The first week of law school I told Brian he was not allowed to divorce me. We knew it would be hard and how common it was for marriages to fail during school. We got through it, but only barely.
It has taken a long time for me to be willing to talk about my marriage, what it was like to take a break from it, why we chose to do that, and how we found our way back to each other. When Brian and I separated I felt humiliated, like a failure, and like everyone would be looking at me differently. I was 6 months' pregnant. It was the holidays. I was alone and terrified. I reached out to some people for help who rejected me, so I stopped reaching out for help, only to be blamed for not reaching out. I felt so ashamed. So I quit talking about it publicly, even though I knew people were curious. When we reconciled, we told those who we thought should know, but we didn't make a huge deal about it. Now, after all this time, I want to make a big deal about it because we have come so far!
Brian and I loved each other so much, but we had let our relationship not only die, but go to a dark and lonely place filled with resentments. We got along fine, but our ability to really give to each other selflessly and empathize with one another was just gone. 8 years is a long time to be together without any kind of relationship tune-up, especially after going through the experience of a partner in law school, with kids, crazy opposite work schedules, and starting not just a new business, but a legal revolution. We couldn't do it on our own but we were both skeptical about therapy.
Everything was done, papers were filed and we were just in the 90 day waiting period when Brian met with an attorney. That's when he realized not only did he not want the divorce but he didn't want to live without me in his life. We were separated for 1 year. We lived apart for slightly more than that. We dated other people. We figured out what we like and don't like, independent of one another. We had adventures. When we had those adventures the one person we wanted to tell about them was each other. We had seen a therapist to help us navigate the divorce. Doing this with a newborn is hard enough, but a curious 6 year old on top of that made us super worried about how they would handle all of it. We did 50% custody during the separation and were kind and civil to each other. Our therapist was thoroughly confused. One day she said, "I just don't understand this. You obviously have great affection for each other. Are you sure you don't want to work this out?" It wasn't that we didn't want to. We did not know how, and because we think we are really smart, we assumed we knew something that the rest of the world didn't. We were simply doomed: end of discussion.
I had a particular health issue that was greatly affecting our marital relationship. Doctors were not sure if it was physical or psychological -- and in my pain I blamed Brian. There were legitimate reasons to blame him; he wanted to be close to me and bond with me and he wasn't great at expressing himself emotionally, so he did so physically. Which only upset me more, because I felt like my health issues were not important to him. I was simply expected to be the dutiful wife. Eventually I experienced a major trauma related to all of this, and I simply could not stay in the relationship without help. I do not mean to downplay the trauma, for those who know the story, but I have healed and don't need to go into detail. When I got pregnant with Henry, things went from bad to worse. The reality was we had an issue that could not be dealt with by a social worker.
We got extremely lucky and found a psychologist with training and therapy skills to deal with our specific issues, and after the wake-up call with the lawyer Brian was ready to try therapy. The difference was night and day. We knew the moment we walked into that office that we could fix our marriage, and that we would be happier and healthier. It was absolutely life-changing and I cannot recommend it enough. The therapist not only dealt with our specific physical issues, but issues of shame (a big issue for me as a post-Mormon), communication (a big issue for Brian who struggles to express feelings verbally), conflict, and connection. We even ended our therapy with mindfulness meditation to help keep stress out of our intimacy. I'm not going to lie, there were plenty of times when Brian was flirting with me or kissing me and I was drafting pleadings in my head. It can be really hard to shut that off, and it can completely reject your partner. That new term "phubbing"? (A really dumb word for phone-snubbing). I was the queen of that. I shut myself off from Brian and yet I expected him to make efforts even when I rejected him.
He expected me to not only have the physical energy but the desire to give him affection, even though I was a young lawyer and company founder who was completely stressed out like 99% of the time. I couldn't shower without a crying baby interrupting (or a toilet being flushed but that is a whole other gripe-fest). I couldn't sleep. I was eating absolutely terribly. I didn't feel sexy or glamorous and felt like if one more person demands something from my body I swear I will KILL SOMEONE. That's the head-space I was in and he just didn't get it. Our therapist helped us understand each other. If you haven't heard of Collaborative Communication/Marriage Skills it is seriously amazing.
It was a long process, but we have been back together for about 15 months now and we could not be happier. It is like we got to start our relationship at the beginning with all the great honeymoon stuff, but with the deep connection of a couple who has been together for a decade. It will be 11 years this July, and I can't wait to see where we go from here. Our running joke is that we will not renew our vows because every reality show where that happens ends in divorce -- but maybe we will renew our honeymoon.