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How We’ve Managed To Keep Joy In Our Marriage With So Much Tragedy

Relationship secret shit

I recently started seeing a therapist. Actually, two, with marriage counseling… or three, if you count attending therapy with my kid. During this process I’ve gotten used to what I call the “fact recitation.” It’s the part where the therapist asks, “Why are you here?” and I take a deep breath and try to figure out where to even start.

Recently, I was introducing myself to a new therapist, and I got to the part where my Father-In-Law and my Grandmother died, three years ago, eleven days apart. She gasped, and said, “Well, I understand why you’d want to talk to someone.” At which point I was like, “Hold my beer.” And by the time I got to my Dad’s fall and Traumatic Brain Injury last summer, the poor woman—looking a little pale—asked, “Well, how is he doing now?” And I looked at her and said, “Dead. I’m sorry, did I not mention that? He’s dead.” I joke that you know it’s bad when therapists look absolutely flattened by the time you get to the end of your fact recitation.

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Suffice to say, we’ve had a really rough three years. We’ve had three major deaths, and when it comes to trauma, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Remember when the APW offices were robbed two back-to-back nights last year right after my dad’s death? Yeah, it’s been a fun ride.)

So when it came to making goals and resolutions for 2019, my goal was simply to do more fun things with David. I tend to be our social director, and I wanted to add more pure joy to the menu.

Those Were The Days

David and I got together fifteen years ago now. We were young (in retrospect, really young to be settling into a life partnership, at 23 and 24), living in New York City, and working in theatre. We were broke, but that didn’t stop us from doing fun stuff all of the time. Weird stuff too. There was the time we went to a production of a Hell House in a warehouse, when we were among the first people to drive a Zip Car across state lines when we drove to upper Maine to go to a family reunion with people I’d never met, going to a site specific production of To Kill A Mockingbird deep in Brooklyn (did I mention #theatrekids?), watching fireworks on the waterfront, or just routinely staying up til 3am to drink at piano bars in Hell’s Kitchen. Outside the norm is where we spent most of our time, and I’m so glad we soaked up every minute of those years—before kids, before demanding careers, and before having, well… any money.

Beyond Working Parent Cos-Play

But these days, we’re real live grown ups. We built a life we really wanted, but that life includes: two demanding jobs, two demanding kids, helping to manage through a lot of family tragedy, and just so much life and responsibility. But we’ve always done our best thinking and bonding—or just being and laughing—when we’re doing something outside of the working parent cos-play where we live so much of our life.

So for 2019, I wanted to create more fun. And so I set out to make plans, starting with New Year’s Eve. All I was trying to find was a good party, and after a lot of research I found a 1920’s themed party that sounded great. It mostly sounded great because it wasn’t aimed at blackout drunk 22-year-olds, so I signed up. As it turned out, that party was at The Speakeasy SF, the (closing soon) San Francisco immersive theatre experience set up to mimic… you guessed it… a speakeasy. And that wild, careening-slightly-off-the-rails vibe of the party, complete with a full costume bought last minute (#ThanksAmazon), really set the tone for the year.

Outside Our Comfort Zone, Where We Belong

We’re at the halfway mark of 2019, and thus far we’ve rung in the New Year in 1929, went to a puppet disco with Neal Patrick Harris (ok, saw NPH at an event with a puppet disco), went on an offseason trip to Mexico, and went back to The Speakeasy for the full performance. It’s been a painful year, and those moments have been so important. Not just because they were fun (though they were that), but because they broke us out of our adult-ing rut.

One of the best conversations we’ve had in recent years happened on The High Line in Manhattan, holding Venetian Masks from Sleep No More (an immersive theatre show we hated, and had escaped from early), lying on a bench staring at the stars. We were super lucky to have taken that trip back to New York (without the kids, no less). But that conversation wasn’t owed to a weekend vacation… it was owed to being somewhere between outside our comfort zone, and right back in our element. It was a place where we weren’t going to talk about our shopping list, or our kid’s issues with school bullying, or our household budget. We had a moment outside of all that just to be ourselves.

I’ve got more planned for 2019. Project Do Something Different led to planning our ten year anniversary vow renewal in Palm Springs next month. We’re planning to attend Gatsby Summer Afternoon in the fall. And as it turns out, we have another last minute family reunion to plan for. This time we’ll bring two kids, and we won’t use a Zip Car. But the planning and experiencing of all of those moments… slightly outside of time and place… they’re our current secret for getting through so much hard stuff.

Anyone else finding ways to break their relationship out of the day to day? What’s your secret to making things work, even when the responsibilities (and tragedies) of adulthood really start piling up?

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