while we still have these moments, I would say our relationship gets better and better every year precisely BECAUSE we get through it together.

  • driftless

    I love this piece so much, and always appreciate being reminded (often by APW) that my fears and frustrations and anxieties can be ones that other people live with too.

  • Violet

    I really relate to the scene of being crumpled up in a ball crying (though in my case, on the bathroom floor, so kudos on your most excellent choice of bed, Jessica). Crying because, how can it possibly be this bad? And yet, a few years later, I can’t even remember what it was about.
    It’s a mystery to me, how our relationship can be so magical and the source of the best feelings and experiences I’ve ever had, and also the source of my worst moments of despair. Odd.

    • SarahRose472

      My favorite spoken word poet, Andrea Gibson, has a poem that starts like this:

      You will never be let down by anyone
      The way you are let down by the one you love most in the world
      It’s how gravity works
      It’s why they call it “falling”

      I say that to myself in these dark moments.
      (If you want to hear the rest, the poet is Andrea Gibson, and the poem is called “Royal Heart”. You’ll find it on Youtube)

      • Violet

        Wow, she is so good. Thank you for sharing!

    • So…it’s usually not good to have fights in the bedroom (then you associate the bed with anger/frustration/sadness, rather than relaxation and sleep). I wonder if the same goes for crying? Maybe the bathroom floor is the better choice, at least for your sleep habits ;)

      • Violet

        Oh good point! I’m all about conditioning to associate the bedroom with sleep (and not work, or stress, or fights!). We apartment-dwellers have limited options for our crying breakdowns. ; )

  • JC

    “If you asked me now, I’m not sure I even know what *this* was.” This is the most truthful and most terrifying part of this essay, for me. I know I have had these moments– with my family, with my professors, etc. And I remember the aftermath, the huge wounds they created and the blessed (and sometimes not so blessed) process of healing from them. But I also don’t always remember what caused them, and that is a terrifying thing when looking forward to decades of a relationship. If I could predict what would cause the meltdown, I could do the hard work right now, while things are good, to make sure that they never happen. I would like to be able to predict the future and engineer it so that I can avoid that pain at all costs. But of course I can’t, of course those moments are going to happen, and of course they’ve happened before and I’ve come out ok. But I can’t be the only one who prays for just an ounce more control over the situation, just one little insight to lessen the impact.

    • Violet

      Oh, this is so interesting. I tend to take comfort in the randomness of the truly bad incidents in our relationship. To me, that the flare-ups are random is an indication that we don’t have some entrenched, capital “P” problem. But I can see the logic to your argument- that if they were not random, they could be predicted, and therefore, possibly prevented.

      • JC

        Oh that’s fascinating. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one of these “I want to go home” moments as being random. They always have some cause, and they usually have a net positive effect, even if the effect doesn’t come to fruition for a long time. That’s the other element of this that only just hit me– these moments (for me) don’t end quickly and smoothly, they cause great big, life-changing ripples. In the end, I am grateful for that, but it’s also not something I *look forward* to with relish, especially if it’s in relation to the person I love the most in the whole world.

        • Violet

          The causes of ours seem random to me, because there isn’t a pattern to them. We have our patterns and “regular” gripes/fights, sure. But those never prompt the big moments of “What have I done!? Did I marry a monster? Am *I* a monster!?” I definitely don’t look forward to those big, gut wrenching incidents, either. At all. But if they occurred with regularity or based off of a common theme, I’d be more worried about us long-term. If that makes any sense.

          • JC

            Yeah that absolutely makes sense. I do appreciate your sense that a recurring *big moment* speaks to a much larger pattern, and I’m taking solace in your earlier words that if that pattern isn’t there, then there isn’t a capital P Problem. That’s certainly the position we’re in (no capital P Problem, that is). To me, this essay is really about sitting in the moment during a big meltdown, and knowing that those are coming without having any kind of warning or the foresight to know how they will change me after they occur makes me deeply uncomfortable.

    • tr

      At least in my experience, those moments are usually the result of a perfect storm. I can’t necessarily recall *exactly* what sent things reeling into disaster, but more often than not, there were quite a few other stressors at play, often going on quietly below the surface.
      But again, there’s no way to engineer around that. Sometimes life IS already stressful and crappy, so you can’t really prevent those perfect storm conditions from forming.

  • Kay

    The second-to-last paragraph really resonates with me. We’ve been pre-engaged, engaged, and are now leaning against marriage for many reasons the author brings up. I’m hoping we can still have a deep and important journey together without marriage, but I’m still trying to figure out what that could look like. I’m glad APW makes space for the downs as well as the ups.

    • tr

      I like to think of marriage as being a little like an airline company locking itself into a certain fuel price for a set period of time–odds are, at some point, both parties to that contract are going to go through periods where they’re getting hosed. By the same token, though, usually both sides derive some real benefit from the agreement–that’s why such agreements exist in the first place.
      My fiance and I have been together for a decade. We’ve had some pretty crummy times. We’ve both gone through periods of clearly being the “better” one in the relationship, and we’ve both gone through periods of being grateful that the other one was willing to stick it out when we didn’t really deserve it. Averaged out, though, and the relationship has clearly been mutually beneficial. You can definitely have a deep and important journey together without marriage, but essentially, that’s what a marriage is–a contract that locks you both into things. It incentivizes you to stick around when things are crummy, but in turn, it also incentivizes your partner to stick around when you’re the crummy one. From a stability standpoint, that can actually be a really good thing. Or, you know, it can be horrible. Only you can decide if it’s right for you.

      • NolaJael

        This is both wonderfully unromantic and a great analogy. Love it.

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  • Lauren

    “…I know the waves that come crashing in with the storms have made and continue to make us stronger.”

    Do the storms in marriage really make us stronger? Or is this something people tell themselves so there’s a reason to keep moving forward?

    I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but I’ve been thinking about these things lately. I’ve been married for about 10 years now and I kind of feel like certain storms have made my relationship weaker. They’re the arguments/disagreements that have to do with the fundamentals of who we are (how our brains work). Those fights about the certain aspects of myself and my SO that have not and (I assume) will not change, like our reasoning skills. I want to figure out how to better deal with those storms.

    • Kelly

      Hi Lauren, I know how you feel. I am only a little over 2 years in, but we’re older… and I know that there are some things ‘that have to do with the fundamentals of who we are’ that could truly break us. How optimistic I feel about whether we’ll be stronger than that varies by where we are in our relationship (often the mental health of my SO). I guess that’s why “they” say you have to choose each other every day (or more days than not, at least).

  • Anon

    The first year of our marriage this happened to me frequently. In fact, as recently as 8 months ago I threatened to end our marriage. But this second year… it feels different. Better. More solid. We’re two people who never thought we’d get married, so finding ourselves here and then falling back into old PTSD induced relationship habits hasn’t been the easiest. We’re getting settled into it, better at being married. I’m looking forward to the rest of our years. Even knowing it’ll be hard and there will be times I’ll question everything all over again.