My husband is young and healthy. He doesn’t smoke. He’s not overweight. He exercises. He’s Type B. His cholesterol is low. He’s not dying anytime soon, but I have his entire funeral planned out anyway. I know who will attend, what they will say, and even what they will wear. I know where I will hold it, what caterer I will hire, and what foods I will serve. It was about 3 years ago when I planned most of these details. At the time my marriage was about as strong as the type of toilet paper used in public restrooms.
Guilt consumed me whenever I imagined the heart attack or the car accident that would claim Mr. Strong and Silent’s life. I felt particularly guilty if I was planning his funeral when I should have really been worried, say because he was home later than usual. Rather than worry, however, I felt hope. Perhaps he wouldn’t come home—ever. Then I felt even more guilt intermingled with disappointment when I heard his car pull in the driveway.
THE WORST WIFE IN THE WORLD
I thought I was evil, that I should be locked up somewhere and fed a lifetime supply of uppers. Then, one day, I read an email forward about a “Mom’s Perfect Day.” On this perfect day, Mom wakes to see her son’s picture on the Wheaties box and her husband’s picture on the milk carton. I laughed. More important, I thought, “Wow, I’m not alone.”
As I look back on those dark days of our marriage, I can clearly see that my funeral fantasy helped to save us. It helped me to fess up to the fact that my marriage was in big trouble. I’m sure happily married wives think their husbands dead from time to time, but I’m doubtful that many happily married wives do it several times a day.
The funeral fantasy forced me to come up with a eulogy, which helped me see that my husband was not 100% bad. At first, the only eulogy I could come up with went something like, “He talked to me as if he thought I was stupid. When I had post partum depression, he ignored me. When I asked him for help in the middle of the night, he pretended not to hear me.” I imagined the uncomfortable looks on my guest’s faces. No, even as a fantasy, those words wouldn’t do.
DOES HE HAVE A GOOD SIDE? ARE YOU SURE?
So I worked on it and as I mentally tinkered with the eulogy, I physically tinkered with my marriage. Over time, I realized his good side was always there, I just refused to allow myself to acknowledge its existence. As I allowed myself to see the good parts of him, the words to the eulogy came together.
I have it now, saved as a file on my computer, written as a letter to our daughter. It starts with the line, “Your father was a difficult man,” which isn’t a put down. Even he would agree. I now, oddly, find his difficult side endearing. What I once despised, I now love, most of the time anyway.
I go on to describe the man that few people know, the one who gets excited by the first flowers of spring, the practical jokester, the sports fan, and the overly competitive cyclist. The last line, the one that says, “Most of all, he loved you and he loved me,” makes me cry every time I read it. I cry because I know it’s true, but I also cry because I didn’t always know this. Just two years ago? I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that he hated me.
Now that our marriage is strong, I rarely think him dead anymore. Of course, I have my moments. We occasionally fight and I get madder that I should; it’s during those times that I go to the death fantasy. Yet now, the fantasy is comforting in a different way. Now I have the eulogy, the reminder of all the reasons I love my husband.
Once I start reading it or adding additional lines to it, the anger fades, the love returns, and I welcome him back to the land of the living.
TODAY’S PROJECT POINTERS
• When you find yourself thinking your spouse dead, spend your energy on doing something about the problem—on the hard work involved in making your marriage better (or in getting out of a truly bad one).
• Talk to your spouse about your death fantasies. It lightens up the situation and allows you to be able to talk about your anger and disappointment and move on to what you will both do about it.
• Start your eulogy with any random thought, even if it’s negative. Over time, however, insert the good qualities. You’ll know you have it right when the bad qualities are somewhat endearing and humorous, and the good ones bring tears to your eyes.
• And if you can’t, no matter how hard you try, come up with a single positive thing to put in that eulogy—even after months of trying to strengthen your marriage—take that as an omen, too. It might be time to call it quits.
Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, which tells the real life story of how she went from the brink of divorce to falling back in love. It's available for pre-order on amazon.com. Visit her blog at http://www.projecthappilyeverafter.com.