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We Need to Talk About the Darkness Inside All Marriages

I consider myself to be happily married. My husband and I are coming up on our 16-year wedding anniversary this summer, and we’ve been together for a total of 24 years. (We met when we were 15 years old — practically babies.)

Image Source: Wendy Wisner

Things between us have always just … well, clicked. In many ways we’re total opposites, but we complement each other in the way married couples often do. He’s outgoing; I’m more reserved. I’m highly organized; he’s a bit scatterbrained. We have tons of the same interests, though — from dumb romantic comedies to ’60s music, ’80s sitcoms — and, oh yeah, those two awesome kids of ours.

But I’m not here to talk about all that; I’m here to talk about the other side of marriage. The not-so-fun stuff.

And I don’t just mean the fights about whose turn it is to take out the trash, or who left the oatmeal out on the stove all morning (it’s my husband, always). I’m talking about the dark parts of marriage; the times when you really, truly wonder if your marriage is about to fall flat, implode, or end in a pile of tears, rage, and divorce papers.

Because whether or not your marriage truly does end (and believe me, I know that there are plenty of cases where that’s the best decision for everyone), I think we all need to be a little more honest with each other. I think we need to stand up and admit that all marriages — even the best ones, that look oh-so-perfect on Facebook — have those dark moments.

We need to talk about how truly hard marriage can be — and not just to air our own grievances, but also to help others feels less alone. It’s so easy to see someone else’s marriage from the outside, and assume it must be perfect.

But no marriage is perfect. None.

Image Source: Wendy Wisner

And when you think about it, how could they be? It’s inevitable — normal, even — to be driven bat-sh*t crazy when you’re with someone every single day for years on end, through adulthood, parenthood, middle age, and so on.

And I’m not just talking about your everyday irritation and annoyances. I mean seething anger. I mean nails-on-a-chalkboard, feeling like you can’t stand to be around, look at, smell, or listen to this person for one more nanosecond type of full-blown rage. I’m talking about those days and even weeks where you find yourself fantasizing about an entirely different life, maybe one where you live completely alone. Times when you truly wonder if your life would be better without this person in it, and what exactly that would look like.

All of us have those dark thoughts at least sometimes — whether we admit them aloud or not.

Image Source: Wendy Wisner

Of course, if these thoughts are frequent — or if your partner is hurting you or your family in any way — these thoughts might be telling you that it’s time to walk away. You might also just feel it in your gut that it’s time to move on, and that’s OK, too. We all have permission to do what feels best for our lives, and for the lives of those around us — and that includes divorce.

But I also think there’s a big myth swirling around out there that “good marriages” never have rough patches — dark, painfully difficult moments in time where everything feels like it’s falling apart.

There have been times where I’ve locked myself in our bedroom, tears streaming down my face, wondering if we were going to make it through …
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If you were to look at my marriage through the lens of Facebook, you’d probably think things were pretty much always fine between us. You’d probably think that if we ever fought, it would mostly be about the cuter, lighter topics, like whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher (again, always his). But my marriage has definitely had those dark times, too.

There have been times where I’ve locked myself in our bedroom, tears streaming down my face, wondering if we were going to make it through — wondering if every decision I’d made in my life was a terrible, grave mistake. I have felt the darkness of our marriage in my bones; in the tears that have choked themselves in my throat as I stood at the stove making my kids another grilled cheese sandwich.

Thankfully, those times generally pass quickly, and are remedied by a good long talk — one that we’re both emotionally open enough to having, in most cases. And by now, the dark times happen less frequently, spread out over the years, so that I know what they are, and can feel assured enough that they too will pass.

That doesn’t make them any less difficult in the moment, but it does give me perspective.

Usually, those dark times come right before an important life change is made. Sometimes, we have to be able to see the difficult, ugliest parts of what transpires between us to feel ready to work on the most difficult, ugly parts of our relationship. And however painful it can be to talk through all our dark stuff, it’s always worth it.

Image Source: Wendy Wisner

When push comes to shove, I know we’re two of the lucky ones. We both really do want to work on these things, and we’re willing to see our own shortcomings and try to make changes in ourselves that will benefit our marriage as a whole. But maybe most importantly, we’re willing to see that there are certain imperfections about each other that we simply cannot change, and have grown to accept these things for what they are, and make peace with them.

I don’t know exactly why certain marriages last and others end. But I do know that all marriages inevitably slip into the darkness at times — and if someone tells you that their marriage never has, they’re lying.

Why can’t we talk about it more? Why can’t we be honest? Couples need to be reassured that they don’t need to have a perfect marriage to have happy, long-lasting ones. They need to know that the dark times are going to come, and sometimes, they’ll feel swallowed whole by them — there’s no way to truly avoid that.

But they also need to know that with passion, teamwork, and maybe even some professional help, it is possible to move through those dark times. It is possible get to the other side, and find that love and light that made you fall in love in the first place.

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