I'm Taking A Do-Over On My Marriage


I'm Taking A Do-Over On My Marriage
Separation teaches a couple about deal breakers and letting go in their relationship.

Because after Alaska, Mexico and traveling off to somewhere new every time life got hard, I was 30. I wanted us to settle down, have kids, get jobs with possibility and live in a house for longer than three years.

I thought, of course, Sam would shift right with me. When our first daughter was born, I expected it to go without saying his top priority would be our family's stability.


He expected to quit jobs when he stopped liking them. He spent a year trying to build his own design business. When he discovered he hated the business end of it and how having to constantly generate work really sucked, he expected to drop the business and finish his degree by taking full-time classes and working the kind of campus job I'd had at 19—when my parents bankrolled my life.

He expected life as a daddy to be exactly like before, but with a kid. Every time he switched directions, I rearranged my life to accommodate. And I said nothing. By the time our second girl was born he'd burned through three jobs in as many years.

I wanted him to suck it up, keep a real job with a real income, do night classes—the way other grown ups with children finish school. And when I finally found the voice to tell him, that's when we started coming apart.

Every marriage, failed or not, has its list of "she dids" and "he didn'ts." I think there's a reason some can outlast pressure and pain that would crush other relationships three times over. Both partners have to know the difference between disappointments and deal breakers, define the absolutes, communicate expectations and—the hardest part—learn to let go of everything else. Which is most of what we struggle over: everything else.

The things that killed my marriage the first time were deal breakers, but they grew in the vacant space where our communication should have been.

My friend Jane and I scrutinize the "why?"s and "what's acceptable?"s and the "how do you get there?"s in marriage. She's been married 17 years and dated her husband for six before that. At 45, that's half her life.

Five years into the marriage she realized she'd married her dad. James wasn't a drunk, but he was controlling and she felt micromanaged and left out of important decision-making.

She spent last summer alone in the mountains thinking about her marraige. And, even after returning to her big, beautiful home and kids and James, she was unsure, but she stayed. A year later, they're on better ground.

"We're compatible in the important ways, and we've learned how to maneuver around the many ways we aren't," she says. "I think the biggest thing that helped increase the happiness level was dropping the comparisons to others and only 'judging' our marriage against itself."

I think about that a lot. Because the thing is, of course I believe we'll make it this time. Why else would my apartment be half-packed for the move? I know our old problems will still be our problems, but I think we both understand ourselves differently now. That was the value of leaving him.

I am 38 this time.  I'd never eat something I thought I hated just because it was offered by a guy who looked like Sam did when he was 23, even if I knew taking that bite meant finding out I love cantaloupe. My boundaries are particular, and they are more about Sam respecting the things I need to keep myself whole: time and space on my own.

I had this epiphany, a single sentence I emailed to Jane: "I think the only way a relationship can survive the disappointments of unmet expectations is with constant communication and clear firm boundaries. And, a little bit of letting go thrown in."

She said: "A LOT of letting go thrown in, acceptance, and dropping the rope in the on-going tug-of-war game!"

Amen, Sister. I'm working on loosening my grip.


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