I’ll never forget the winter of 2015. The winds were frigid. The ground was frozen. And in New York, it was cold.
Of course, I did my best to stay warm, piling on blanks and wearing heavy knit sweaters. I wrapped my neck in thick scarves, covered my feet with woolen socks, and I slid my hands into insulated gloves. But no matter how many layers I threw on, I couldn’t get warm, because the chill in my bones had little to do with the temperature outside.
The coldness I felt — both in my body and in my house — was due to my strained marriage. My failing marriage.
It was that winter — after 14 years together, and 8 years of marriage — that I decided I wanted to leave. No, I needed to leave.
I couldn’t stand living with my husband anymore; couldn’t stand holding or touching or even simply being with him.
Of course, I didn’t always loathe my husband (or hate my husband); in fact, for many years he was the light of my life, and the love of my life. He was my teammate and soulmate, my partner, lover, companion, ally, and friend.
He was my best friend.
But over the years, things happened — life happened — and events happened which changed us.
I changed. He changed. We changed.
So much so that I no longer recognized the man who lay beside me.
Before long, I was frustrated by the state of things. I was angered by the loneliness I felt in our marriage, and I was apathetic about even being in a relationship to begin with.
I could no longer tell if I was in love with my husband or merely in love with the idea of loving him.
But instead of talking to one another and listening, we both shut down. He turned toward booze — and the bottle — and I turned inward. I turned away. And we stayed in this state of dysfunction for many years.
Until the tipping point came.
If I’m being honest, to this day I don’t really know what that tipping point was.
I mean, there were many reasons I wanted to leave; many deep, dark, and personal reasons. But the final hours weren’t what you might expect. There was no big blowup or final fight. There was no a-ha moment where I said, “This is it.”
Instead, the end came not with a bang but with a whisper. When the other foot finally dropped, there was no ground beneath me.
And so, I began planning. I didn’t slip out in the silence of the night or sneak out under the cover of dark, though; instead, I turned to him one evening and told him I was broken. We were broken, and if things didn’t change — if we didn’t get help — I was leaving. I was going to walk out the door.
And so my husband agreed to go to therapy with me.
Of course, things began as you would expect: I was nervous but optimistic, while he was angry and reluctant. He assumed both that initial session and the entire process would be an attack on him, and that the female therapist and I would be judgmental of his actions and his character. But when the door closed on our first session, we didn’t yell. We didn’t argue. We didn’t fight. Instead, we talked.
We talked in a way we hadn’t in many, many years.
And we kept talking because our guards were down, our minds were open, and our hearts were ready to love and be loved. To feel and receive love. And because our therapist told us we needed to “check in.”
Not just that day, but every single day from then on.
So what does that look like? For us, it’s nothing more than a set time we put aside each day to address one another, and to truly listen. A work-free, device-free, distraction-free time to talk about whatever’s on our minds. And a time to ask things like, “How was your day?” or “What did you do?” And — most importantly — a time to ask, “How do you feel?”
Of course, I know what you may be thinking: No sh*t, Sherlock. This isn’t special or novel or some sort of breakthrough it is relationship 101. It is common freakin’ sense.
And you’d be right. This should be common sense. But in our 24/7 world of constantly being on-the-go, on-demand, and always plugged-in, things like this get neglected. Things like this get forgotten, and we often (unintentionally) ignore those closest to us.
We say things like “give me a second,” and “hold on a minute,” and “can we talk about this later.” And in the process, unbeknownst to us, we push one another away.
But reframing relationship time and family time and truly making it a priority? Well, in all sincerity, that saved me. That saved us.
The check-in saved our marriage.
And while I may not know what tomorrow will bring, today I can say for sure that things are better. The love between us is back. Our empathy for each other has returned. Things like understanding, tenderness, and mutual respect have been revived. And we are no longer two strangers living in the same house.
We are teammates. We are soulmates. We are lovers. And most of all, we are one.