As Mo & I approach our second year of marriage I can’t help but feel a huge sigh of relief. When we were dating our circumstances weren’t exactly the fairytale most people dream of. However, despite the obstacles we faced we chose each other time and again. Almost every single Rabbi we knew was pushing us to get married, the sooner the better! The two of us felt we wanted to try to work some kinks out before we got married. Those kinks weren’t ones between the two of us, so with many people saying we’re ready to get married, we just went for it.
I was terrified to get married. Marrying Mo wasn’t the scary part. The scary part for me was how would we weather the storms ahead? Will I be able to be a fully supportive wife & understand my Husband’s intense ambition or will it constantly be a battle of “Spend more time with me” and “I’m sorry but I need to work.” The two of us had so much baggage from the 23 & 21 years we’ve been alive and we never fully unpacked it all or sorted through it on our own time. We were hoarding bad habits and defense mechanisms. We were attached to these unrealistic expectations of what a Husband or Wife should be life based on society or other people’s relationships. The honeymoon stage didn’t exist, but a scary spiraling tornado of us trying to figure things out did.
We never learned how to communicate. We spoke at each other and wondered why none of us felt heard. We had insane expectations of the other and wondered why if we’re trying SO HARD the other always felt or seemed disappointed. Maybe even a little like they were asking for way too much. We were spreading ourselves thin and constantly testing each other to see if the other would pull through. Marriage is hard enough when it’s going well, so I can confidently say out first year felt like we were actually living in our own personal hell. It sucked. What sucked more was almost nobody knew. Which is good and bad. It’s good because you shouldn’t air out your dirty laundry to everyone and it was bad because we felt outside is was always fake smiles and be on your best behavior and once we got home it was back to what felt to us like a war zone.
Besides for our personal baggage weighing us down we experienced some struggles that really shook us. Family related struggles, financial struggles, friend struggles, and the very expected struggles we faced trying to balance two people in one relationship. It got so hard and I felt so anxious and depressed that I was ready to throw in the towel. Writing this out brings me to tears. I was in such a dark place I convinced myself I would be better off alone than facing what was in front of me.
I thankfully had two wonderful individuals in my life who wouldn’t allow me to give up. My Chumash Teacher from HS and my Husband’s Rosh Yeshiva from Israel. The two of them made it their mission to help us stop drowning. They met with us at inconvenient hours, for hours, to listen to us and help us hear each other. Once they felt we would be open to the concept they suggested we see a therapist together. I was SO against it. Which is so funny because I have my BA in psychology and strongly believe everyone needs a therapist but I was SO scared. I didn’t want to face the pain of how we spiraled out so much. I couldn’t imagine looking at my Husband from across a room and seeing the pain we were both feeling so deeply on his face. Looking at someone you love so much, hurt, and feel distant from is excruciatingly painful. I survived so far in my life by shutting off the feeling. I wouldn’t allow things to bother me. I would steamroll through life bandaging one obstacle until the next came along. Suddenly I had to rip all of those bandages off so I can properly heal all of those very open wounds. I hated it. I hated that I didn’t help myself sooner. I hated feeling all of that pain at once. I hated that my marriage depended on me, on us, going through more pain to ultimately heal.
Almost a year ago we started therapy. And I can say this past year truly felt like my first year of marriage. It wasn’t always wonderful but there was so much growth with us as a couple and as individuals. In a year we have learned to communicate so much better. We have learned that in a marriage there are two realities existing at once. At the same time that I may need a quiet weekend alone my husband may need a loud weekend surrounded by friends. We have figured out how to better balance those two realities instead of only living in one of them. We have figured out how to be respectful of the others needs and how to allow each other to be the individuals we fell in love with while still being in a loving couple-ship. That’s not all we have learned and it’s surely not all we’re going to learn.
I decided to share this very personal reflection with you all because many people feel like they just can’t get it right. Relationships, marriage etc. Many people end up disappointed, embarrassed and depressed when they see their first year or two of marriage isn’t the fairytale many said it would be. I’m here to say the first year was hell for me but the second year was full of growth and wonderful. It’s okay to ask for help. And it’s okay to not know how to be relational when you first get married. Many of us go into marriage lacking proper communication skills. Many of us never witnessed how a healthy marriage should really be. You haven’t failed, you just weren’t taught. We have relied on societal depictions of marriage or assumed once we left the wedding hall it would just come to us. Truthfully, relying on societal depictions of healthy relationships or hoping the tools will just fall in your lap don’t work unless you’re living in Lala land.